Hero Hound Mandy: The Canine Guardian Changing Alessa’s World

young girl with Labrador

A four-legged hero named Mandy, a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix, has brought peace and protection to the life of young Alessa Thompson. This remarkable autism assistance dog, trained by the national charity Support Dogs, has become a loyal companion and lifeline to Alessa, an eight-year-old with autism known for her sudden urges to run.

The importance of Mandy’s role came into sharp relief following a harrowing incident two years ago, when Alessa from Chaddesden, Derby was struck by a car after unexpectedly dashing across the street. Her mother, Donna Bunting, recalls the terrifying moment as a mere “tap,” thanks to the alert driver, but it significantly rattled the family. The incident highlighted the dangers of Alessa’s tendency to bolt – a common and hazardous behaviour among autistic children.

Since Mandy’s introduction to the family in March last year, the changes have been nothing short of transformative. “Before Mandy, getting Alessa in and out of school was fraught with challenges,” Donna, 39, explains. Now, with Mandy’s steady influence, Alessa’s impulsive sprints have drastically reduced.

Mandy’s impact goes beyond just curbing Alessa’s flights. “Whenever Alessa is upset, Mandy knows to simply sit with her, and she settles down,” says Donna, describing the profound emotional support Mandy provides. This gentle presence has drastically reduced the frequency and intensity of Alessa’s daily meltdowns, which previously included disruptive episodes of screaming, shouting, and kicking.

Beyond the immediate family, Mandy’s presence has brought broader benefits. Alessa’s younger sister, Miley, has experienced a more inclusive family dynamic, as outings become less daunting with Mandy’s calming presence ensuring Alessa’s safety.

Donna, who learned about the potential of support dogs from a conversation at her hospital job, praises the charity’s work enthusiastically: “It’s brilliant, absolutely fantastic. The people at Support Dogs have changed our lives, and the way they transform children’s lives is simply amazing.”

The family, now more united and adventurous, is even contemplating overseas travel, a thought previously unthinkable due to safety concerns. Donna cannot imagine life without Mandy now, highlighting the profound difference the support dog has made: “We would all be in a bit of a mess right now without her.”

To learn more about how Support Dogs are making life safer and more joyful for children like Alessa, visit www.supportdogs.org.uk.

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