A Warm Nose Is All He Needs

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Friday, June 17, 2011 - 1:54pm

Judge rules autistic boy's therapy dog can accompany him to school.

Mary had her little lamb.

Caleb has his golden retriever.

The severely autistic 7-year-old relies on his constant companion to calm him and keep him on task.

The second-grader even takes "Eddy" to school, to the dismay of administrators, who sought to ban the dog from campus.

Caleb Ciriack's parents took the case to court and are rejoicing following a federal judge's ruling that requires Caleb's Orange County elementary school to let Eddy accompany him to class, at least for now.

The judge also suggested in his ruling that the boy was possibly a victim of discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"This is the first time a service dog for autistic children has been allowed in under the ADA," said Maronel Barajas, the family's attorney, who works with the Disability Rights Legal Center.

Caleb and Eddy have been together for more than a year and have a bond that came from intensive training for autistic service dogs, Caleb's mother, Milka Ciriack said.

"As anybody with an autistic child knows, he'll have his self-stimulatory behavior," Ciriack said.

"He'll do the hand flapping," she said. "He'll pace and things like that, and that's definitely something Eddy's helped him with."

District officials had banned Eddy from accompanying the boy to class last year.

The Santa Ana judge granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday, after the Ciriacks filed a federal lawsuit against the Cypress School District.

Vessels Elementary School officials had claimed that the dog's presence could be disruptive and burdensome for staff members.

"The school psychologist told me this was going to be detrimental to him, and that I should pretty much stick with the program that they gave me," Milka Ciriack said.

School officials had also argued in legal papers that the dog doesn't qualify as a service dog under federal law.

District Judge Andrew Guilford disagreed and ruled that keeping the boy and the dog apart during school hours could diminish their bond and disrupt their relationship.

"Eddy's a calming presence for Caleb," the boy's father, Paul Ciriacks, said. "I think Caleb feels more confident when he's with Eddy."

In one apparent concession to the school, Guilford has required the Ciriack family to post a $50,000 bond in case the school needs to hire additional staff to accommodate the dog.

An attorney for the school district would not comment on the ruling citing the ongoing litigation.

The judge's ruling will stand until a future trial determines whether the dog can permanently accompany the child to school.

 

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