Levi Balentine has already bonded with Bridger, a service dog who helps him cope with his autism. Levi is the first autistic child in Montana to receive such a specialist dog. K9 Care Montana, Inc., of Philipsburg is training Bridger and other dogs to help at least two Butte families. While Bridger has yet to join Levi and his mother Misty Balentine at home full-time or at school, the chocolate lab knows what spaces bother Levi so he can soothe his fears. He gives Levi and his family a confidence boost. “He’s trained to recognize my son’s triggers,” said Misty. “Levi hates elevators, airplanes, school buses, and he’s not fond of the gym at school.” Think of Bridger as an older brother. In dog years, he is 14. Levi is 8 and a second grader at Ramsay School. “Bridger definitely has a huge calming effect,” Misty said. “Levi is a little more willing to do more if he’s with him.” Levi did not talk until he was 5 years old. Now mainstreamed in the regular classroom most of the day, he anxiously awaits when Bridger can come home for good. After completing his training with K9 Care Montana, the dog returns to the Balentine residence to open arms this summer.
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