FALMOUTH — The unexpected loss of their therapy dog has left a family not only grief-stricken, but wondering how to cope with the loss of benefits the dog provided for their three autistic children.
While mourning their beloved pup, Griffin, who died recently of spleen cancer at the age of 7, the Jones family has also been left reeling by the high cost of replacing Griffin with a certified service dog.
“It’s been hard as a mom and a dog person,” Jennifer Jones said this week. “I always knew he was important to the family, but the difference has been stunning since he’s been gone.”
What’s also been particularly hard is “watching my children suffer,” she said.
Griffin was important to everyone in the family, but particularly to her 15-year-old son, Jackson, who is a student at Falmouth Middle School.
“One day Griffin was running around, happy and joyful,” Jones said, “and then he was gone. Jackson understands that Griffin is not coming back, but still every day he tells me, ‘I miss Griffin.’”
Griffin was a Havanese, which is a small breed, but they make great companion dogs because they’re “people-oriented,” Jones said. Griffin was important to Jackson because the dog was such “a calming presence.”
While Jackson and her two other children are verbal, “with normal intelligence,” their autism does make it hard for them to adjust to change and control their emotions.
“Jackson has a lot of sensory issues, too. He has difficulty with (touch) and sounds,” Jones said. “A lot of things bother Jackson, but Griffin was just a perfect companion” for him.
Griffin’s death has also been hardest for Jackson because he’s basically housebound due to anxiety issues. “There’s no beach or the movies,” Jones said, “and it’s hard for him to make friends.”
Jones and her husband adopted the three siblings when the kids were toddlers.
At first they were not aware that their children were on the autism spectrum, but as the youngsters got older and their reactions to the outside world became more pronounced, Jones, a social worker and therapist, knew something was wrong.
Jones trained Griffin herself after doing a lot of research into the type of dog that would be calm, companionable, patient, and also not lick, jump or bark. Havanese are also hypoallergenic, which Jones said was also key.
She said all of her children are “highly intelligent and wonderful in so many ways,” but they all have a number of “social challenges. Social cues are just beyond them, and they’re not capable of the normal give and take of conversation.”
Jones, who no longer works outside the home, said the cost to buy and train a suitable dog can range between $15,000 and $20,000 – money the family just doesn’t have.
She’s started a GoFundMe page, which can be found under the tagline, “Help Jackson get a service dog,” but said her research so far has been “very discouraging.”
“There are very few agencies in the country that (train) dogs to work with kids with autism” and although Jones has found a Maine-based trainer, “We can’t do this without (financial) help.”
“It’s so hard for us to reach out and ask for help,” in this way, Jones said, but she’s willing to do it to benefit her children.
Jones said there’s also a risk that even if they can raise enough money to buy a dog with the right temperament, the dog could turn out to be unsuitable as a service dog, which means the year of raising and training the dog could be wasted.
Even so, she’s still hopeful a dog can be found, and soon.
“We never thought we’d be without Griffin,” Jones said. “His death has had far-reaching implications for our entire family.”
Schuyler Jones, left, with her younger brother, Jackson, and the family’s therapy dog, Griffin. Griffin died unexpectedly recently and the Jones family is now fundraising to buy another dog.