Family of local boy with autism is raising money for service dog

Kavi Holmes Harbour, 9, shows off some of his artwork during a tour of his bedroom at his Santa Margarita home.
Kavi Holmes Harbour, 9, shows off some of his artwork during a tour of his bedroom at his Santa Margarita home. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Kavi Holmes Harbour flipped through a book of glossy photographs from his 2013 vacation to Yosemite National Park, poring over the pages and retelling in vivid detail his memories behind the snapshots: the mountains, the bears, the trees.

“And here I am standing in between these two rocks. It looks like I’m super strong and holding one up!” the 9-year-old said, pointing to a photo of himself standing between two boulders, his arms outreached and hands firmly planted on the rocky ceiling.

The Santa Margarita boy has a voracious appetite for reading (100 library books twice a week), building with Legos and sprinting through the tall grass to his tire swing.

But when Kavi feels unsure about something, when things are too loud or sudden or bright, his mom says it triggers a fight-or-flight response. His clenches his fists, his eyes tear up and his escalating emotions can cause him to lash out.

“He processes the world in a different and less consistent way than what we know,” said his mother, Jenny Holmes. “It’s not just behavior, but their brains take messages in a different way.”

The youngster was diagnosed about two years ago with a form of autism and a sensory processing disorder.

The family hopes an autism service dog would provide companionship and help keep him calm in stressful situations.

Last fall, the nonprofit Autism Service Dogs of America accepted Kavi’s application, but the family has to raise $13,500 first to be placed on an 18-month average waiting list. The sum is about half the cost it takes the organization to raise and train a pup.

A service dog would give an alert bark if Kavi got separated from his mother in a store. It could also intervene when it sees Kavi scratching his own legs over and over or licking his lips raw by nuzzling Kavi to suggest “pet me, instead,” Holmes said.

The dog could also sit in between Kavi and another person, if someone is crowding his personal space. Or, the furry friend could lie on Kavi’s knees, something the organization says gives a deep-pressure calming sensation.

On Wednesday, when asked why he wanted a service dog, instead of answering outright, Kavi got up from his chair and searched for paper and a marker so he could write out his answer. He then folded it into a paper airplane and sailed it across the living room. Here is what it said:

“When the home hospital contract is over, I might have to go to school, but I hope not to. When that happens, if it does, then a dog will keep me company. Also, I will have a fidget by petting the dog.”

Because of issues related to his disorder, Kavi recently changed from a fourth-grade classroom setting to a type of homeschooling through what is known as a home hospital contract. The family now is considering his educational options.

“A fidget” is something to provide a sensory outlet for him to stay busy.

“He’s complicated but amazing and beautiful,” his mother said. “The only thing I would change about him is that he would be able to feel safe in the world.”