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Doggie Boot Camp, Day 7. Do it again.

May 12, 2013

How do we do it?  Is it obligation?  Love?  Inertia?  How do we do the same things over and over and over again for our kids–especially our kids that have special needs?

I was wondering this today as I monitored a hurried, scattershot lunch I had provided via leftovers and a sandwich from Subway.  Drew, Alex, his buddy Robert and his father Steve were all eating lunch again on a long folding table in the training center strewn with bits and pieces of a wooden train set.  There was little room for actual plates, so we made do with napkins.  A bottle of water for Alex and jug of chocolate milk for Drew, a can of Coke Zero for me.  Parallel to me was a similarly crammed table, hosting the meals of two other service dog families.  Same kind of presentation, a ramen noodle container, some macaroni and cheese with bits of hot dog, apple slices and potato chips.  Nothing fancy.  Just as we have served probably hundreds of times, this menu was chosen for ease of preparation, economy and most importantly, popularity.

Little snippets of conversations sink in about what the other families have dealt with up to this point.  Seizures in utero and beyond, meds given through feeding tubes sticking out of otherwise normal looking tummies, lost children found atop playground equipment a block away–completely naked, diets consisting of pepperoni, rice crispies, burnt bacon, sugar and salt.  Some kids can talk quite clearly.  Others, like our Alex, cannot.  Each one of us has had to carry a large, heavy burden up a steep grade.

All of us are here to receive and train with our four-legged, furry new family members in the hopes of a better quality of life.  It might not make the burden much lighter, but it may lessen the slope of the landscape.  And for us, every little bit helps.  Exactly how these dogs might help us was further explained to us yesterday and I frankly forgot to write about it:  Tethering.  This is literally connecting the child to the dog (or vice versa, I guess) via a sturdy 6 foot nylon strap.  Pretty effective, if you think about it.  So many of us parents have taken our kids to a mall, store, airport or whatever large, chaotic place…stopped to look at something more closely and then suddenly our kid is nowhere to be seen.  A service dog doing his or her tethering job would make our lives immeasurably easier.

Practicing this with the dog is quite hilarious to watch.  Command the dog ‘down’, then simulate a wayward child pulling on the tether connected to the dog’s harness.  The dog, all 75 lbs. of them, merely slides along the ground.  They don’t get up, they don’t bark or try to bite.  They just…lay there.  And most of the dogs get this look on their faces as if to say “uh, why am I moving?” yet they do not get irritated, nor do they rise to stand.  Which ultimately slows the child down big time.  Pretty effective.

The other skill we have been practicing now for several days–tracking.  This one is cool to watch and fun to participate in, too.  Recall yesterday our intrepid canine was having some difficulty picking up on Kat’s commands and tracking Alex’s scent.  Today, though, I did much better with her.  Merrows gets very enthusiastic about tracking anyone–and this is exactly what is hoped for in a service animal.  If you think about it, this is what you want…an animal that is totally fired up to find your kid.  So, we have been taught to gently but enthusiastically stoke Merrow’s enthusiasm and skill.  In fact, we are to periodically practice this with her once we get her back home.  This should be fun, because she really goes crazy when we shower her with praise and rubbies after she finds Alex.

Speaking of Alex, he had a pretty decent day today.  No great journeys to restaurants or malls today.  No big changes to routine.  I did have to make him wear the helmet for about an hour or so, but compared to other days since we arrived, he was more mild than ever.  Which means we each had a good day.

Tomorrow, we are again going to be tracking Alex.  We will also practice indoor tracking at the local mall.  Up until now, we have only practiced tracking outside.  Inside, of course, is just as necessary.  And other than Merrow’s indoor poopage, it was fun day.  We hope for more of the same tomorrow.

So again we do this.  All this.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Why?  I’d say that in Alex’s case, we do it because we love the little guy even if he may never be able to say this sentiment to us.  He deserves it.  And like Merrows’ love, it is unconditional.  He is ours.  Parenthood isn’t for wimps.

 

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From → Alex, Autism, Family Stuff

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