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Pet parents understand the power of having a pet around. Pets are known to relieve anxiety and stress, as well as promote healthy living. For children suffering from disorders such as autism, recent studies have found pets can make all the difference. Take Evan, for example. Evan is a nine-year-old living in Goodyear, Arizona with his loving family. He does great in school, but has trouble making friends. Evan was diagnosed with Autism at a very young age and also suffers from ADHD and anxiety. Kids in his classes don’t understand his behavior and have made Evan’s life hard.  “[They] always leave me out and say things like, ‘You should have never existed’,’” says Evan of his fifth-grade classmates.

“Imagine your body feeling like it needs to move all the time that you feel the need to constantly get up so you have a hard time even making it through a meal,” says Evan’s mom, Nichole McCure. “That’s what it’s like for Evan.”

That is all about to change though. Thanks to generous donations from people of their town, Evan was surprised with a service dog for Christmas. Hazel, the Golden Retriever, isn’t your typical seeing-eye dog, though. She was specifically trained to keep Evan calm during times that would otherwise prove stressful for the young boy.

“His service dog will be trained to remind him to stay seated by laying its head on his lap,” says Evan’s mom.  “When Evan is feeling anxious the dog will be there to calm him.”

Hazel will also act as a “social lubricant.” Dr. Gretchen Carlisle, research fellow in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, explains that when pets are present in the home, the classroom, or other social setting, children tend to interact and talk to each other more. In her studies, Carlisle has found children with autism who have pets in the home tend to be more assertive than those without pets.

Evan not only has a new friend in Hazel, but she will help him connect with other kids at school. Hazel and Evan spent time together over the holiday break to get accustomed to the school environment before classes are back in session.

“I won’t have to be sad every day,” said Evan. “That’s why I wanted my service dog.”


Lead image source: ABC15