We're not afraid to admit it—this story made us tear up a little bit.
Susy Tucker remembers the last time her autistic nine-year-old son, Zach, gave her a hug—it was about four years ago. But recently, Tucker was delighted to find her son wrapping his arms around her again. The change? Zach was introduced to his very own special service dog, Clyde, and three weeks after the dog's arrival, Zach went from grimacing at any physical contact to showing affection once again.
Clyde, along with a long list of other service dogs, has been carefully trained by certified master dog trainer Christopher Vogt, who also happens to be a prisoner at Trinidad Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison in Colorado. Vogt first learned about service dogs at the beginning of his sentence, and through the years, has now trained scores of service dogs from within the correctional facility.
The way Vogt has specifically trained the labrador Clyde to support Zach is astounding: because Zach's frustration response is to put his face in his hands and cry, Vogt replicated this behavior, training Clyde to nudge Zach softly in the face to interrupt the boy's frustration. Vogt has also trained Clyde to help the boy concentrate—when Zach is reading, if he begins to stare blankly at the page or let his attention wander, Clyde will nudge him to refocus his attention back to the task at hand.
With the help of his service dog Clyde, Zach is now learning the joys of affection and showing endearment. For more about Christopher Vogt and his amazing journey to becoming a certified master dog trainer, check out The Denver Post's profile on his incredible work with service dogs.