Friday, November 4, will be a special day for Amelia Cunningham. She will receive her Autism Response Dog from Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers. Amelia will be welcoming into her home a Golden Retriever named “Thor.”Warren Retrievers

Based in Virginia, Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers has a mission to provide specially bred and trained dogs for adults and children with invisible disabilities. Such conditions like Diabetes, PTSD, Seizure Disorders, or in the case of Amelia—Autism Spectrum Disorder. (

A Dog Named Thor


Thor has already received thousands of hours of training as an Autism service dog through SDWR’s puppy raiser training program.  Volunteers raise puppies in training for about a period of one year. Then they train through the foundation and skill sets through SDWR trainers at the facility in Virginia. Thor will continue to learn under the careful guidance of a certified trainer from SDWR and through the rapport he develops with Amelia and her parents at their home.


Amelia is 9 years old and faces the daily challenges of Autism Spectrum Disorder every day, since being diagnosed at the age of 5. “Amelia has sensory challenges, impulse control issues and experiences some sleep pattern disturbances” states her mom, Kayla. “We also experience some elopement issues.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder does hinder a person’s ability to process sensory stimulation, handle socialization experiences and even realize danger situations. New scientific research studies into Autism therapy provide positive evidence of the difference a service dog can make.

Dan Warren states, “The studies showed children experienced fewer sensory overloads, ‘meltdowns,’ smiled more frequently, experienced better sleep patterns, and had less frustration when around their service dog.”

One of the main goals when training an Autism service dog is the need to keep a child safe. For example, when the family goes out, the child may literally be tethered to the dog. Or, the dog will use its natural herding and blocking abilities to keep him or her from running off or getting hurt. According to Mr. Warren, “the studies further found that safety aspect was a huge relief for families as parents’ anxiety over their child can lead to social isolation.”

Service Dog and Handlers

Now with the arrival of Thor, Amelia and her parents will have yet another tool. A four-legged one that has received training to assist her to live a happier life. Since Thor is a service dog and is under laws in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he will be able to accompany Amelia everywhere. From school to restaurants, shopping and even trips to the doctor.

Thor will continue to work with the SDWR trainers in the Cunningham home to learn new skills to assist Amelia. As well as to achieve public access certification. Thor and his handlers, Amelia’s parents, must obtain certification.

Dan Warren is quick to point out that, “all the incredible services these dogs can provide are through progression, hard work and dedication of the organization and the family who must work together to build on training foundations and fundamentals. This is about an 18-month program for follow up and customization training.”

More about Warren Retrievers

What sets SDWR apart from other non-profit service dog organizations are the training methods that are tailor made to the client and SDWR matches dogs to their “person.” According to Dan Warren, “that important bonding time between dog and person can start to happen right away. For nearly a decade we’ve been utilizing this method of dog placement and we’ve achieved amazing results.”

Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers is a non-profit organization based in Madison, Virginia. The organization relies on donations to help in its mission, “Until there’s a cure…there’s a dog.”

To make or donation or learn more about SDWR, please visit the website, If you want to learn more about Autism Service Dogs visit To find out how you can volunteer as a puppy raiser visit

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