Prison-Trained Dogs are Changing the Lives of Autistic Children

ABC News
Beyond The Headline

11-year-old Zachary Tucker has autism.

He stopped hugging his mom and dad when he turned five. His emotional anxiety can get so bad at school that his teachers have said Zachary often curls himself into a ball on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.

Willing to try anything to help Zachary cope with his autism, Tucker’s parents drove over 200 miles each weekend to a Colorado State prison to meet with Chris Vogt, a convicted murderer who now trains companion dogs for Colorado Correctional Industries' Prison Trained K-9 Companion Program.

In 1998, Chris Vogt was sentenced to 48 years in a Colorado prison for helping kill a man, an act Vogt doesn’t shy away from, “I’m in prison on a murder case that I am guilty of.” Now Vogt is struggling to put his past behind him so that he can focus on training dogs like Clyde, Zachary’s companion dog.

Clyde quickly made a difference in Zachary’s life, nudging him whenever he senses Zachary’s anxiety levels increasing and refocusing his attention. Zachary says, “My anxiety has been brought down by about 70%. I’ve been able to socialize with other kids, which I hadn’t been able to do in a long time.”

Susy Tucker is thankful she and her son were fortunate in meeting with Vogt, “Here is man that isn’t allowed any physical contact and yet (he’s) given my son the physical ability to hug and care about other people.”

“This is the thing I get to do that gives back,” says Vogt. And even if Vogt is unable to forgive himself for his past, he is currently working hard to make a better future for children suffering with autism.