Hayden couple raising money for a service dog that could help their 6-year-old son with autism
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A few weeks ago, Whittany and David Keating were in a panic as they searched for their 6-year-old son, Travis, outside of his grandmother’s house.
It was about 11:30 p.m. and 32 degrees outside when they discovered Travis had escaped from the locked sliding-glass door in the bedroom. They hadn’t heard anything on the baby monitor and assumed he was sleeping.
Tears formed in Whittany’s eyes as she recalled the search alongside members of the Steamboat Springs Police Department.
“I was really scared,” she said. “I didn’t know what to think.”
She knew Travis was in his pajamas, and his boots were still inside. They were in the Tree Haus neighborhood, and Whittany feared Travis would be drawn toward the water and spring runoff.
Travis was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was about 2 years old. In the past six months, Whittany said he’s exhibited a sharp increase in elopement, a behavior common among children with autism that leads to wandering, escaping or running.
Thankfully, they found Travis wrapped in a blanket in the grass after a relatively brief search. But Whittany described her anxiety as overwhelming.
Not long before Travis escaped from his grandmother’s house, he got away from his paraprofessional at school and was eventually found in the parking lot.
With growing concerns about Travis’ safety, the Keatings have come up with a solution: a service dog.
Service dogs can help those with autism form bonds that help further develop social skills and interactions. They provide a calming presence that can help minimize emotional outbursts as well as reduce anxiety and overstimulation.
And for wanderers like Travis, service dogs can provide physical safety. The dog can be tethered to Travis to prevent him from escaping. It also would be trained in search and rescue.
Service dogs also provide peace of mind for caregivers.
A dog would provide “an extra safety net,” David said, and “assistance in handling Travis’ spontaneity.”
The process of getting a service dog requires intensive training, can take up to two years and will cost about $17,000.
The Keatings are currently on a waitlist for a dog and working to raise funds to pay for it.
A budding escape artist
Whittany describes her son as “happy all the time,” a “lover” and a big cuddler who loves trains, animals, Disney movies and being tickled.
But he’s also become a real Houdini.
“He can open anything,” his parents said.
When they stay at hotels, they have to push tables and chairs in front of the door. At home, they’ve added double-sided deadbolts to windows and doors.
“Locks have never been an issue for him,” they said.
Studies have shown children with autism can be prone to wander because they like exploring or want to go to a favorite place. Escaping from sensory overload is another common occurrence.
Travis’ younger brother, Andrew, also is on the spectrum, but the two are very different, Whittany said. Andrew is more verbal and social, and he plays the older brother role for Travis, helping him communicate and do things like get ready for school.
The Keatings also have an exuberant 16-month-old daughter, Tristen, who is currently perfecting her walking skills.
The family runs Butcherknife Farms between Hayden and Milner, where they have 96 free-range pigs. Whittany also works as a registered nurse.
Yampa Valley Autism Program Executive Director Lisa Lorenz describes the Keatings as a “hardworking family full of joy and love.”
A service dog would be able to help Travis and the family in a number of ways, Lorenz said, with the primary one being safety.
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