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Blow for Portadown autistic boy as assistance dog suffers injuries in road smash

By Linda Stewart

A nine-year-old boy with autism who has been waiting three years for an assistance dog will now have to be patient until the end of summer after his new best friend was injured in a minibus crash.

Joe McCann was looking forward to welcoming 18 month-old Dougal into his Portadown home, but the black Labrador suffered soft tissue damage when the Assistance Dogs NI minibus carrying him was written off in a serious crash.

The charity's CEO Geraldine McCaughey had to be cut free from the wreckage after the minibus rolled three times and ended up on its roof in the collision near the Castledawson roundabout several weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Dougal's foster owner Jean Bishop Greentrees and the charity's chair Shirley Whyte had to be transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital after the collision. They have now been discharged but are still recovering.

Geraldine added: "It took 40 minutes to cut me out - I was totally trapped. I'm very stiff and sore but very grateful to be alive," she said.

Dougal had been in the middle of training to be an autism anchor dog for Joe, meaning he is specially trained to lie down if the boy tries to run off, keeping him safe from bolting into traffic. The loss of the vehicle has set back the training programme.

"It's so disappointing for the family and it has also had a knock-on effect on the current recruitment of 13 puppies who are currently undergoing their training," Geraldine said.

Joe's mum Sheenagh said the boy has severe non-verbal autism and a learning disability.

"Dougal had his first meeting with our son three weeks ago, and the following week he was going to meet him again but then there was the crash.

"It's a bit of a blow. The training takes seven weeks. I think it will take at least two months until he's back training so I would say it will be the end of the summer before we get him."

Assistance Dogs NI is launching a MyDonate appeal to raise money for a new minibus that will allow them to continue training assistance dogs.

If you want to help, you can contact ADNI at 028 7776 8761 or via 07557 960599

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