A Service dog, for Autism? What’s all the “woof” about!?.
I have heard a few questions, comments and concerns about our family obtaining an autism service dog for Summer, I thought I might answer a few…
Before I do let me clarify something, animals have always played a very important role in my family’s life. It is no surprise that Summer is also an animal lover. However, she doesn’t just have a love for them, she connects with them. She connects and bonds with animals in a way she doesn’t with people outside of our family unit or school. We feel that this is the best decision/choice for SUMMER. Our life, our story, our choice. This is what our family feels to be right in our hearts for Summer.
• “Summer doesn’t look disabled, why does she need a service dog?”
Well, not all disabilities are visible. Summer is medically diagnosed as having moderate autism spectrum disorder, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder (she is semi-verbal with the communication development of an 18 month old) and delayed milestones. She does not appropriately process danger or unsafe situations the same as most. Until you interact with her, try to communicate with her, or spend some time with her you wouldn’t know she has a disability. Her actions and reactions to the environment around her can be unpredictable at times. Whether it is the general scenery, the amount of people, lights, or sounds, the world can be just too much for her to process and understand. Summer uses most of her energy trying to understand a world that seems confusing to her. Much of what we take for granted can be physically and mentally stressing for her. Normal situations such as; trips to the grocery store, going to school, family functions, appointments, and social events require a team effort because they can overwhelm her in a way that no one realizes.
• “Why 4 Paws For Ability? There are organizations that provide service dogs for free.”
A large majority of the service dog agencies list their dogs as “no cost to the recipient,” which is often taken to mean “free.” However, their dogs are not free. The agency placing the dogs, “at no cost to the participant” has received donations for the funding of the dog placed. In other words, someone other than the recipient paid for the training of his or her dog. Some of their age requirements and pet limitations were strict and Summer wouldn’t qualify for a couple of them because she is only 3. The wait lists were ridiculous, most agencies with these “free” dogs have waiting lists averaging from two to five years.
4 Paws for Ability enriches the lives of children with disabilities by training and placing quality, task-trained service dogs. This provides increased independence for the children, and assistance to their families. 4 Paws also works with veterans from recent conflicts who’ve lost the use of their limbs or their hearing while in active combat.
In all cases, the results speak for themselves. Lives are transformed.
• “Why does it cost so much money?”….It’s “just” a dog.
As volunteers of the organization and to secure Summer with her own autism service dog our family will be raising a minimum requirement of 15,000. In reality it costs 4 Paws $22,000 to raise and train the dogs they offer for children and veterans. The funds that are raised go directly to the 4 Paws for Ability organization to support and help their mission. All of their dogs are fully trained when placed with their child/vet. The dogs go through multiple programs such as; residing and training with foster families, training within prison and have months of intense training before they are ready. The dogs are a year old (sometimes older) when they are placed. 4 Paws doesn’t place a dog that isn’t ready, or that doesn’t have the right temperament. Every dog is trained case specific to the child and their needs.
• “Can’t you rescue a dog and train it yourself?”
This actually makes me laugh because if we were just looking for a companion or emotional support animal, sure. The requirements we need for Summer are a lot more intense than just keeping her company through the day. This dog will provide her with companionship, security and will keep her safe. When given a command her dog will immediately jump into action to disrupt or redirect Summer’s behavior. We aren’t sure if in time she will progress and break through the social barrier to form meaningful relationships with her peers or in the event Summer is to go missing her dog will go and track her down. Summer will have the access and ability to go places that she may not have been able to before due to the situation being to overwhelming for her or for our family.
When Summer gets her dog she will be legally able to take the dog anywhere that she goes in the public. She and the dog will be protected under the ADA because the dog will be a SERVICE dog (a lot of people don’t understand that).
4 Paws for Ability has their own breeding program. They know the temperaments of the dogs they need and the breed of dogs that make the best service dogs. Plus, as long as we have the dog, we’ll have the support of the trainers at 4 Paws for Ability. If we have a problem, all we will need to do is call them.
I 100% stand by our decision to go with 4 Paws for Ability. In the 4 months we’ve fundraised we’ve made friends with other families who have their dogs, are getting their dogs soon and some who are fundraising just like us. Yes, raising the money is hard work…I’m taking a break from working on that to make this post, but in the end I know Summer will have the dog that she was meant to have and will make a huge difference in not only her life, but our entire family’s life.