Autistic boy and service dog overcome hurdles

RACINE -- FOX6 last caught up with Ryan Mills, an autistic boy, and his family when they were picking up a new service dog named Fonzie in September. At that time, Ryan and Fonzie were beating the odds. Fonzie was recovering after nearly being killed, and little Ryan was making mom much happier.

At this time Ryan was becoming harder and harder to handle at home and in most public places, like restaurants, church and on buses. "Those things were off the table for us. It was a fight to the point where it wasn't worth doing," Ryan's mom, Michelle said.

Meanwhile, Ryan's dog, Fonzie, had his own trials. Fonzie and two other dogs were attacked in 2010 at Compassionate Paws in Waupaca - a service dog academy. The dogs were being trained at the facility at the time. "I physically picked Fonzie up and I thought he was dead," Vicki Pingel with Compassionate Paws said.

Though the attacker was never caught, Fonzie fortunately recovered, and Pingel placed him with Ryan. Since then, many things have gotten better for the Mills family. "Every month that goes by, he's capable of something new he couldn't express from before," Ryan's mother, Michelle said.

However, going to school with Ryan, one of Fonzie's main functions, is still a struggle. The dog has difficulty sitting and staying at school, while Ryan continues to take off the tether between the two. Vicki had to come back to do some re-training for the two. "It became obvious to us that she needed to spend time with us and watch," Ryan's mom said.

Pingel spent three days in late January reinforcing Fonzie's behavior and Ryan's handling. "A lot of it is just reworking a lot of the things from when he was placed back in September, until now," Pingel said.

Fonzie and Ryan still have some skills to perfect before getting through the school day together will be a success, but Ryan's mom and his mentor now believe things will continue to get better. "The staff had nothing but positive things to say about having a professional come in and work with Ryan. I've seen a calmer kid - happier in a lot of ways," Ryan's mom said.

Of course all the additional training is very expensive for both the Mills family and Compassionate Paws, so if you'd like to help them out, check our THEIR WEBSITE.