Six-year-old Brendan Nash has a devoted buddy who helps him through his day.

Roscoe, a 27-month-old black lab, is a specially trained Autism Assistance Dog Guide and Brendan’s constant companion.

There were early signs in Brendan’s development that caused concern, such as not talking at age 22 months and not making eye contact. However, the diagnosis of autism didn’t come until four days after his third birthday.

“If we would’ve had another child first, we would’ve caught on sooner,” says Brendan’s mom, Sue, as his dad, Chris, agrees. Brendan now has a younger brother, Brody (3).

When they talked to other people, the Nashes would hear things such as, “Oh, I didn’t talk till I was three,” or, “Boys always talk later”.

A pediatrician referred Brendan’s parents to the Childhood Development Centre (CDC), where the diagnosis was confirmed.

They started visiting the CDC twice a week for one-on-one therapy with a speech therapist, whom they still see almost four years later.

When he was old enough, Brendan went to CDC’s preschool, where special needs kids are joined with six typical kids. He did that for two years and is now attending kindergarten.

“They are as invested as you are as parents,” says Sue, speaking of CDC.

The Nashes do both mainstream therapy and biomedical therapy with Brendan. They’ve also changed Brendan’s diet; he is now gluten and dairy free.

“It’s made a huge change,” Chris says.

PHOTO: Norm Hamilton Roscoe is more than a friend to 6-year-old Brendan Nash—he’s also a big part of his therapy team

“We took him off dairy first and noticed a mild change, but with gluten—gluten was huge. He slept through the night for the first time in three years. He seemed less in his own world. He still had autism but he seemed more clear,” says Sue.

They are also open to trying different types of therapies as long as they are proven to be safe and are affordable. Some things are covered by Yukon Health Care, some not.

“We’re lucky up here. There’s a lot of really great people. Not just CDC, but we have some private workers who just are great,” says Sue.

“And a lot of family support,” Chris adds.

“A big shout out to all the grandmas and grandpas in our lives,” says Sue. “We wouldn’t have made it this far without them.”

Brendan had a fascination with dogs from early on, so there was always talk about getting a family dog. Then someone suggested looking into dog guides.

Chris contacted the Lions Club and in time a representative was sent up to do a home visit to meet Brendan and to see the family’s living space in order to determine the needs.

A few months later the Nashes received the news that there was a dog that would be a good fit for Brendan. Chris went for training in Oakville, Ontario, with the Lions Club covering all expenses.

When Brendan met Roscoe, it was love at first sight.

A youthful dog in every sense, Roscoe loves to play and receive attention. When he puts on his work coat, however, he’s all business.

The coat also signifies to public places such as restaurants that Roscoe is a dog guide and thus allowed in the establishment.

Roscoe helps Brendan make transitions that are difficult for him, such as coming in from playing outdoors and getting to sleep at night. In public places Brendan is much calmer when holding Roscoe’s work coat.

And the dog is a great conversation-starter when meeting new friends.

The Lions Club of Canada provides five types of specially trained dog guides at no cost to those in need—Canine Vision Dog Guides, Hearing Ear Dog Guides, Special Skills Dog Guides, Seizure Response Dog Guides and Autism Assistance Dog Guides.

Roscoe is the club’s first Autism Assistance Dog Guide in northern Canada.

At a cost of approximately $20,000 per dog, this is a costly venture and the Lions rely on public support to make it possible.

As a fundraiser, the club holds an annual Purina© Walk for Dog Guides event. This year it is taking place in 250 locations, including Whitehorse.

A 5 km walk is scheduled for Sunday, May 27, beginning at Rotary Peace Park and proceeding around the Millennium Trail.

Registration begins at 1:00 p.m. and the walk itself at 2:00 p.m. Pledge forms are available at All Paws Veterinary Clinic, Duffy’s Pets & Tanzilla Harness Supply, and the Feed Store/Pet Junction. All the proceeds go to the dog guide training program.

The Nashes offered to organize the local event—a first for Whitehorse—as a way of expressing gratitude for receiving Roscoe as Brendan’s companion at no charge.

They also believe it is important to give back, so another family can experience the help a dog guide can bring.

“We’re kind of like paying it forward in a way,” said Chris.

To learn more, register as a participant, or donate online, go to http://www.purinawalkfordogguides.com/ or call Chris Nash at 633-5603 or 335-1566.