Raife the fox-red Labrador is providing a vital lifeline for the Dolman family.

Before autism assistance dog Raife joined the Dolman family it was difficult for them to leave the house with son Noah, who is autistic. Noah’s autism means that he can be very rigid in his routines and has very limited awareness of danger. Family days out, walking to school or going shopping were often filled with stress and worry and often ended in Noah becoming overwhelmed and having a meltdown.

The family were most concerned about Noah’s safety. Approximately 1 in 100 children in the UK are diagnosed with autism. Half of these children will have a tendency to bolt and wander off from their parents or care givers, which of course can be very dangerous if not fatal. Noah who is now 7, was diagnosed as autistic at 3 years of age and would regularly try to bolt off when out in public, often near busy roads and some times near lakes and rivers. He had no understanding of the danger he was putting himself in. It was difficult to stop and left his parents feeling worried every time they went out.

“We cannot put into words the effect that Raife has had on our lives”

Fox-red Raife began living with the Dolman family in Spring 2022 to begin supporting them and complete the final stages of what had been for Raife a prolonged training programme due to the delays that Covid brought to the charity. Mum Alison explains “When Support Dogs first matched Noah with Raife it was easy to see this was the beginning of a special friendship. They both share a very playful nature and love nothing more than playing and having fun together. They love running through the woods together, going to the park or to the beach. That bond was immediate.”

The improvements with day to day life were also obvious for the family. Alison tells us “Before Raife we would try to go out for meals and had to leave halfway through. We also really struggled to walk to school as I’d have to carry him as well as his little sister Summer.” Noah will now walk with Raife attached alongside him, walking nicely and stopping at the roads with Raife to wait to cross. So we can finally walk to school! They run with each other whilst on walks, he very rarely tries to run away now when Raife is with him as they are too busy playing with the ball or playing fetch in the water. If he feels any kind of anxiousness or gets upset Raife is straight away there distracting Noah to play with him or just laying his head on Noah’s lap so he can be calm and stroke him.

Mum Alison says: “We now go for days out and meals as a family and Noah will happily sit nicely the whole time, knowing Raife is there. In the restaurant Noah will often take his shoes off and just sit feeling him under his feet. Noah was also struggling a lot with sleeping and would wake many times through the night. Bedtime routines are now much calmer for the family. Every evening Raife will go and lay with Noah before bed.

“It is amazing how Noah has changed over the past year. We are so grateful to Support Dogs for changing Noah’s and our lives. We cannot put into words the effect that Raife has had on our lives, only to say that he is absolutely and truly a member of the family and is loved by all of us. We couldn’t imagine life without you now Raife. Thank you!”

Support Dog’s autism programme is our most in-demand programme and space on it is limited due to the charity’s resources. The charity provides this support entirely free of charge.