Kaya has a new best friend

Kaya Nelson has a new autism support dog to keep her safe and calm in her daily activities.

Kaya Nelson was introduced to Dianne this past week.

Kaya Nelson was introduced to Dianne this past week.

Kaya Nelson was diagnosed with autism just before she turned three years old.

It was a devastating diagnosis for her parents, who suspected something was different about their little girl.

Physically, Kaya was not on the growth charts where other children of her age were and she was not speaking.

“She had no language, yet. She was three, so there was no language. We kind of had a hard time communicating There was a lot of frustration and anxiety,” explained her mother, Iveta.

Her parents were worried about Kaya’s future schooling, and her safety.

In addition to autism, Kaya has hypotonia, low muscle strength, and coloboma – an eye that didn’t develop properly – so she is partially visually impaired.

“For us, it’s safety because Kaya is sensory sensitive. Everything that is a hard noise or a different noise, like the cars on the road, she would just go and bolt,” said Iveta.

But now Kaya, 8, has a new friend.

Her name is Dianne, a black labrador who will graduate from Autism Support Dogs, a division of B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs, on Friday, along with Kaya.

The pair have been training together, working one-on-one with Autism Support Dog instructors Laura Hilbert and Nicola Landells for the past two weeks.

The first week was spent training Iveta on how to handle the dog, then this past week Dianne was introduced to Kaya.

Iveta could see a difference in her daughter right away.

“She calls her friend, she doesn’t call her dog,” said Iveta.

“When she’s walking along and she hears the sound of the car, it could be anywhere, approaching on a quiet street or in the car park, she would just stop and stand still,” continued Iveta.

“Now she has continued to walk even though she is still aware of it.”

Dianne is tethered to Kaya’s waist with a handle for her to hold on to so it feels like she is walking along with the dog.

Kaya can’t bolt now because she is attached to Dianne.

Labradors and golden retrievers are good natured dogs who like to work, are good with families, easy to train and intelligent.

That’s what makes them the optimal dogs for this type of work, Landells said.

Typically, it is a two- to three-year wait for a support dog.

Puppies start their training at the B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs at seven to eight weeks, when they go to a puppy raiser, who takes them everywhere with them.

“They go on the SkyTrain, they go on buses, they go in grocery stores, they go in shopping malls, they go to theatre, so they are used to every type of environment. They go walking on busy streets, they go walking on trails in the country,” said Landells.

At 14 months, the puppies start advanced training, in which they work with instructors for five months.

Then they are matched with a family.

Environments such as busy households are taken into consideration.

“There are many different criteria that we consider. It’s not just your next on the list, you get the next dog that’s available. If that dog is not going to fit into the city environment because it doesn’t like traffic, it’s not going to work,” said Landells.

Iveta is hoping that now they will be able to do more things as a family.

For the past six years, they haven’t been able to a restaurant, to the theatre or even to Kaya’s 11-year-old sister’s recitals.

Now Kaya is calmer, which means that she has less anxiety and doesn’t start acting up.

“I have less anxiety and the whole household is calmer,” said Iveta.

On Friday, Dianne has to pass an Assistance Dogs International test to ensure the dog and handler are safe and controlled in public. This will give them the right to go into any public space, the same as a guide dog.

Landalls and Hilbert be with the family until Friday, then follow up with them in three months. Then, every year Dianne and her new family will have to pass the ADI test.

Kaya has already become attached to Dianne, and not just physically. While walking through a mall this past week, Kaya needed a break and she laid down on Dianne. She was also able to overcome her fear of public restrooms, a place she normally wouldn’t go because of the loud sounds of flushing and hand dryers.

Iveta is happy that Kaya is talking more, expressing her feelings, and being more open with what is going on in her life.

She also likes Kaya’s new sense of responsibility.

“We tell her, ‘Kaya, you need to make sure that Diane is safe.’ But it’s actually that Diane is helping Kaya to be safe.”


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on BC highways – check point at Manning Park

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

Rex, an elderly golden Labrador retriever, is surrounded by his rescuers in Golden Ears Provincial Park. (Special to The News)
VIDEO: Dog survives plunge over Gold Creek Lower Falls in Maple Ridge

Fire chief asks for visitors to be more cautious in Golden Ears Provincial Park

Supt. Wendy Mehat is officially announced as the new Ridge Meadows RCMP officer in charge. (Ridge Meadows RCMP photo/ Special to The News)
RCMP leader gets mayoral nods

Supt. Wendy Mehat has been selected as the Maple Ridge - Pitt Meadows new officer in charge

Maple Ridge secondary athletes who are on their way to compete at the collegiate level: Jade Lenton, Kaelyn Van Garderen, Ivy Threatful, Neve Hayes, Grace Hamilton, Gabby Di Girolamo, Soleil Brooks, Adrian Truong, Jack Emley Graham and missing Cassidy MacPherson. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Ramblers athletes recruited by college teams

Maple Ridge secondary has 10 graduates moving up to post secondary athletics

Dr. Biju Mathew visited Bihar twice to in order to gain perspective to write his book.
Maple Ridge doctor worried about family and friends in India

More than 400,000 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours reported in India on Wednesday, May 5

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Surrey RCMP is investigating after a serious three-vehicle crash at the intersection of King George Boulevard and 128th Street Thursday afternoon (May 6, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Serious crash in Surrey sends 1 to hospital

Surrey RCMP say one of the drivers fled on foot, but was later found at an area hospital

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. (Screen shot)
Salmon farmers warn Surrey jobs on line as feds end Discovery Islands operations

344 full-time jobs at risk in Surrey and 1,189 B.C.-wide

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Most Read