We started the process of applying for a therapy/assistance dog for our Aspergirl, who was diagnosed at age 5 with High Functioning Autism, or what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome.
This year has been the hardest year of Cici’s life so far. She has entered junior high and has not been able to adjust to it, at all. She has been feeling lost and alone. She knows she is different and it has lead to increased anxiety and depression. She is also still working on improving her social skills — which makes it hard for her to make and keep friends.
Throughout all of this, one thing that remains consistent is my daughter’s love for animals.
When taking Cici to a farm or anywhere that there are animals that she can get close to, she seems to have found her “home”. She also collects Littlest Pet Shop toys (her obsession) and loves all the different animals, but especially the cats and dogs.
Cici has been asking for a pet of her own, which we considered, but we know that when adopting a dog or puppy there is no guarantee that it would be a good fit as a companion for her. When we heard about therapy/assistance dogs trained for autistic individuals, we thought we were dreaming — the idea seemed too good to be true!
We are hoping to adopt an assistance dog for my daughter that could help her deal with her anxiety and tantrums. She has frequent meltdowns, usually due to sensory issues. She can also get easily worked up and will cry and scream out of frustration. This is a behavior that we are trying to target as it upsets the entire household, especially her two year old sister.
Mark and I watched a couple of videos online of how therapy dogs will stay close or try to offer pressure to help calm the meltdowns and we think this would help tremendously as Cici will refuse hugs or touches from us but will gladly try to “hug” our cat Pumpkin (but he often does not enjoy it as he is a cat.) I then had her watch the videos with me, and she was sold. We both had tears in our eyes, amazed at how a therapy dog was helping these autistic individuals in so many big and small ways.
In addition, Cici tends to spend a lot of time alone either on the computer or in her room. Since the dog would require walks and fresh air, it would help get her out of the house and perhaps a bit of exercise. This may even spark conversations and help her socialize as she walks her dog, and improve her confidence.
A therapy dog could not only help her deal with daily stress, but also give her a sense of self worth and confidence as well as increase her feelings of responsibility as she cares for the dog. She is very protective, and can easily “tune in” to what an animal is feeling. Given the right training, Cici will make an excellent companion and caretaker.
As her mother, my hope is that with the help of an assistance dog, she could find a spark of light and happiness — a sense of calm, in a world where she currently feels lost.
We have applied through Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence in Ohio. Last month we visited the facility and got to meet one of the dogs being trained and he was a pure sweetheart. Cici’s sisters and my husband and I all enjoyed visiting with him. The agency then came for a home visit and most recently we found out she has been accepted into the program!
The wait time is 18-24 months to find and train the right dog — probably a golden retriever or lab. The long wait is the hardest part of the whole thing! When we are matched with a dog, Cici and I will have to then train with him/her for about 10 days at their facility.
The organization is a non-profit, so the costs are mostly absorbed by them. The dog will come to us at two years old, completely trained and up to date on shots, chipped and spayed/neutered. The costs of all this is estimated to be around $20,000. The agency requires us to pitch in 10% of the costs, so $2,000 is due only once we have completed the final training and a dog is placed with us. I think this is more than a fair amount to pay considering everything.
I have set up a Go Fund Me page for friends and family to help offset the costs and spread the word. ADAI also needs help bringing awareness to communities, volunteers to foster dogs, and finding qualified applicants, so contact them for more information if you are interested.
Stay tuned for more updates, as the dog days are not over yet.