Dogs at Snohomish farm helping comfort kids with autism

SNOHOMISH, Wash. -- Puppies are, of course, cute, but the pups hopping around Holly Kohls’ Snohomish farm may have a higher purpose.

“They seem to have a sixth sense,” said Kohls. “An innate ability to comfort and to know when something’s wrong and to lean in close.”

Kohls says the dogs are a hybrid called Coltrievers, a cross between Border Collies and Golden Retrievers.

They make great pets, but over the years Kohls’ Coltrievers have become a beacon for families with autistic children.

“They’ll self-adjust and almost evolve with the child as they grow,” said Kohls.

The Schwartz family in Kirkland certainly agrees.

“We have a son on the spectrum and a few years ago he was having kind of a really hard time, lots of emotional issues, lots of tantrums, behavioral issues,” said Jennifer Schwartz about her son Jackson. “Ever since we brought our dog home, she has been very in tune to Jackson.”

Jackson, now 15, and Mercy the Coltriever, have now been together since both were little. His mom says, early on, Mercy could sense one of Jackson’s tantrums, and react.

“She came running up the stairs and laid down next to him and she did not move,” said Schwartz. “She stayed with him until he calmed down and then they both came downstairs, as if nothing had happened.”

“She’s basically always there when I need her,” said Jackson.

Sara Gardner, who leads the Autism Spectrum Navigators Program at Bellevue College, says the pressure of a dog leaning into an autistic person creates a calming sensation, and it’s the kind of pressure that comes natural to Coltrievers.

“One of the special things a dog does for an autistic kids is it helps them come out of themselves,” said Gardner. “They pay attention to something outside of themselves.”

But if you do a little research on google you’ll find many people downplaying Border Collies as pets for autistic kids, claiming they are too high energy.

Kohls agrees you should do your homework..

“The wrong dog with the wrong family is what we try to avoid,” said Kohls.

She now has autistic families from throughout the state, country, and world calling her and wanting the help and guidance they believe these dogs can bring.

“I always get emotional when I talk about this because it seems silly to say a dog can change a life but we’ve seen it happen over and over again. These puppies don’t just bring hope, but healing and joy and so much light. It’s almost like the world has color again.”