Convict determined to fight autism, trains dog to help little boy
Right as Zachary Tucker started school, he was given a diagnosis that both helped and scared his parents. He had the form of autism known as Asperger's and his condition was getting noticeably worse over time.
His autism didn't just harm his social development but it also triggered panic attacks. It was hard for him to sleep and he broke down crying regularly. Calming this little boy down and keeping him on an even keel was difficult, as much as his parents were desperate to help. Zack wouldn't let anyone touch him when he was having an attack.
His parents Arthur and Susy were ready to try anything when they stumbled across the name of a very special man on the internet: Chris Vogt, a dog trainer specializing in preparing canine companions for children with autism. From everything they read about him, it looked like he was the best in the business.
There was just one problem.
Chris Vogt is serving a 48-year prison sentence for murder. He's already been locked up since 1998. But from prison he's been participating in a program to rehabilitate shelter dogs.
It's clear that Chris found his true calling in this program. He had already learned everything there is to know about autism and gone through extensive dog trainer education.
At the time there still wasn't a demand for companion dogs for autistic kids. Mostly, the dogs trained by prisoners were focused on the deaf and blind. But Chris was fascinated by autism and convinced that this would become relevant.
For most nine-year-olds, the idea of encountering a murderer — and in a prison — would sound pretty daunting, if not downright terrifying. It was exactly the same for Zack. But the Tuckers made an appointment with Chris and got ready to take their son to meet his first dog.
Within moments, Zack was overcome by the sparkling brown eyes looking up at him in the form of a dog called Clyde.
Clyde had been well-trained by Chris on how to deal with panic attacks — before they even happen. If Zack's heart started beating faster, Clyde would bump into him and distract him before it escalated. The Tuckers visited Chris a number of times in prison to practice together with him and Clyde, before bringing the dog home with them.
"My panic attacks went down at least 70% and now I'm relaxed enough to make friends at school, which I couldn't do for the longest time," explained Zack later.
Out of gratitude, the Tuckers decided to drive back to the prison just to visit and thank Chris. And then Zack did something his parents had never seen him do before: he went up to Chris and hugged him. Neither the prisoner nor the autistic child, who'd started out so afraid of him, could probably ever have predicted how a dog could bring them together and change their lives so much!
Chris was moved to tears as he learned about the unbelievable progress Zack has made, thanks to Clyde.
Even 21 years after the fact, it's difficult for Chris to speak about what he did. He got into a violent argument with another man, together with a friend. The situation escalated out of control. "I was too much of a coward to do the right thing," says Chris tearfully. He feels that the program gives him an opportunity to atone for his crime.
As for Zack, Chris's training program gave him Clyde — and Clyde has given him a new life. The dog recognizes when a panic attack is coming on and pulls Zack's attention over to him. Then Zack knows that he has to pet and take care of Clyde, which calms him down quickly. Zack sleeps well, makes friends, and instead of having to transfer schools he's now in all advanced classes.
All thanks to a convicted murderer.
Chris can't give that man his life back from so many years ago, but his hard work and "atonement" can give many children their lives back today. People do deserve a second chance — and children suffering with autism deserve the kind of beautiful outcome that the Tuckers have experienced!