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A best friend and a lifesaver Autism service dog brings hope for a Littleton family

Littleton Independent - 1/13/2018

Lucas Flores' life has been a kaleidoscope of moments, some happy, some sad, others frustrating and humbling. All have been rewarding. For mom, Lilia, one day in particular stands out: the day she knew she would bring Lucas home a companion to share some of those moments.

That new friend, according to Lilia, is a dog through the group Service Dogs By Warren Retriever. After a brief fundraiser to collect the $25,000 needed to bring their new dog home later this year, Lilia said she is thrilled and thankful to have seen the outpouring of support and love from the community, both residents and businesses have given to Lucas and their family.

"We were very thankful raise the money so quickly," said Lilia, adding now the process to match Lucas with a dog, which will be either a Labrador, or golden retriever, begins. A full list of those who donated to the Flores' effort can be found with this story.

Service Dogs By Warren Retriever is located in Virginia and specializes in service dogs for those living with diabetes, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder and seizure disorders. Each animal is trained in the area they are in service for and are also trained alongside the person they serve.

Lilia said five-year old Lucas was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in the winter of 2015 at 2 1/2 years old. Now a kindergartener at Shaker Lane School, she said life can be hard when it is difficult to communicate with his peers, leaving Lucas lonely and in need of companionship.

The dog will provide some of that companionship. She also hopes it will curb Lucas' impulses, such as running away. She said that hopefully this dog can help him not only have a friend at home, and eventually, in the years to come, at school, but will make it easier to socialize with his classmates.

"It is very lonely when you're misunderstood and when think differently from the other kids," said Lilia. "It can be hard for him to maintain friendships."

Fundraising efforts

Lilia first heard the idea of an autism service dog in the summer of 2016 during a family retreat for children with disabilities and their families.

"Canine Companions came and did a presentation and it was the first time I was exposed to a service dog and what they could bring to a child with disabilities," said Lilia.

A year later, when she read an article profiling a Pepperell family who brought home a service dog from Warren Retriever, she knew she wanted a dog for Lucas.

She said their first effort was a golf tournament that was planned and organized for that October, and was held at the Sandy Burr County Club in Wayland.

She said after all expenses were paid they raised more than $6,000, which Lilia said gave her even more confidence that their effort would be a success.

Along with business and residents, local officials have also offered help. Lilia said Selectman Cindy Napoli helped a great deal as a fundraiser. Napoil said the pair met through the Littleton Athletic Booster Association after Lilia won a donation through the group. Napoli said from there she was able to help Lilia connect with the community and help people understand the cause.

"I am a big rescue dog advocate and I have been sharing those stories for years," said Napoli. "I wanted not only help keep him safe, but help get Lucas a friend. It can be a really special relationship."

Lilia added even with her newly found confidence, it was still hard to reach out to community members and business without feeling a little trepidation. She said like most people asking for money for something that people don't know a lot about can be hard. Money is tight for everyone, but she said the response helped her push forward.

"My goal was that I wanted to expose people to mental/physically disabilities, bring awareness to cause," said Lilia. "My first request was for them to pray, or share (Luca's story,) and if they felt like it to then donate. Sharing is big part of fundraising, to reach outside our circle of influence."

Connecting beyond Littleto n

When it came to going outside that circle of influence, Lilia said one of the most supportive people came from the other side of the country. Erin Delanty, whose son Cole, 7, is autistic, connected with Lilia trough Facebook. Lilia reached out when she saw that Delanty had announced she would be bringing her dog Colt home for her son Cole, 7.

Erin said Cole, like Lucas has a tendency to run, and that with Colt by his side she hopes to see a change in that behavior. She said even in the short time Colt has been with the family, he arrived from Virginia on Dec. 10, she has seen a major change in his attitude and behaviors. From socializing to sleeping, she said Cole is changing and she gives a lot of the credit to Colt.

"I am so excited for her, " said Erin. "She has worked her butt off for this. Lucas is so deserving, just like every kid (with Autism.) I wish I could give a dog to every kid.."

 
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