Sudden Death Leaves Autistic Boy Without Service Dog
By Adam Ghassemi
HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. – Barrett Ruck may seem like any other fun-loving, clumsy kid, but his parents, Chris and Tammy, know better.
"He's eight and he's broken his nose about seven times," Tammy Ruck said. "When you're a parent of an autistic child you're on-duty 24/7."
A lifetime of fits, rage and seizures means Barrett needs help just to get around. He found it in, Zach.
"I loved him more than any other dog," Barrett said Wednesday.
Zach went through two years of training to learn how to work with autistic children. Trainers specially mimicked Barrett's characterizes to get him ready. He came with a $14,000 price tag the Rucks raised in donations, but to them he was worth every penny.
When he came into their lives last December, he instantly became a part of the family.
Barrett found a calming, around-the-clock companion who was always there for seizures and falls at home or school.
Wednesday the couple had to tell their son the hardest thing imaginable.
"That my dog went to heaven," Barrett said.
"He sobbed like I never heard him sob before," his father recalled hours after telling him son of Zach's death. "It was a wail of a cry that I had just never heard from him before. It just rips through you to your core," Tammy added.
The Rucks say their veterinarian believes Zach had some sort of genetic problem. His death Monday night meant months of fundraising and training vanished.
"This dog was custom made for our son and it took two years to get him that way, and here he is six months later and he's gone," Tammy Ruck went on to say.
The Rucks got Zach from Wilderwood Service Dogs in Maryville, Tenn. Wednesday President and Founder Tiffany Denyer said they've never dealt with this before. She says they're waiting to see what genetic testing reveals, and if their Board of Directors can give the family a replacement.
The Rucks say they just spent a mortgage payment on vet bills and worry they'll have to start the fundraising process all over again for another dog.