Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013 --- 10:00 p.m.
Xander Eggleston is in many ways like most 6-year-olds: He rarely ever sits still.
"Xander is a very happy, loving little boy,” said his mom Amanda Miller. “He's friendly, he is very energetic."
But unlike most children, he also has quite a bit of difficulty out in public and in unfamiliar situations.
"We have to make sure that everything is planned out and that we know what we're doing ahead of time," Miller said.
Xander’s autism has prevented the family from going vacations, or even to the store together, that is, until Xander met Chumley.
"Chumley, he's consistent,” Miller said. “He does the same thing every single time with Xander, where you and I, we do something different. And that unpredictability is hard on Xander."
Chumley is a yellow lab that came to the family’s Richland Center home six months ago from Custom Canines—a local organization that trains and places service dogs.
"Once that dog comes in for training, we custom train that dog for that individual child or that family, to enhance all of their lives,” said founder Nicole Meadowcroft.
Meadowcroft started the program because she knows what it’s like to need some added help.
"As my vision deteriorated and the pinhole that I'm seeing through now is slowly dissolving, I'm just so grateful to have a guide dog of my own and I really wanted to bring that feeling of independence and sense of freedom to other people who walk in my shoes," Meadowcroft said.
Meadowcroft's service dogs assist people in all different ways, with all kinds of disabilities. For Xander, Chumley is attached to a vest he wears when he leaves the house.
"Chumley knows that he needs to stay right next to Xander, and it gives Xander freedom because Xander can then walk independently, not have to hold an adult's hand," Miller said.
It's an activity most of us take for granted, that this little boy can now do on a regular basis with a loyal companion by his side.
"As a parent, it's wonderful to see him out there doing things he enjoys, to be with the family, to do stuff that normal kids can do," Miller said.
Custom Canines provides service dogs completely free of charge. Meadowcroft says she relies solely on donations and volunteers from the community. To help out, head to the Custom Canines website: customcanines.org.