Source: Ross Parry
A teenager suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome has overcome his agoraphobia thanks to his dog, who even dresses up in his school uniform to encourage him to attend.
Nick Gilling, 14, has seen his life revolutionised since the arrival of Sally, a Crufts-winning Corgi, 18 months ago.
Sally, whose grandfather was a stud to the Queen’s corgis, is even clever enough to play cards with Nick to help him interact.
The four-and-a-half year old hound lives with Nick, his sister Jenny, 17, mother Tessa, 45 and father Time, 49, in Leeds, West Yorkshire.
Tessa said: "Nick had been very badly bullied at school. The other pupils saw him as different. They would kick him in the stomach, leaving him with bruises, and taunt him.
"One day he just took his uniform off and told me: 'That's the last time I'll ever wear a school uniform. You'll never get me back in that'.
"I believed him. I just thought, there is no way he will ever wear a uniform again. He just associated it with horrible memories."
Nick, whose fear of leaving the house and especially attending school meant he was taught by the home/hospital education service for around two years, only went back to school, a special unit at Allerton High School, last April - but wouldn't wear his uniform.
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Tessa had been advised by the Dogs for the Disabled charity that Nick may respond with the help of a canine.
She said: "I thought 'there's nothing to lose', so one morning, I got Sally dressed up in Nick's uniform.
"He thought it was hilarious. He burst out laughing at her. But it was literally an instant reaction - he agreed to wear his school uniform that day to school. It was an amazing breakthrough.
"The only thing was - that first day we managed to get him in his uniform, when we got to school it turned out it was non-school uniform day so I had to rush out to get him something else to wear.
"We're also training Sally to play cards with Nick. It's a long process, but dogs generally pick things up quickly, and it's really good in helping Nick interact with people."
Tessa, an Ambassador for the National Autistic Society, said: "Nick was very reluctant to go outside. If I ever tried to get him to go anywhere, it would take hours to get him into the car and he never wanted to go out.
"But once we got Sally, he wanted to go out because it was for Sally. We told him 'Sally needs to go for a walk', or 'Sally needs to go to the toilet', and because he cares about Sally, he does it for her.
"It also helps Nick feel less awkward because when he meets people, the focus isn't on him.
"Sally is also very calm and tolerant. She calms Nick down when he's feeling stressed, and doesn't mind when he wants to give her a bug hug and pull her around - she's perfect."
Tessa first heard about dogs helping autistic children when she read an advert for Parents Autism Workshops and Support (PAWS) - a branch of Dogs for the Disabled. She then went on a PAWS training course where she trained Sally to help Nick.
"It was hard picking a dog," she said. "I read about Corgis, which were used by Vikings as childminders when the parents were out hunting.
"But Corgis are really expensive - about £650 - and we couldn't afford this. I eventually contacted a breeder and said to them: 'Look, eventually you won't be able to use one of your dogs for breeding any more. Can we have one?'
"That's how we ended up with Sally. She was a show dog, she won Crufts in her category as a puppy in 2008. Her grandfather studded for the Queen.
"Because she was a show dog, she's used to being patient with people, which is great for Nick. She's had a really calming effect on the whole family."
The family are now looking to the future following a tough period in Nick's life, which included children's services investigating whether his parents were 'fabricating' Nick's autism.
Tim, who works for a Westminster-based charity campaigning for accountable public services, said: "It was a really difficult time. We were asking health and social care services for help, but instead all we got was condemnation.
"Thankfully, Tessa met a consultant psychologist who agreed to assess Nick, and we finally had our answer - Nick was diagnosed with high functioning autism.
"Looking to the future, what we want is to help Nick into mainstream school, and hopefully Sally can help him achieve this. She often comes in the car to school with him if he needs her. She's a real comfort to him."
Nick said: "Sally makes me feel safe when I'm out and when I talk to the people I meet in the street. We talk about the Royal Wedding and the Queen's Jubilee and all the things Sally did before she was my friend.
"Sometimes Sally comes into school with me and we play cards together. She is great to cuddle when you are nervous.
"She has changed my life and makes me smile every day."
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