I NEVER WANTED A DOG. WE never wanted a dog, the adults, that is. Don’t get me wrong, dogs are great, when they are someone else’s responsibility. A kid is plenty of responsibility for us. A kid with special needs….more than enough. A kid with special needs AND a dog? Our cup runneth over. But it is happening and just like everything else in our family, we work it out.
I do not remember how we came to the decision that Micah would benefit from a service dog. I think it was a gradual realization. In the past, he was terrified of dogs, then indifferent but then he started interacting with our neighbors’ dogs and they were sweet and gentle with him. We dog sat a few times and we saw how the presence of the dog helped to calm him, that sloppy kisses ebbed the anxiety and cuddles were a balm to his soul. If a moderately trained dog could help him, what could a service dog do for him?
I started researching and found two year waiting lists and up to $25,000 price tags for service dogs from organizations. Neither the timeframe nor the financial aspect would work. Micah needed support as soon as possible. I doubled down on the research and came across a local private trainer specializing in service dogs. When I had the first conversation with Dee, I knew we had hit the trainer jackpot. She got it, she understood what I explained about Micah and she did not sugar coat.
Micah has a plethora of diagnoses – Autism Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Feeding Disorder, Hypotonia and Dysphagia – so he struggles.
Levi physically came into our lives in early December 2017. We first met him while he was living with Dee for a few weeks so she could teach him the basics of living in a house. Dee brought Levi to our house and we all had a lovely visit. But the day I will never forget is Thanksgiving dinner, not too long before we met Levi. We had a family and friends joining us for dinner and Heather and I had decided to tell Micah at dinner that his service pup had been born, was selected and would be with us in a few weeks. We made a game of the announcement – everyone had cards with words under their plates and they passed them down to Micah. He had to unscramble the riddle and figure it out and then we gave him a framed photo of Levi.
We did not expect much of a reaction. Children with Autism do not show excitement the same as neurotypical kids (Example: We did an elaborate scavenger hunt to tell him we were going to Disney World, when he found the final clue and read that we were going to Disney, he merely said, “Ok” and walked away). This night was incredibly different though. At first, he was exuberant and overjoyed. Then, he said he needed to be alone, took the photo into the living room, hid in a corner and cried. We were perplexed. He really wanted a service dog. Why was he crying? Later he told us he was happy but overwhelmed and just needed to be alone with his really big emotions for a bit. WHAT? He articulated his emotions AND asked for what he needed to cope! If just a photo of Levi could do this, what miracles did we have in store? We were elated.
At the time of this post, Levi is 6 months old.