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Doggie Boot Camp, Day 8. Bouncing Baby. Boy.

May 14, 2013

It’s really another child.  We have had another child.

That’s how I am now thinking about Merrows.  Oh yeah, there was no 1st trimester nausea, no aching back, no stretch marks and, happily, no more diapers to change.  But the addition of a dog–service animal or not–forever changes the dynamic in our family.  I used to think we had our plates full with just two kids.

Hardly–hah.  O how naive I was.  Now we have a third mouth to feed, groom, bathe, comb and make poop in the correct place.  We also are going to be home schooling this girl, so to speak.  Although Merrows has been in training for the better part of the last year, at 14 months old, she’s still an adolescent.  Our trainers told us all when we received our dogs that this was the case.  In other words, she can be bright, sleepy, creative, lazy and possess a photogenic personality yet still not want to get in the car with her parents for any reason.  That’s what we have.

And as we’re trying to undertake with our ‘real’ kids, it takes two dedicated parents to accomplish the job of raising a stable, well-adjusted child.  This requires Kat and I to act in concert.  Same commands, same boundaries, same methods of reward.

To be honest, we are a work in progress too.  Kat and I have different attributes.  We handle the stressors of life in different ways.  We were raised differently, in different households.  So when we married, we have had to blend these lifetimes of experience and distill some essence for our kids.  As I mentioned at the top, Merrows is our new kid.

Alex was a handful again at times today.  We headed to a relatively far-away park to practice tracking some more.  The reason for this is obvious.  If you try to play this game of hide and seek, the dog will eventually learn where all the good hiding places are.  When we arrived, there was a very colorful, attractive, compelling interactive art/play area.  Both Drew and Alex hit the pavement and went scampering towards it.  In my own tracking mode, I launched the helicopter to follow them, my concern mostly being Alex.  I had left his helmet back in the car and by the time we were at the play area, it was a good 200 feet away.

Alex and Drew were both fascinated with the exhibits.  Big and vibrant on a bright, clear spring morning, they smiled and giggled as they explored the place.  Kat called me on my cell phone to get my attention, saying I needed to bring Alex a little closer to where she was with Merrows, because in order to effectively track a child, the dog has to establish where she last saw the child.  I needed to bring Alex closer.

Alex didn’t agree that this was a worthwhile investment in his interest, so he fell to the ground in protest, fists quickly colliding with his skull.  Remember where I put his helmet?

It devolved from there.  As the trainer was waiting next to Kat and Merrows to begin the tracking exercise, I made the next of a couple of tactical errors today.  I just scooped up a very upset, writhing Alex and brought him close enough so Merrows could establish that visual point of last contact.  Then, still protesting, I carried Alex away from the play area to hide.

Eventually, and with good skill, Merrows tracked us down in the weeds a ways away. By then, Alex had calmed a little.  But I definately had stirred him, which is not something I advise to anyone.  As a walked back carrying Alex towards the car with Kat, Merrows and Jessa the dog trainer, Alex reared back with his head and clocked me in the right ear.  It hurt so much I practically saw stars.  I staggered for a few steps then attempted to regain my composure.  This is not an easy thing to do.

Quick aside:  Kat and I made the observation that of the dozen other special needs children in our training class, Alex is by far the most mercurial and violent.  That makes us sad.  Yes, the other kids might have their outbursts and may yell and otherwise have what I term as a “high-speed come-apart”.  But no other child has demonstrated the ability to hurt someone else like our Alex when he is upset.  This sucks.

We got back to the car.  Kat put on Alex’s helmet and I worked on holding on to Merrow’s leash while digging through the cooler for a snack–something that might be helpful in bringing Alex down.  Please–I know–this is not to make it sound like a reward for Alex’s behaviour.  It was to be a powerful distractor–sometimes all he needs to settle down.  When you just had your bell rung, you revert to some knee-jerk methods of coping.  It’s stressful, for chrissake.

We didn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes and it was our turn to track Alex again. This time it would be Kat who would lead him in the direction necessary for good practice.  Alas, Alex was not too keen on the idea of walking through 100 yards of dewy grass.  So Kat had to carry him, pull him, cajole him, helmet and all, all the way out of sight.  I could tell by his little flailing fists that he was protesting every step of the way.

I began my track with Merrows.  She performed well, eventually finding Alex and Kat next to a small stream on the edge of the park.  When Kat told me she had to essentially carry Alex all the way here, I told her that she will never have to carry him if and when he escapes our sight for real.  Cold comfort to a weary, stressed mom of a child with autism.  I was sorry.

We broke for lunch and drove back to the hotel.  I had a beer with mine.  (Just one.)  The break (and 12 ounces of malted beverage for me) helped all of us settle down.

This afternoon’s exercise would be tracking indoors.  For this we were to again meet in the mall.  And once again the gathering of 11 service dogs in a public place was a sight to behold.  Collectively, we were all the center of attention.

While we waited for our turn to track, Kat and I gave our first shot at tethering Alex to Merrows.  As I mentioned yesterday, tethering is literally attaching the child to the animal via a 6 foot strap.  We used a large, soft dog collar as a harness for Alex (no, not around his neck) around his midsection and attached the D ring of it to the strap, then to Merrows’ tracking harness.  Kat used her leash and simply commanded Merrows to heel.  Alex looked around as if to say “Hey?  What’s going on here?” but eventually we were off to the races.  I held my breath the entire time, fully expecting Alex to explode in a fit of protest, but he didn’t.  Wow.  He whined just a little, but for the most part just kept on walking right along a few steps behind Merrows.  Color me surprised.

We headed back to where the other dogs were congregating and uncoupled Alex from Merrows.  It was now our turn to practice tracking indoors.  Together again with Jessa, he headed into the nearby JCPenny store to hide among the clothing racks.  I misunderstood Jessa’s command to hide only two dozen steps away, so it took Merrows several minutes to find Alex and I.  But we practiced again and again until we had the basic idea.  We can practice this more when we are at the hotel.

We fell into our evening, post-class routine.  Alex took a few showers.  They help him regulate himself like nothing else.  Plus the water’s abundant and hot–and included in the cost of the room (me being a cheapskate and all).  Eating in shifts, I got Alex dressed again so we could practice tracking around the hotel.  This time Drew was able to participate.  He loved coming with Kat or I as we took turns guiding Merrows to Alex.  He helped to gush praise over her when her job was well done.  Another high point to the day.

We put the kids to bed without drama and quickly followed them.  Kat and I had a little pow-wow before we hit the pillow, admitting where we had failed today.  We agreed to be proactive instead of reactive, and more prepared for tomorrow’s tracking.  We need to get this right–together.  There is no time to waste.  We have another child now.  Our success with Merrows hinges upon our ability to rise to this challenge.

From → Alex, Autism, Family Stuff

  1. Brian permalink

    It is said we can never truly see ourselves as easily as others may… being too close, too familiar and not having the perspective of the “outside” 50 yard view. I hope you get a chance to read this again months from now so you too can see what most of us view… an amazingly strong couple, who are so very capable because they bring different elements to the home; a fantastic team that know how to always find the path forward. Two people who love each other so well that there is loads of love left over for the boys, the dog, the family(s) and friends.

    And we are simply put, in awe of you two.

    Miles and miles and miles of heart.

  2. Alex is so lucky to have you both as his parents. You both are so loving and understanding when many people could not be, even if it is their child. Alex loves you guys soooo much! Thank you for being such amazing parents!

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