An Orangeville boy’s long wait for an autism service dog has finally come to an end.

May 24, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Makayla Pereira

Six-year-old Mac Mckay has been given the gift of a lifetime, after waiting for three years back on May 2 2019 Mac received his very own service dog “Pokey,” thanks to the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.

“Lions Foundation of Canada’s mission is to assist Canadians with a medical or physical disability by providing them Dog Guides at no cost. To do this, the Foundation operates Dog Guides Canada, a preeminent national training school and charity that assists individuals with disabilities through specialized Dog Guide programs. These Dog Guides are provided at no cost to eligible Canadians from coast to coast, despite costing $25,000 to train and place,” as said on

Mac was diagnosed at the young age of three with autism and, at the age of four-and-a-half he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). At the age of three-and-a-half Mac was enrolled in an intensive behavioural intervention program (IBI) and has been progressing well in this program ever since.

“Mac isn’t in school full-time yet because he is doing IBI however, he is now on his last day and, as of May 23, he will be going to school full-time five days a week,” says his mother Carissa Mckay

Carissa began the search for a service dog after meeting a young boy with an autism service dog. She was curious and wanted to know more about the dog and ways in which they can assist children with autism.

Carissa says “I just started researching after my conversation with his mother, I went online and I applied and it was a really long process. He was three-years-old when I applied for the waiting list and it was the same year he was starting to run off and safety became a concern. I thought well it’s such a long process (three to seven years) and if something changes when the time comes and we don’t need a service dog anymore we can say no, but if were not on the wait list then decide he does need it then we have to start at the bottom and wait three to seven years.”

Carissa says she often worried about Mac’s safety and sleeping patterns due to his diagnosis, but she was also in search of a playmate for Mac. After doing some research she found that autism service dogs in the past have been a great help in these areas.

“A lot of kids on the spectrum don’t care to make friends, Mac is okay to play by himself and it’s almost like Pokey is someone he can engage with, he’s playing Lego while talking to Pokey so it’s almost like practicing social skills,” said Carissa.

She goes on to say “Safety was always number one so for him to be tethered was always my biggest priority because going out with Mac he always runs away, he finds that to be a game it doesn’t matter how angry I get he still thinks it’s hilarious. He’s actually almost been hit by a car twice, these were both really close calls.” This is when the Mckay family’s need for a service dog started to grow.

Although, safety was her first concern she also was in search of ways to help improve her son’s sleeping pattern and allow him to have a full night of rest. Due to medication Mac is required to take, falling sleeping and staying asleep has always been a difficult challenge for him.

“The dog is meant to add that deep pressure that a lot of kids on the spectrum crave, they really need that deep pressure as well as the tactile of being able to stroke the dog to give Mac a calming feeling.  The regular breathing of the dog is also supposed to help Mac stay relaxed and stay asleep,” said Carissa.

The bond between Mac and Pokey will only continue to grow as they spend more and more time together. Prior to receiving Pokey, Carissa was required to attend a 10-day training session where she would learn the ins and outs of having a service dog and what was required of the family to help Mac with this transition.

Since being at home with Pokey, Carissa has noticed many positive changes with her son. They are truly a perfect match, Carissa said. They’re both full of energy and always on the go, Carissa has noticed Mac being very interactive lately.

She goes on to say overall its going really well with Mac and Pokey, “I think Mac is more engaging in conversation as opposed to being more isolated, he has been trying to get Pokey to dress up with him and do things like that where he would normally be more secluded. And that’s just his personality he’s a very independent person.”

Autism service dogs are owned by the person with autism so they are essentially the “boss.” They make all the decisions. For Mac one decision he often has to make is who can and can’t pet his service dog. This has been a little bit of a challenge for him.

“Mac is very proud, and I’ve been trying to explain to him that he is the owner of the dog and not everyone can pet Pokey because he is the boss and Pokey needs to know that. If someone wants to pet pokey they have to ask Mac and Pokey has to be in a sit stay position. All Mac understood from that is that he is the boss so now everywhere we go he’s saying to people “Hi, this is my dog Pokey, he’s a working dog want to pet him?” And I have to say ‘no Mac that isn’t how it works you can’t let everyone pet Pokey.’ ”

It’s extremely important that the general public doesn’t pet service dogs and especially in Mac’s situation as they are just starting their bonding process and Pokey is learning to contain that excitement of people other than Mac giving him attention.

The Mckay family is still learning and growing along with Pokey, Carissa goes on to say, “We’re needing some direction on how to make it clear to Pokey that even though Mac is away all day for school and Pokey is spending time with me, he is supposed to be of service to Mac not myself.”

Although Pokey is essentially a medical device for Mac as of right now he isn’t able to join him at school. The process of bringing Pokey to school will take anywhere from six months to a year for the school to make proper arrangements for Pokey to be able to be there.

The Lions foundation of Canada Dog Guides does not receive any government funding. All of their funding comes from fundraising and corporate sponsorships. It cost up to $25,000 for each service dog to be trained.

Carissa says “It’s important to give back because there is no government funding for service dogs. This was shocking to me because these dogs are essentially a medical device, it’s something that is going to improve the quality of life for those with autism.”

Carissa was looking for a way to get involved and give back to the Dog Guide program when she learned that the Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides hasn’t occurred in Orangeville for the last couple years. It was at this time that she was given the opportunity to host the walk for Dog Guides in partnership with the Amaranth Lions Club.

The walk will be held on Saturday May 26 2019 beginning at 9 AM. The walk will be at the Lions Park on Diane Drive in Orangeville. All four legged friends are welcome to join the walk and there will also be a silent auction to help raise money. For those looking to get involved, you can join a team or create your own team at or you can contact Carissa Mckay at

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