REGION — Cameron Langager met “Drake,” a golden retriever autism service dog, for the first time in 2014 during a therapy session at the Comprehensive Autism Center in Oceanside.
The experience changed his life, said his mother, Christine Langager.
“I had never heard of an autism service dog, I didn’t know they had dogs specifically for autism,” she said. “It really just blew me away watching the time they worked together, and how immediate our son Cameron took to her. His anxiety levels, which have been high with his father away, were markedly decreased just by having Drake there.”
Cameron’s father is an active duty Marine who recently returned from a deployment to the Middle East.
Two years later, the veterinary hospital that owns Drake and a nonprofit that helps families get service dogs of their own have teamed up to help the Langager family receive its one wish: for 8-year-old Cameron to have a service dog of his own.
The Drake Center for Veterinary Care and the nonprofit group Good Dog! Autism Companions have raised nearly $8,500 of the $13,000 needed to get Cameron’s dog, through a campaign called “Operation K9 for Cameron.”
It is asking for the public’s help to push the campaign over the top.
“If there was ever a family and a kid who deserves this, it is Cameron and the Langager family,” said Gabrielle Feldman, a spokeswoman for The Drake Center. “This has been a life-changing experience for all of us involved.”
According to the Drake Center’s website, autism service dogs like Drake help to increase motivation, promote gross and fine motor activities, provide opportunities for language and calm and comfort children with autism.
Christine, who is also autistic, said she saw all of these things happen with Cameron during his time with Drake.
“Drake would sense Cameron getting worked up, so she would bring him a toy or nudge him, or redirect him, and because it wasn’t a person, it was much less stressful, and he was much more willing to transition out of what he was doing into something else, which was amazing,” she said. “We really got profound glimpses into our son’s inner workings.”
After seeing the success that Cameron had with Drake, the family took the step to apply for a service dog with the “Good Dog” nonprofit, which fundraises for half of the $27,000 associated with the service dog, which left the family to fundraise for the other half.
“It was a daunting task at first, but as a family we decided we were going to make it work,” she said.
That was when the Drake Center stepped in to help the family in their final push. The hospital is selling tote bags and hats for $20 with all of the proceeds going toward the “Operation” charity. Additionally, they pledged to match cash donations of up to $1,000 made at the center.
Meanwhile, the family continues to work toward raising funds to make Cameron’s dream a reality.
“We are so excited, we can’t wait,” Christine said.