After Thomas – A film about a Golden Retriever and his Autistic best friend


A boy’s best friend
By Dephne Lockyer, Telegraph Media Group

Dale Gardner’s parents despaired when he was born with severe autism – until a golden retriever unlocked his secret world. … Another family might have opted to institutionalise Dale, but that was never an option for the Gardners. Instead, they dared to hope they might help their son and, during a visit to relatives at a Perthshire farm, they noticed how he seemed to connect with some puppies there. They decided to get him a pet of his own. Enter Henry.

“We weren’t hoping for any miracles, we just wanted Dale to have some company. I used to despair about his loneliness,” says Nuala. “But Henry turned out to be this wonderful, five-star educational resource. We could never have predicted how he would change our lives.”

Dale himself describes the dog as “friendly, with lovely, kind eyes”. “He was my dog and I loved him,” Dale says. “He died in April this year and even though I love our new dog (also called Henry) it was terrible for me. The first Henry was special.”

At times, Nuala and Jamie would find them snuggled together in the dog basket. That Henry introduced Dale to the concept of love and empathy – one that autism sufferers struggle with – is miraculous in itself but there was more. During one of the “proud” explosions, Jamie struck on the idea of trying to communicate with Dale through the dog. “I said, ‘Dale, this is Henry talking. I wish you’d stop that. It’s upsetting me.’ Instantly, Dale stopped raging and took Henry outside to play. Slowly, Dale’s behaviour improved. He no longer fought over bedtime rituals like getting into his pyjamas and he was finally toilet trained. Then, most extraordinarily of all, he began to express love for his parents.

“The most basic need of a mother is to love their child and to get some love back. Not to have it is the cruellest thing in the world,” Nuala says. “Every mother watching the drama will understand the elation when the son is finally able to say the words, even though he uses his dog as a conduit.”

AFTER THOMAS: The film based on the Gardner Family’s True Story
Six-year-old Kyle Graham is scared. Not of monsters under the bed, but of just about everything. And even worse, he can’t communicate his fears. His mother Nicola knows that Kyle wants to be left alone, safe and secure in his autistic world. But she also fears for his future if he continues to reject all emotional interaction. Her fierce determination to break into Kyle’s world has placed an intolerable strain on her marriage. Her husband Rob, although equally devoted to his son, is frustrated by Nicola’s relentless drive to improve Kyle’s condition and her resistance to putting Kyle into a highly reputable boarding school for autistic children.Thomas, a golden retriever puppy, is a last desperate attempt. Although Nicola had heard that some autistic children improved with pets, nothing could prepare Nicola and Rob for how Thomas unlocks the door to a personality they never knew their son had. What follows is a fascinating and moving tale of two parents who, at breaking point, find hope they never dared to dream. Gritty and real, funny and heart-warming, After Thomas is an uplifting and moving true story.The real family behind the story: Nuala and James Gardner – on whom Nicola and Rob Graham are based – live in a seaside town in Scotland with son Dale (Kyle), who is now 18, and their six-year-old daughter Amy. Both Dale and Amy were diagnosed with autism as toddlers, with Dale’s diagnosis being a long, arduous task at a time when autism was not widely understood. After Thomas is the story of Dale’s remarkable development through his bond with their pet dog Henry, named after his favorite engine in Thomas The Tank Engine but renamed Thomas in the film. He is unrecognizable from the boy he was during the period the film depicts – the confident, mature and friendly teenager who plays guitar in a band and works voluntarily with young Scouts is testament to the incredible impact Henry (Thomas) had on his life.

Nuala Gardner details how this story first came to writer Lindsey Hill’s attention when the family entered their Golden Retriever into a competition:

I entered what I thought was just a small competition through Winalot dog food. You had to write about why your dog was a ‘real life champ’ and so I wrote about the impact Henry had made on Dale. We won the competition and, subsequently, were approached by Pet Power with Anthea Turner. Pet Power was an amalgamation of heart-warming stories about the impact animals had had on people’s lives. We were a small aspect of that, with a 15 minute piece which briefly covered our story. Lindsey was one of the many thousands who watched it, and she could see that there was more to the story and got in touch with us. Initially, there was a double edged sword of excitement and reservation. However, from that very initial conversation, a nine-year relationship with Lindsey was formed.

After Thomas is the first one-off drama script from former insolvency lawyer Lindsey Hill. She explains how she came across this moving true story:

One evening early in 1997, I caught an episode of Pet Power and saw the Gardner family’s story. I sat there with tears rolling down my face; I too had a golden retriever puppy – who was lying at my feet – so I knew just how special they could be and what incredible bonds you can develop with them. About an hour later I had a ‘light bulb moment’. If the story could move me like that, what effect might it have on other people? ‘When I finally got to talk to the family, they were unbelievably open and candid. They had thought about it long and hard and decided that if it could possibly help other families, they would love to work with me on bringing their story to a wider audience. At this point Dale was a little boy, and they invited me to visit them at their home in Scotland. They had two conditions: that I stay at their house rather than in a hotel and that I take my dog too. In the end I went up twice, staying for ten days in total.

After Thomas can be seen below in the following clips:


Pet Food Recall now includes Rice Protein – This story just keeps getting bigger

Durbin – Delauro Joint Press Release April 18, 2007

Durbin, Delauro Meet with Von Eschenbach
Urge Chinese Government to Cooperate on Pet Food Contamination Investigation

WASHINGTON , DC ] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) today met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Andrew von Eschenbach in Durbin’s Capitol office to discuss the latest recall of pet food, this time caused by contaminated rice protein imported from China .

In the meeting, Durbin and DeLauro learned that the Chinese Government has blocked requests from the FDA to send personnel to China to inspect the facilities suspected of producing the contaminated products. The FDA first contacted the Chinese Government on April 4, 2007, but have not been granted permission to send food inspectors into the country. In response, Durbin and DeLauro sent a letter to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States , Zhou Wenzong, urging the Chinese Government to issue visas to U.S. food inspectors as quickly as possible.

“It is unacceptable that the Chinese government is blocking our food safety inspectors from entering their country and examining facilities that are suspected of providing contaminated pet food to American consumers,” said Durbin. “We have asked for two things in our letter today — that the Chinese government allow our inspectors in and that the Chinese ambassador to the United States meet with Congresswoman DeLauro and me to discuss the larger issue of contaminated food being sent to the U.S. . These are reasonable requests and we hope that we can find a level of cooperation with the Chinese.”

“At time when China is exporting more foods into the U.S, the Chinese are refusing to allow our inspectors in to the country to investigate the source of the pet food contamination. The FDA needs to be allowed to investigate this so we can better protect our pets and identify the source of the source of the problem. While we have a significant trade relationship with the Chinese, the investigation of the contaminated product comes first,” said DeLauro.

Last week, Durbin, a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, along with Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), the Chairman of the Subcommittee, held a hearing to question witnesses on the timeline of the investigation, the source of the contamination, and the agency’s regulatory and inspection responsibilities. In the hearing, the Senators also questioned outside experts who about the current state of the pet food industry, as well as regulatory or resource shortfalls that led to the widespread recall of tainted pet food.

Additionally, DeLauro, the Chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, will further explore FDA’s inspection of imported foods in a follow-up hearing before the subcommittee.

Durbin and DeLauro have been actively engaged on food safety issues for over a decade. This Congress they introduced legislation that calls for the development of a single food safety agency and the implementation of a food safety program to standardize American food safety activities (The Safe Food Act – S. 654 and H.R. 1148 in the Senate and House respectively). The Illinois senator said legislation he has introduced to consolidate all federal food safety responsibilities into a single, independent agency has taken on new urgency because of a possibly heightened need to respond quickly and effectively to any acts of bioterrorism or agroterrorism. Currently, there are at least 12 different federal agencies and 35 different laws governing food safety. With overlapping jurisdictions, federal agencies often lack accountability on food safety-related issues.

The non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) has been unequivocal in its recommendation for consolidation of federal food safety programs. In February of this year, the GAO deemed federal oversight of food safety as “high risk” to the economy and public health and safety. Over the past two decades, GAO has also issued numerous reports on topics such as food recalls, food safety inspections and the transport of animal feeds. Each of these reports highlights the current fragmentation and inconsistent organization of the various agencies involved in food safety oversight.


[copy of the letter attached and below]

April 18, 2007

Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

Dear Mr. Ambassador:

The ongoing investigation into the recent series of pet deaths and illnesses in the United States has revealed that contaminated batches of wheat gluten and rice protein responsible for these events were imported from China . According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), China was the source of both the contaminated wheat gluten responsible for the recall of more than 60 million containers of cat and dog food, and the most recent recall of rice protein products.

Both products were contaminated with melamine, a chemical used for industrial purposes in the United States and in fertilizers in China . According to experts, no level of melamine should be found in pet or human food.

In the case of the contaminated wheat gluten, FDA has identified Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd. as the source of the product. Although spokespeople for Xuzhou Anying have denied involvement in the incident, U.S.-based importer ChemNutra, Inc., has demonstrated that it imported the contaminated wheat gluten from Xuzhou Anying and various media reports show that the Chinese company was involved in purchasing significant quantities of melamine. In the case of the rice protein contamination, U.S. importer Wilbur-Ellis has said that it imported its products from Binzhou Futian Biology Technology, Ltd.

In response to these contaminations, on March 30, 2007, FDA took steps to block imports of Chinese wheat gluten thought to pose a risk to the safety of the human and pet food supply. The Agency has also made multiple requests to the Chinese Government to allow U.S. inspectors to look at the facilities that are suspected to have produced the contaminated product. On April 4, 2007, the FDA sent its first letter to the Chinese Government asking for visas to allow its inspectors visit China . The request was not granted, and on April 17, 2007, the FDA sent an additional letter emphasizing that it wished to be allowed to send its inspectors to China .

This incident has brought suffering to pet owners who have seen their animals fall prey to illness or death, and caused significant economic losses to U.S. companies that believed they were importing wholesome products

Therefore, we strongly urge the Chinese Government to quickly issue visas to U.S. inspectors and cooperate in this investigation. Last year, the United States imported more than $2.1 billion of agricultural goods from China , up from nearly $1.8 billion the year before. Clearly, this is an important trading relationship.

We appreciate the courtesy of a timely response. We would also like to meet with you in the near future to discuss this issue.


Richard J. Durbin Rosa L. DeLauro
U.S. Senator Chairwoman House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies

Remembering Service Golden Retriever Abel

It grows harder and harder when I learn about another Golden succumbing to cancer. It is especially heart breaking when you realize the limited amount of time these wonderful souls are getting to remain by our sides. My goodness, Abel was barely seven years of age. Such a sweet, sweet boy.

Here is the incredibly sad post that I just received from his mom, Alice, at almost 2am:

“We had to put Abel to sleep today. He had gotten sick a couple of weeks ago but had seemed to be okay until last night. We ended up at the vet this morning and then were sent to the Specialty Vet in Seattle. Tests showed he had a large mass in his heart and a large mass in his abdomen that were both bleeding and were a very fast growing cancer. He could not even come home with us from Seattle because he was continuing to bleed.”

“Abel and I have not been separated since we got him at 8 weeks of age. He has been my constant companion and gave me the security to be alone at home or to go out alone. He was the sweetest most loving friend anyone could have. Our hearts are breaking as we try to understand.”


Be sure to learn more by reading the First Place entry, Alice & Abel (and 4 other CCI puppies), from our prior Healing Power of Goldens Writing Contest.