Autism Angels: Blue & Dublin

Autism parents have the same fears as typical parents . We’re afraid of something bad happening to our child, about their futures, and that our children won’t have friends. Unfortunately many of these fears are amplified by different aspects of autism. Some children on the spectrum are nonverbal; others have a tendency to wander off; some experience great anxiety; and others suffer from seizures. I know my greatest fear is that I will lose Barrett, because he does have a bit wander lust, like his momma. Autism service dogs help alleviate many of these fears.

Blue and Dublin are two autism service dogs who belong to classmates of Barrett. Service dogs are different from therapy dogs, and have protections under the law that allows special needs individuals’ public access with their dogs. A service dog is task-trained in specific areas to serve the person that that they are with.

We don’t have a service dog for Barrett, but after some of my son’s antics over the last few weeks – I’m seriously considering it. He’s been a handful, but that’s a post for another day. Today I want to introduce to two special four legged friends, Blue and Dublin. I’ll confess that when I heard that there’d be service dogs in Bear’s classroom, I was nervous. I thought it would make things a little crazy for Barrett. Barrett loves dogs and on occasion has visited canine friends in the neighborhood without permission – from any party! I imagined a scenario where Barrett would think the dogs were for him and this being a problem with his classmates. As with most mommy-worries, it was all for nothing.

I’m in Barrett’s classroom quite often, and I usually forget that there are dogs. They just blend in. I was there once during a class period change, and it was quite chaotic with all the peer buddies, three teachers, therapists and eight students. The dogs seemed unaffected by the noise, which was impressive. I remember being overwhelmed.

Randi, the “mother” of one of the service dogs, has talked to me quite a bit about what it was like to get a dog for her son, Ben. It’s quite a process and very expensive. Yet, the benefits of having one of these dogs far out-weigh all the hassles involved in getting one. Why haven’t I pursued it? Mostly selfish reasons: the road trip, money, and time spent training the dog. I know, I know. Maybe one day.

Meet Blue and Erik, aren’t they cute?

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I interviewed Deanna and Randi, moms of Barrett’s classmates, about their experiences with service dogs. They’re members of my autism sisterhood and I really admire them. They’re dedicated, kind, and work very hard to help their sons be the best they can be.

Deanna’s interview:

Tell me about Blue:

Blue is an autism assistance dog and he’s used mainly for security (we can tether him to Eric) and tracking. I can attach Erik to Blue so that Erik doesn’t run or escape when we’re in crowded public areas. If Erik wanders off, Blue is wonderful at tracking him. Blue is not a seizure alert dog because Erik doesn’t have daily/weekly seizures, but he can assist when Erik does have a seizure. Blue is a calming and familiar presence for my son.

Why did you decide to get a service dog?

When Erik was about five years old, he wandered away from our home. We looked all over for him and couldn’t find him anywhere. We called 911 to report him missing and he was eventually found about a half a mile away from our house. Erik is nonverbal and has seizures. I know some parents have experienced the fear and panic that occurs when their child is nowhere to be found. Imagine that fear and panic if your child was nonverbal and has seizures. If anyone found him, Erik wouldn’t be afraid or know to run away if needed. He wouldn’t be able to cry out for help. I remember thinking that he could have been lying in a ditch having a seizure or drowning. Or that he could have been kidnapped. I was absolutely hysterical! I knew then that I needed something that could help me find my child if he ever escaped. That’s when I discovered 4 Paws for Ability and began the process of getting a service dog for Erik.

How did you find your dog?

I filled out the application and went through the approval process. Therapy dogs are expensive, so then we started fund-raising. It took us about six months to raise the funds.

What type of fundraising did you have to do?

We had multiple fundraisers. General Motors held two golf tournaments and a raffle for us. We sold Krispy Kreme donuts on the square in Cumming. For Erik’s birthday we asked that friends and family to donate the money that they would have used to purchased something for him – and they got a tax write-off.

How has the dog helped your child?

Tethering Erik to Blue is a huge help, especially when we are in crowded public areas. Blue goes to school with Erik and they’re also able to use tethering. Blue can track Erik, which we’ve had to do on three occasions for real! Blue also provides a calming effect for Erik when we’re in an unfamiliar place. When your child doesn’t have friends like other children, a dog provides friendship and companionship. Erik can play outside with Blue and throw the ball to him. Blue sleeps beside him in bed every night. Blue is there to support my son no matter what and loves Erik unconditionally. You can’t put a price on that. Blue is a security blanket for me. I can relax a bit, knowing Blue has my back. I’m a single mom and Blue is literally an extra set of hands when I need them.

How does Blue interact with the rest of your family?

Blue loves everyone. He loves to play outside and he goes everywhere with us – out to eat and on vacation. He’s part of our family. I actually refer to him as my well-behaved child.

What are the challenges?

As with anything, in the beginning we had to work very hard on Blue’s behaviors. He was just over one year-old when he came to us, so there were times when he just wanted to act like a puppy. I worked really hard with him that first year and it paid off. He is wonderful. You have to remember that therapy dogs are animals and therefore I have to keep working with Blue to ensure that he continues performing his job as he should. It’s sometimes tough to remember that Blue is not a pet, he’s a service dog who has to behave appropriately in public. People are always watching when we’re out. I don’t want to give service dogs a bad name because I haven’t continued his training. We have to keep Blue under control, because I need him to be able to perform his duties – especially tracking in the event Erik wanders off. I never forget how much fundraising was involved in getting Blue and I don’t wat to end up with an expensive pet that isn’t helping my son.

tttBlue will be nine years old this June, and I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be able to perform his service dog duties. We’ll be fund-raising for another service dog soon! It is absolutely worth it, as you see I am willing and ready to do it all over again!

Randi’s Interview:

Tell me about Dublin:

Dublin is trained in tethering. We don’t use tethering anymore, but we did when Ben was younger.  It’s a skill that I would have used quite a bit if I’d we’d had a service dog when Ben was a little boy.  I can tether Ben to Dub and then not worry about losing track of Ben in a public place.  We’ve done this at Disney when Ben was younger.  Dublin’s also trained in behavior disruption.  We use Dublin when Ben is upset to try and settle him down or to pull Ben out of his mood.  Dublin is also trained in tracking.  If Ben wanders off, Dublin can track him and help me find him.

Why did you decide to get a service dog?

Ben has always been a dog person and I knew from a young age that a dog would be a benefit to him. For years I thought that the fundraising aspect was too much for me to deal with.  I finally just decided to go for it. I had some good friends who were dedicated to helping me and they gave me the confidence to try and make it work.  I was mostly interested in the tracking and tethering.  The funny thing is that now we don’t really use either of those tasks.  Ben very rarely wants to go anyplace and he’s super easy to take out now, because he doesn’t try to leave or wander off anymore.  Ben gets really anxious about going places and having Dublin with him makes him feel better.

How did you find your dog?

Dublin came from www.4pawsforability.org   in Ohio.  We were required to fundraise $13,000 which is about half of the cost of the dog and the training that goes into the dog.  When we were matched we had to go to Ohio for two weeks of training.  There’s a lot of info on the 4 Paws website.

How has the dog helped your child?

Dublin mostly helps Ben to feel more confident in situations that cause him anxiety and he helps Ben when he gets upset. In school, they use Dub quite a lot to help manage Ben’s anxiety and mood.  I’m sure that BJ or Gina would have a better description of how they do this, but I do know that sitting with Dub is one of Ben’s choices for when he’s upset and needs to calm himself.

How does Blue interact with the rest of your family?

Dublin is for sure, Ben’s dog, but Dublin is also a member of the family. There is a challenge, especially when Dublin first came home, in keeping Dublin bonded to Ben and not to the other kids.  And of course, he’s still a dog and sometimes acts like a dog.

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Dublin and Ben

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Blue & Dublin are a part of the Awesome Clique!

Thank you Deanna and Randi! I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions, so that more people can learn about the benefits of service dogs. Pleas leave a comment for my friends below and visit 4 Paws for Ability for more information about service dogs.

This post is linked up to Finish The Sentence Friday, which is hosted by the amazing Kristi Campbell of Finding Ninee and Michelle from Crumpets and Bollocks. This weeks prompt was perfect for this post, “My greatest fear…”

17 thoughts on “Autism Angels: Blue & Dublin”

  1. Allie, I just couldn’t even begin to imagine the fears you outlined to be quite honest, but that said I appreciate you sharing with both of your above interviews to give some insight to these fears and also what having a service dog is like in possibly helping to waylaying some of these fears, as well.

    1. The fears, honestly, are all consuming. Barrett (perhaps due to puberty?)) has been testing his geological boundaries lately and it is very taxing on my cardiologic health. To say the least.

  2. Wow, very expensive indeed! But so true, you can put a price on feeling secure. Just curious – a question for Deanna, “What happens when the service dog becomes too old and a new dog is needed to replace him/her?” Do they then become “just a pet”?

    Thanks for sharing Allie.

    1. Yes when it is time for your service dog to retire he lives with you & can actually help in training you next service dog! I cannot imagine not having Blue in my life. When Erik was in surgery Blue kept me calm!

  3. What an awesome spin on FTSF, of course.
    Yes, Blue and Erik are quite cute, and amazing. I have a cat on my lap right now and I know cats can be Autism Angels too (hey, maybe that can be a future post) but I guess I’m more impressed by dogs.
    Although she’s quite cute.. purring right now… takes the edge off.

  4. Thank you for sharing Allie. How sweet to read about these furry autism angels. It’s touching to learn about the bond between the boys and the dogs, as well as the peace of mind and comfort it provides the mothers/families. What a special friendship and partnership. It saddens me to read how expensive they are since I’m sure it hinders many people from pursuing them.

    1. Yes, the price is astronomical! But I guess it going into the training for the dog, which is pretty intense. I suppose I could fundraise, but I really have a problem with fundraising for myself. I would shake everyone down, on behalf of someone else, but me – yikes.

  5. Service dogs are AMAZING. Years ago, I wanted my shepherd Chief to be able to fly with me instead of with the luggage so I looked into getting him trained and WOW it was intense! I obviously didn’t go through with it (the fact I didn’t need a service dog was besides the point for me). I love that they can track! What a cool interview, Allie!

  6. Allison,
    I absolutely love these interviews. A peek into the world of these wonderful service dogs and the “unconditional love” they can offer to the autism community.

    I’m extra proud of you for this one❤️(wink wink).

  7. I wish I thought of the dog idea when my children were younger. Gabby wanders. We live near the woods. I actually, eventually, discovered up in the woods, there’s a brick pit that’s about 6 feet deep. No idea what it was used for, like my husband said it could be an old fashioned heating thing, except there’s no old houses near us. These apartments are less than 10 years old when we moved in. So I’m thinking Satanic rituals since the place is fairly haunted. Either way, the neighbor kids threw my kids’ blankets in there one day. Gabby decided to go get them without telling me. When I realized she was leaning over that thing with a stick to obtain blankets, my heart just jumped into my throat. This is stuff she does when I’m not watching. Still. She’s 9 years old. But I don’t think my landlord will let us have a dog, even a specially trained expensive one, and the cost of these animals is too large. It’s a great idea though. I hope enough people invest into making it more accessible and affordable because I understand the fear too well, and autism is on the rise. BUT when I move out to a real house, I want a 3,000 dollar cat (those huge Savannah cats). I don’t need it to be trained for anything specific. Just emotional support.

  8. I agree Allison these therapy dogs can be expensive. Have a friend who is doing this support the cause thingie and I can understand her agony.
    These interviews sure did help get an insight from different mom’s whose plight is the same!
    xoxo

  9. I can’t even imagine how terrifying it was to lose Erik for that time period! These dogs are so amazing and I’m just so glad you have the comfort in knowing your boys have more security and safety with them. They looks SO sweet!

    Allie, thanks for sharing Deanna and her dogs with us! Ben and Erik are blessed boys indeed. <3

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