Non-profit gives assistance dog to family with autistic son

MEDFORD, Ore.– A Medford family is receiving the gift of a lifetime to help their child with autism. Local organization Dogs For Better Lives has provided assistance dogs to families across the country at no cost to the recipient. Now the Ochoa family is the most to receive a dog to of their own.

As the saying goes, dogs are man’s best friend. They provide us with companionship and undying love. We may not always recognize it but in this story, it’s clear how much it means to one child to have a dog to call his own.

Julian Cruz-Ochoa is nine-years-old. When he was one and a half, he was diagnosed with autism, something his family wasn’t prepared for.

“We felt alone. It was a diagnosis that we really had no idea what it meant,” said Rosa Ochoa, Julian’s mother. “It changed our lives.”

Speaking in Spanish, Rosa said English is a second language. She says trying to find information in Spanish that would help her son has never been easy.

“But for us, as a Latino family, to find resources in Spanish, it’s a little difficult for everyone,” she said.

Rosa’s done everything she can to give her son a normal life. In her search to find help, Rosa heard about dogs used to help kids with autism. From there she learned about the local non-profit Dogs For Better Lives – an organization that provides assistance dogs at no cost.

“I was afraid because I only speak Spanish,” said Rosa. “I try my best but it’s always been intimidating to request services.”

Rosa says she overcame her fear for her son and applied. Now, the organization is setting her son up with a two-year-old pup named Vanilla.

“They are very welcoming and friendly and they have welcomed Vanilla and me into their home and just I know that they’re gonna make a wonderful team, a wonderful family together,” said Laura Encinas, an assistance dog trainer for Dogs For Better Lives.

Since Julian and Vanilla met, it’s been all smiles and laughter. That response lets Rosa know her son is going to be OK. Having Vanilla around gives Julian an opportunity to be responsible and security whenever he goes outside.

“Vanilla, she doesn’t walk if I don’t walk,” Rosa said. “If Julian runs, she doesn’t move. This is something important for us.”

It’s a gift that has helped this family in more ways than one.

“It’s a thing that has changed our lives.”

This is the seventh autism assistance dog provide by Dogs For Better Lives. They plan to expand their autism assistance dog program to the entire West Coast later this year, with the hopes of offering them nationwide in the future.

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