A friend for life A few months after getting his autism support dog, seven-year-old Jacob Pinfold wrote a touching story (with a little help from his mum Tracey) about ‘My New Friend Jasper’, complete with photos of the pair hugging, playing , and out walking. “Jacob came to live with us on the 2nd of October 2009 and he is a very special dog and he will help me to walk, share, take turns and be my friend,” wrote Jacob and Tracey. “At night Jasper has a special bed in my bedroom and he looks after me. He is a very good boy and sleeps all night. I love Jasper very much. He is my new best friend.” Eight years later many things have changed. Jacob is now a strapping 16-year-old (pictured below, right) who attends a residential school for teenagers with autism and only comes home every other weekend. But one thing has stayed the same: Jacob and Jasper are still best friends. Jacob was diagnosed as being severely autistic at the age of just two, after he was born prematurely and failed to meet his developmental targets. Parents Tracey and Richard, now both 46, who live in South Cave near Hull, found out about Support Dogs and applied for an autism assistance dog but had to wait for a couple of years before being accepted on the programme. “At that point we started reading and researching about the benefits of having these dogs on children with autism, and were very enthusiastic,” remembers Tracey, (pictured below with Jacob aged seven, and husband Richard, in 2007). “At the same time it was a massive learning curve for me with all the training, grooming, feeding, vaccinations and everything as I’d never had a dog in my life, and didn’t even particularly like them! Richard didn’t have the time because of his work so it was all about me and Jacob.” Two possible dogs were offered to the Pinfolds but placid Sam was rejected in favour of boisterous Jasper who ran a riot around the house and with whom Jacob bonded with from the off. “They tuned into each other straight away,” as Tracey puts it. The biggest initial difference Jasper made was that Jacob would now willingly leave the house. Tracey adds: “Walking was a big deal for him; he used to go walk five steps and sit down, sometimes in the road, but after Jasper came he had a purpose and reason for going out for a walk as he could throw Jasper a ball, and there was something in it for him. “He didn’t like being attached to Jasper’s harness so we got him a special handle with a Marvel character on it as he loved and still loves Marvel comics. It was the single biggest difference because it meant for the first time in ages we could get out as a family.” Over the next couple of years Tracey would brush Jasper’s teeth to encourage Jacob to let her brush his too; the same with bathing. Life became easier and calmer. When Jacob became an adolescent and hormones kicked in his behaviour changed, and he became more aggressive. He would lash out at Jasper, who would sensibly remove himself to another room. Jasper is now eleven and a half and getting old and his time as a support dog has just about come to an end. He will stay with Isaac’s parents as a much-loved pet for his remaining years. “He’s a softie, a needy old dog who needs company all the time, and is completely part of the family,” says Tracey. “Isaac and Jasper became mates very quickly and still play silly games. "Jasper is more of a friend than a support dog, but he has done his job.” Isaac now has the ability of an eight-year-old and is doing well at school. He is also verbal, now able to form 12-word sentences. Like many youngster with severe autism he will always need care and will not be able to live independently, but he loves singing and music, and Marvel comics and movies. And Jasper, of course.