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Service dog sticks by boy with autism's side, even in hospital bed

Mahe, a service dog for a 9-year-old boy with autism, recently helped provide comfort during a hospital trip.
/ Source: TODAY

Like many young boys, James Isaac’s life completely changed when he got a dog.

Before Mahe joined the 9-year-old New Zealand boy and his family two years ago, leaving the home increasingly had become a struggle for everyone.

“James has profound autism, so he gets quite anxious when we go on outings. He’s very impulsive and he doesn’t have any awareness of danger,” his mother, Michelle Isaac, explained to TODAY Tuesday.

That made it stressful to be near traffic or any other unsafe areas where James might dart away.

“Mahe has changed our lives so much. He is a real part of the family now,” Isaac said of their service dog. “The main thing he does is help to keep James safe and calm when he’s out.”

That included a day trip earlier this month to the hospital.

Therapy dog bonds with boy in hospital.
Mahe stuck by James' side before and after his recent MRI.Louise Goossens / Louise Goossens

An unexplained series of seizures prompted doctors to order an MRI for James, who had to be put under general anesthesia for the test because he wouldn’t be able to lay still for it otherwise.

Shortly before the procedure, Mahe was allowed to hop up on the hospital bed to check in on his friend.

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“He got his face really close to James, who was asleep by that point, and he reached in to sniff him,” Isaac said. “He looked really concerned. It was quite touching.”

Therapy dog bonds with boy in hospital.
James ended up in the hospital after an unexplained series of seizures.Louise Goossens

The dog reunited with James later in the hospital recovery room. Although James does not speak, it was obvious his fears were eased because he had Mahe nearby.

“Having him on the bed was really a calming thing for James when he came out of the anesthesia,” Isaac said. “He had his buddy there, and felt a bit more secure and less anxious.”

Therapy dog bonds with boy in hospital.
Michelle Isaac said her son's dog, Mahe, has "changed our lives so much."Louise Goossens

Isaac said she’s been “completely blown away” by how quickly photos of James and Mahe in the hospital have spread across the world.

“I’m really, really happy for the Assistance Dogs New Zealand,” she said of the organization that matched Mahe with her family. “They’re a very small charity, even by New Zealand standards. They’re just getting themselves established, so this is wonderful.”

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Therapy dog bonds with boy in hospital.
Mahe has already had an impact on the way strangers look at James, his mother said.Louise Goossens

Isaac said she can't emphasize enough how Mahe has helped change family dynamics.

“Before Mahe, when it was just one of us with James, we’d have to hold his hand tightly to stop him from running from the road, and James hates that. He doesn’t like being manhandled. He just wants his freedom,” Isaac said. “Mahe gives him that freedom to explore his environment without being dragged around.”

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Mahe now spends one day a week at James' school, where teachers are being trained to handle the dog with the intent of having him accompany James on future outings.

"They also think Mahe will have a very positive effect on the other kids in his special needs class," Isaac said.

Mahe has already had such an impact on the way strangers look at James, she said.

“Before we had Mahe, it was hard. People were staring and thinking, ‘What’s wrong with that kid?’ and his behavior might be unusual and it was quite hard,” she said.

They still get stares now, specifically in areas like a mall or other places dogs aren’t normally allowed.

Therapy dog bonds with boy in hospital.
"He is a real part of the family now," Michelle Isaac said of the dog.Louise Goossens

“But it’s a positive thing. It’s totally different. People approach us and say, ‘Oh, what a great dog, and what does he do for James?’ They are interested in James in a positive way.”

Follow writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter.