Ten months ago we learned that my son would be getting a service dog. Excitement bubbled up as my son quickly began to prepare for his new dog. He put thought into where his dog would sleep and what color ball he would enjoy catching. He pondered the size of the bowl for drinking water and the height at which the bowl would need to be placed for the dog to drink the water (without too much strain). He pronounced, “when I have my dog, I will be able to go outside by myself, right, Mom?” And, “When my dog gets here, I will have a friend to walk to the mailbox with, right, Mom?” Statements like, “Mom, do you think my dog will like me reading books to him?” and “What time do you think my dog will need to go to bed at night?”
Ten months ago when we applied for a therapy dog, we learned that our son, instead, qualified for a service dog, We learned that our son needed help preforming simple tasks, such as entering a room without having an anxiety attack; help with falling asleep at night without his body stimming and flailing; and reminders and simple nudges to stay calm. We learned he needed another layer of support – not just the emotional layer of being calm and happy when surrounded by the comfort of a furry companion.
That was ten months ago.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was sitting at my office desk one day, plugging away at numbers for next year’s master schedule for my school. My brain was twirling with information and I was focused, very focused. When my phone rang, I anticipated that I’d be connecting with a community or family member from my school. Instead, the voice on the other end informed me that my son had been matched to a dog.
Matched to a dog.
Matched to a dog.
Keeping my composure over the phone, I listened as the angel on the other end of the phone told me about Aussie. “She is very calm,” and “she loves playing with kids,” shared the voice. The voice continued, “we think she will be a good match for your son because she meets all of the criteria and requirements from your initial application and interview. …” And here is where I said a silent prayer of gratitude.
I’m sure the voice at the other end had heard mothers like me before. I’m sure she was prepared for the well of emotion, the tears to spill. However, for me, this seemed like a moment that was always too far from reach. It seemed like my son would continue to revert inward, making it more and more difficult to connect with him. My boy. I’m sure I didn’t need to tell this voice that the timing was almost miraculous because my son’s teacher is still learning about autism; leaving my son either in sensory overload or completely confused about what was next. I didn’t need to tell this voice about the short trips to-from school where my son, 8-years old, falls into a deep sleep because it is all he can do to just function during the school day. Nor, did I need to tell her about the daily tears and loud squaks and his unwillingness to eat anything other than chicken nuggets. She didn’t need to be reminded of how our family avoids going to restaurants and movie theaters and crowded parks because it is too difficult for my son.
She already knew. Yet, she listened anyway. And we made arrangements to meet Aussie.
A mere two weeks later, our non-traditional family, living in two homes and rebuilding from a disheartened past, met at Freedom Service Dogs in Englewood, Colorado. The Co-Parent and I made a rare agreement and understanding to bring a service dog, Aussie in particular, into our son’s life. And so, we shuffled into the board room and shared updates from the past school year. We learned about the upcoming 13-week training program that both of us must attend. We learned about the vest the Aussie must wear in all public settings and the treats that we should carry with us for training purposes. We learned our dog, Aussie, a beautiful black English Labrador began her training over 10-months, ago, too. Just after her first birthday, she began learning how to walk on the left side of her human. She learned how to jump with soft feet and how to use restraint from barking at nearby pups. She learned her manners in a sense. And, we learned Aussie was a girl dog, not a boy as my son requested. However, when asked by the team of trainers about there being any problem with a girl dog, my son replied, “I don’t care. I just want a dog.”
And, finally, the trainers of Freedom Service Dogs escorted Aussie into the board room. She carried a neon colored llama in her mouth and wore a purple harness (my son’s least favorite color). But she nudged her small face into my son’s even smaller hands. He giggled and pet her on the head. He turned to me and said, “Mom, this is my dog.”
Post Match Meeting:
Now we are in the waiting period for our training to begin in two short weeks. In the interim, my son looks at pictures of Aussie on a daily basis. He tells wild stories of soon-to-be-adventures with Aussie to his para-educator at school during their daily walks outside. He is working hard to transition from the top bunk to the bottom at the Co-Parent’s home because he understands that Aussie can’t climb ladders. He is practicing opening the front door of my condo complex, and holding it for his sister and me, because soon Aussie will also need help with this. He is already growing and emerging from the shell of autism.
And while Aussie isn’t even part of our lives, yet, she has brought us hope.
A BIG, Beautiful Credit to Freedom Service Dogs of America in Englewood, CO and to the Disco Dogs training program, that specializes in training dogs to serve children (over 5-years old) with autism (ASD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy (CP) and more.