Iditarod Dog Inspires Autistic Boy in Alaska

After bonding with the pup, youngster will get an assistance dog of his own thanks to generous donations

Logan Erickson had never spoken a word. Diagnosed with autism at age 2, the Unalakleet, Alaska, native would often run and hide somewhere in his remote, 800-person community, forcing his parents, four older brothers and neighbors to come looking for him.

One thing Logan gravitated toward, though, was the annual Iditarod race. So when musher DeeDee Jonrowe visited Unalakleet last year with her dog, Mr. Miyagi, Logan was thrilled. After a brief meet and greet, Logan and his mother headed for home, and miraculously, he uttered his first word: Miyagi.

Seeing the effect the dog had on Logan’s development made the Erickson family consider getting an assistance dog for their son, but a $30,000 price tag stood in the way. Jonrowe, however, also hadn’t forgotten the impact her dog had made on Logan, and with the help of some other mushers and the staff at Eagle Pack Pet Food, she helped to raise half the cost of Logan’s assistance dog.

Logan, now 9, is wrapping up his stay at 4 Paws for Ability near Dayton, Ohio, where he was matched with a yellow Lab named Juke.

“Already we see positive changes,” Logan’s dad, Jeff, tells PEOPLEPets.com. “Logan likes to be tethered to Juke, which allows us to walk freely without the accustomed struggle.” Logan is saying Juke’s name, sleeping better with the dog on his bed and even playing fetch with his new pal, “something we’ve never seen before,” according to Jeff.

Juke also has the ability to track Logan when and if he hides again, a trait that will prove invaluable. “We hope that a bond grows between them that will allow Logan to gain independence and confidence,” Jeff says. “We pray that it leads to a communication breakthrough, and [has] a calming effect on Logan’s life.”

Jonrowe, one of several mushers sponsored by Eagle Pack, asked the company to reach out to the Erickson family after meeting Logan. “At the annual Iditarod starting banquet, several vice presidents got up and made a significant contribution toward the purchase of the service dog, and agreed to provide food for life,” Eagle Pack spokesman Dr. Al Townshend tells PEOPLEPets.com. Additional funds were donated by mushers such as Jonrowe, and raised through community bake sales and an auction.

There was just one challenge left: since Unalakleet is so remote, Eagle Pack staffers had to figure out how to get their dog food to Juke by plane or water, since there aren’t roads leading into the town. Enter Northern Air Cargo, a shipping company that offered to deliver a years’ worth of food to the Erickson family annually. “That first delivery is already in the village,” Townshend says.

The Ericksons were beyond moved by the outpouring of support for Logan. “So many people gave their hearts,” Jeff says. “We were humbled and forever grateful to the many who helped Logan gain a new friend.”

To Jonrowe, her fellow mushers and the Eagle Pack staffers, helping wasn’t just the right thing to do, but the only thing to do. “We were so inspired,” Townshend says. “We’re really proud about helping with this project, and we’re happy to be a part of this young man’s life forever.”

Read more about animals and autism on PEOPLEPets.com:
Holly Robinson Peete Has Two ‘Four-Legged Kids’
Betsy the Horse Helps Autistic Boy ‘Heal’

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