PUBLISHED: 4:39 PM on Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Autistic teen seeks a helping paw
JUNEAU - Chris Brenner dreams big: he talks about training tigers, opening a restaurant and working three jobs. But the dream he talks about most is having a service dog.

Chris, 19, has Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), an autism spectrum disorder. Like many other autistic individuals, he would benefit greatly from the assistance of a specially trained dog. Getting a dog didn't seem likely until his mother, Robin, found an organization in Ohio called 4 Paws for Ability,

Katie Spielberger photo
  Chris Brenner, a 19-year-old with autism, pets his cat, Flick, while talking about his dream of receiving a service dog. Brenner and his mother, Robin, are trying to raise the $16,000 needed for the dog.
"We've looked around at different places and there's nowhere else we could find that trains dogs for autism assistance," Robin said.

With the support of 4 Paws, Robin and Chris have begun raising money for an autism assistance dog for Chris. They kicked off their fundraising efforts with a bake sale June 28 and are planning a silent auction as well as brainstorming other ideas.

Of the many types of service dogs, autism assistance dogs can be the most expensive to train. Robin and Chris will need to raise $16,000.

Since 1998, 4 Paws has placed over 200 dogs to assist children with autism. When Karen Shirk founded her organization, she offered something that families couldn't find elsewhere.

"(At the time) there wasn't really anybody that was placing dogs with specific training for autism," Shirk said.

Shirk said there are several ways an autism assistance dog can help a family like the Brenners.

"One benefit is to the (autistic) person as far as interrupting (repetitive) behavior and helping to facilitate more calmness and less anxiety," Shirk said. "The dogs benefit not just the individual but the family. Safety ... is less concerning to the autistic individual and more concerning to the family."

Autism assistance dogs are trained in Search and Rescue. "If he is out somewhere and he gets lost ... or leaves his group, the dog can bring him back," Robin said. "If he leaves the house and the dog is here, the dog can track him and bring him back."

Like many autistic individuals, Chris easily gets "sensory overload," Robin said. The dog will be trained in stopping repetitive behavior and calming anxiety.

Chris's dog will also learn to be tethered to him and keep him from leaving a group or crossing the road when it isn't safe.

"It's really going to open a lot of doors for him," Robin said. She thinks a service dog will help build Chris's self esteem and self-confidence.

"I love animals," Chris said. "I always take care of them."

He has two cats, Zoe and Flick, whom he feeds and pets regularly.

Chris already has the dog's name picked out.

"I wrote down a whole bunch of names a while ago," he said. "I had a whole bunch of names and I decided Rascal."

For more information about Chris and Robin's fundraising call Robin Brenner at (907) 723-0890. To learn more about 4 Paws for Ability visit

Check upcoming issues of the Capital City Weekly for updates on Chris' fundraising events.