By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Autism is a persistent development disorder, characterised by symptoms evident from early childhood, which affects almost one in every 150 Australian children.
According to research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2015, an estimated 164,000 people had autism, while from 2014–15, around 43,500 people with autism accessed disability support services under the National Disability Agreement (NDA).
Autism is most commonly identified in children and young people, and in the plight for them to feel safer, calmer and more understood, often, they are recommended the assistance and companionship of a therapy dog.
Therapy dogs are trusted companions that can augment an autistic child’s ability to cope with life, relieve sensory overload, and manage emotional episodes.
They bridge the gap between each child with autism and the outside world, guiding them through their daily routines, while keeping them safe and offering comfort when their circumstances become overwhelming.
In fact, research also shows that children with autism who have the support of a therapy dog show noteworthy improvements in their social, verbal and cognitive skills, with greater abilities to learn practices that sustain development, communication and interaction with the community.
With so many benefits a therapy dog can provide a child with autism, it comes as no surprise that a young girl in Leicestershire has been left heartbroken after her companion Dalmatian puppy was stolen from her when thieves broke into her family’s home.
To make matters more despairing, months later, the dog – who required specialist food for a liver condition – was found dead.
How Therapy Dog Was Stolen from Family Home
BBC News reports that in early December 2019, Lottie the Dalmatian was stolen from the home of Chloe Hopkins in Peatling Parva.
Thieves entered the residence and stole the dog from the kitchen where it slept.
The three-year-old dog was given to the young girl to help her with autism and associated anxiety.
The theft sparked a widely-shared social media campaign to find the dog, which was even backed by a renowned local TV presenter.
However, months went by with no signs of the therapy animal.
Sadly, on 10 March 2020, Chloe’s mother, Gemma Hopkins, posted on a Facebook page about the appeal that Lottie had been found dead.
Speaking to the BBC, Mrs Hopkins conveyed the family was given the news after Lottie’s microchip was scanned by a vet.
According to Leicestershire Police, the dog was discovered in a layby in Countesthorpe, approximately 6.4km away from the family’s home.
“Having to Identify Her was the Hardest Thing I’ve Done by Miles… Goodbye My Crazy Bunch of Spots”
Following the theft, Mrs Hopkins shared the update to a Facebook group used to promote the appeal, describing the Dalmatian as her daughter’s “best friend” that helped to keep her calm.
“Yesterday morning we got the call we didn’t want, Lottie has been found but passed away,” Mrs Hopkins wrote.
“Having to identify her was the hardest thing I’ve done by miles, and I cannot thank everyone enough for the shares of posters via social media.
“I’ve now got to break my 12-year-old’s heart tonight.”
She went on to express that this was not the ending they wished for.
“We kept hopeful,” she said.
“Goodbye my crazy bunch of spots.”
The social media post was met by thousands of people sharing their condolences.
Mrs Hopkins said she plans to buy Chloe a new dog in the near future when she has recovered from her grief of having “lost a family member” – indeed reflecting research that companion dogs end up having an impact on the whole family, bringing stability for the entire household.
Mrs Hopkins shared that when Lottie was stolen, Chloe was constantly on edge, not sleeping, and her whole world crumbled.
Like it or not, it is illegal to steal a dog in New South Wales. Stealing a dog is considered a larceny offence in NSW.
Section 503 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) make it clear that anyone who steals any dog shall, on conviction by the Local Court, can face imprisonment for up to six months, or receive a fine of $550, or both.
In fact, simply being in possession of a stolen dog or its skin is also illegal in New South Wales.
This is set out in section 504 of the Crimes Act 1900, which prescribes a maximum penalty of $550 for the offence, on conviction by the Local Court, for being in possession of a stolen dog, or the skin of one, knowing that it’s been stolen.
Furthermore, it an offence to steal a dog then return it for a profit in the case where an owner decides to offer a monetary reward for returning the dog.
In these circumstances, the person who dishonestly takes money or some kind of reward in return for recovering the stolen dog to the owner can face imprisonment for one year.
Have a question on this area of law? Get in touch with Australia’s leading criminal lawyers in Sydney today.