Jonah Kolisniak’s family is hoping the arrival of a highly-trained canine companion into their home will change their son’s life forever.
Jonah, 9, who attends Shamrock School in the skills for living program, has autism and the Island Lakes-based family recently found out their application for a certified service dog from Ontario-based National Service Dogs has been approved. The news came in the spotlight of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.
"We are thrilled, as these dogs provide a lot of support to children and families who face the many daily challenges of autism," said Jonah’s mom, Rose Pagtakhan, noting the dog — likely a golden retriever or Labrador — is set to arrive within the next year, once a candidate is trained and available.
It costs around $30,000 to train and raise a service dog. While families are not required to pay this amount and receiving the dog is not conditional on them doing so, Pagtakhan stressed, potential recipients are asked to help fundraise, as NSD is a non-profit charitable organization.
To help with the fundraising efforts, the family will hold a Bud, Spud and Steak fundraiser on Sat., April 20 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Area Nightclub at Canad Inns Express Fort Garry, located at 1792 Pembina Hwy., which will include a raffle featuring prizes donated by numerous local businesses.
Jonah’s dad, Kevin Kolisniak, said he hopes the eventual arrival of the dog will bring the best out of his son’s outgoing nature. He also hopes it will help him overcome daily challenges such as a lack of understanding of safety rules, because Jonah will be tethered to the purple-vested dog, which will be trained to respond to adult commands.
"Jonah loves going to school and likes change and new experiences. We try to go out as much as we can, but it can be challenging at times, especially if there’s lots of noise or crowds," Kevin said, noting the family did 98 hours of driving in three weeks one summer to Disneyland in California because "the road trip was easier than flying, which he’s never done."
"Even going to the grocery store can be challenging, as he’ll run out of the store because of his energy and curiosity. He doesn’t understand he can’t be running around. The dog will help anchor him," he added. "Hopefully, the dog will also provide emotional support and companionship and create a pathway to friendships with other kids."
Rose said approximately $9,000 has already been raised due to the fundraising efforts of the community, including a cupcake and hot dog sale held at Highbury School, where she works, and a contribution from St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church.
"It brings tears to your eyes. The number of donations coming in is incredible and it’s just touching how everybody comes together. We’re humbled and blessed," she said.
"We’re really excited to be getting a new dog," added Jonah’s sister, Bethany, 12. "I think it will help Jonah with lots of things."
Tickets for the fundraiser are $20 and $15 for supporter tickets, if purchasers are unable to attend. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook and search for Paws for Jonah. To learn more about NSD, or donate, visit www.nsd.on.ca.