Dogs can be more than just loyal companions; they can be trained to help change a person's life. Solana Beach-based group Tender Loving Canines has been training just that kind of service dog since 1998.
The group is holding a fundraiser at 11 a.m. July 8 at the Del Mar Country Club to support its new Leash on Life program. Leash on Life helps provide assistance dogs for children with autism.
The event will feature guest speaker Dr. Temple Gradin, who is an internationally known behaviorist and autism advocate. Gradin lives with her own autism and has written several books on the subject. She also fought for the humane treatment of bovines in slaughterhouses, helping to create new standards in the meat industry.
She will give two lectures, one on animal behavior and one on autism. Her newest book, "Animals Make Us Human," will be available for purchase.
Tender Loving Canines is run entirely by volunteers. Currently, there are eight dogs in training - mostly Labradors and retrievers, but also Australian shepherds, standard poodles and "labradoodles." Volunteer trainers pay for all of the dog's expenses and train them for 18 months.
"The only benefit that they get is their success at helping people improve their lives," said Shauna Montrucchio, executive assistant to the board of directors.
Trainers evaluate each dog's personalities and strengths to best match them to a person in need, Montrucchio said.
There was Maddie, the labradoodle who paired perfectly with a 21-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who was living on her own for the first time.
Or the two twin boys also with cerebral palsy, whose dog, Libby, came to Sage Canyon School with them every day.
The Leash on Life program was started two years ago, targeting autism specifically.
"It really enables them, parents and children, to have more freedom and live a normal life," Montrucchio said.
One family's autistic child had a tendency to run away, to open the door when the doorbell rang and bolt out. The TLC dog Muffet was trained to block the door when the doorbell rings to keep the child from opening it.
The child also had meltdowns whenever he saw nuts in the grocery store - Muffet is able to provide a distraction.
Having the dog around has allowed him to improve his social skills, so his teachers at school can focus on educating him. "It's really neat to see," Montrucchio said.
Tickets for the July 8 event can be bought at
or by calling (760) 736-4852.