A dog named Fonzie is helping make the life of a seven year old autistic boy much easier. Since Ryan from Racine was introduced to Fonzie, his mom says he's been calmer and more in touch with his emotions, but just getting Ryan set up with Fonzie the service dog was a challenge, after Fonzie and two other dogs were attacked in their training pen. Fonzie was the only survivor of the attacks, and Vicki Pagel, who trains the service dogs, nearly gave up. Now, Fonzie helps guide Ryan through difficult situations - like grocery shopping with his mom.
Michelle Mills is Ryan's mom, and she says she never really knows what each day will bring, and what kind of mood Ryan will be in when he gets off the bus from school. She says because of his autism, Ryan has difficultly getting through certain every-day situations, like going to the grocery store.
"The grocery store is probably one of the worst for me, to the point where we try not to take him if we don't have to," Mills said.
Ryan met his new best friend, Fonzie, at a rented lake house in Waupaca. There, Ryan's family, including his mother, father Mike, sister Stephanie, and grandma and grandpa met Pingel, who trains these service dogs at Pine River facility Compassionate Paws. The whole family spent a week learning from Pingel, who helped Ryan and Fonzie get acquainted. But placing Fonzie with the Mills family almost didn't happen.
While Fonzie was being trained, someone snuck onto the property and attacked Fonzie and two other dogs. The attack included two stabbings and a strangling, and Fonzie was the only survivor. Police still haven't made any arrests in the case, and after the attack, Pingel moved all of her dogs to a safe place and stopped training. Pingel says she almost gave up, and weighed her options for weeks, while the Mills family prayed she would find the strength to resume training. Eventually, Pingel put up security cameras and barbed wire, and no more dogs died. Shortly thereafter, Ryan and Fonzie met, and Ryan's mom said she's astonished at the different Fonzie has made in Ryan's life already.
"Ryan has actually expressed to me in his own way that he feels safer, and he feels calmer when we're out away from home and out in public. He is so much calmer, and so much more able to just be a kid. I think if the dog was tough enough to be the only one who survived the attacks, I think he's going to be tough enough for my son," Mills said.