NEW PAL: William Nichols will get a dog to help him in his everyday life at home and at the Biala School in Ballina. Mireille Merlet-Shaw
NEW PAL: William Nichols will get a dog to help him in his everyday life at home and at the Biala School in Ballina. Mireille Merlet-Shaw Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Smart Pup a life-changer for young William

OVERWHELMING community generosity has helped the Nichols family of Ballina pay for a crucial new family member - a Smart Pup.

The new pet is a specially trained dog that will share the responsibilities of looking after 12-year-old William, who is autistic.

William is an "explorer" and can take himself off on adventures with no prior warning.

On several occasions, police have had to be called to help find him, his mother Michele Nichols said.

His behavioural problems spiked last year when the old family dog died.

"He was lost," she said.

His wanderings increased and, when he started bringing the neighbours' chickens and rabbits home, Ms Nichols knew the family needed another dog.

If it was trained for the job, even better.

The only problem was that a trained dog was expensive - in the order of $15,000.

Smart-pups can help dissuade children from leaving certain areas, and alert people if they do, and then track them if necessary.

They can also keep children away from known danger spots, such as storm-water drains.

Best of all "they are a buddy" for children who can have trouble relating to other people.

The Nichols family ran several fund-raising ventures, including raffles and a crowd-funding campaign on the internet. Friends, family and the East Ballina Lions club also helped with donations.

A big boon to the family's quest was having it picked up by the Northern Rivers Ford Owners Club, who ran the Casino Auto Spectacular. The Nichols Smart-Pup fund received over $6000 on the day.

The all-round generosity has really changed the way the Nichols family views the community.

Families can often feel isolated by the judgement of people who don't, and aren't expected to, understand what it is like to parent an autistic child, Ms Nichols said.

"The outpouring of financial support has really been uplifting for us," she said. "We are on our way to a good outcome. It gives us a lot of hope."



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