J-Bear and Me

learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Month: March 2016

Of Brooklyn and Blossom

service dog on leash

we miss you brookie cookie

The comparisons are inevitable. Every day we see things that either sharply contrast or deeply coincide with our previous experience. It cannot be helped, we talk about Brooklyn even as we’re praising Blossom. That lovely golden girl is here every day even though she is not.

This will perhaps be the last time I talk about this in any detail. Brooklyn was stolen from us. There’s nothing I can do about that now. In fact, because 4 Paws for Ability chose to act in a deceptive manner and passed her on likely without any of her previous history to a new family, I would not do anything even if I could. I would support the new family she is with in all the ways we were not supported. I would fight to help them make this work, not because we have Blossom and APAW but because I know the deep horrible pain ripping her away would cause. It never should have been done to my child and I will never allow it to be done to another so long as I can help it.

Brooklyn is gorgeous, gentle, sweet…. The right heart with the wrong upbringing. The puppy years are so crucial for a service dog. They have to be exposed to so much during critical periods in order to stand a chance at a successful working life. Brooklyn’s upbringing was limited. She was not out in the world for most of it, she was in prison. Do I blame the prisoners? Not at all, ever. They gave her all they could and clearly put their heart and souls into her training. She had a lot of beautiful skills and qualities, she just could not overcome her anxiety and her fear.

I wish I had known in October 2014 all that I  have learned in the time since then. I wish I had learned all that Blossom is now teaching me. It maybe could have changed Brooklyn’s life in a positive manner… but that cannot be changed now.

And Blossom is here, mothering us all and healing such a deep wound as best she can.

pillows

she really does love to sleep on pillows

It’s not perfect. I won’t lie and pretend everything is sunshine and rainbows. We have plenty to work on, which is the nature of new relationships. There is a wonderful trust though between she and myself. She is very in tune with me which makes working on everything else easier. She catches nuances that we knew existed thanks to Brooklyn and acts upon them. She loves the social aspect that will be a part of her job as a social bridge for J. Kids circle around her and her tail just wags and wags. She has a tremendous foundation of training on which we can build. Now it will be a period of fine tuning her training to see if she is a perfect forever for our family.

I’d be lying if I said I did not want her to be the one. Every day her sweet face and charming nature win me over more and more. She’s pretty much the embodiment of all I could have wished for in a 45lbs standard poodle body. I never saw a smaller dog as his best friend and yet, it’s just fantastic. She races around the apartment with him. She snuggles him to sleep. She checks on him when he’s out of school and before she lets herself sleep for the night.

goobers

goofballs before Blossom’s haircut!

There will be challenges. Her obligation to APAW is very important and precious. You cannot run an organization like APAW and not take advantage of your every asset. Blossom is entirely that. It’d be shameful to not forward her genes on to the next generation of service dogs as well as her general way of being. She’ll raise her pups in her own shadow, something that is invaluable. It will be hard when she’s limited by the demands of this obligation but it is not forever. The interruptions to her service will, long-term, seem ever so brief and will only happen a very few times.

J is a unique boy who had a unique need, a whole left wide open in his heart and world and a family struggling to help him. Blossom is a special dog, filled with so much skill and love but a noble job to birth and raise the next generation of service dogs. It’s not a combination that could work for many but we are hopeful it will work for them. If not, then at least for a while Blossom has had a home where she was loved and cherished while she awaited her forever and J had a tremendous friend during his own long wait. It’s truly a win-win for all involved.

We miss Brooklyn and love her. We just happen to love Blossom too, so very much. Onwards and upwards.

Sun Shone Our Way

Three years, quite nearly to the day. That’s  how long I have been pursuing a service dog for J. He had only recently been diagnosed when I started and the notion was one that was come up with on a whim. I knew, of course, that there’s a camaraderie that animals can offer that reaches beyond that which fellow humans are sometimes capable of. It is the most clear with people who struggle to communicate traditionally and with people who struggle to fit into what is considered “mainstream” society. This bond with animals had been so very precious to me as a child, sometimes all that got me through. The moment I saw that actual service dogs were possible for children with autism I was sold on the idea.

The involvement with 4 Paws for Ability, while educational, was ultimately a major and massive mistake. I was ignorant going in and I regret that now. The information I needed to know was not easily and readily accessible to me. Maybe, prior to 2013, it was a different organization but currently it is not what I was led to believe.

A little boy in glasses and a winter coat sitting in a car while a black poodle sniffs his finger

J and Blossom meeting in the car after school

Yet still I fought. Still I believed in Brooklyn. I still, right now, believe in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is an amazing girl. She cannot help that she was failed in her upbringing. She deserved better, as did J.

If you follow our Facebook page you’ve seen me gushing all weekend. How could I not? Blossom has been the finest guest and a fine ambassador for her breed. She’s been a fantastic friend to J and a wonderful breath of fresh air to our household. That sore, aching hole we were left with by the actions of another was eased tenderly for a while. It’s an important step towards our healing, like the first stitch placed in a deep wound.

Tonight something happened that in the immediate occurrence I believed was going to slam the door shut on a poodle being a great choice of dog. I was so scared we’d put Blossom off to ever wanting to spend time with us ever again; that we would be an unsuitable place for her to spend time. You see, J had a meltdown. I do not often talk about his meltdowns because it’s a hard thing for him to endure. I don’t want to splash those details publicly. It’s disrespectful to him, so please forgive a lack of details in this blog. Suffice to say it was chaotic, extremely loud and extremely overwhelming if you’ve never witnessed such a thing.  Initially, Blossom was unsure. She looked to the adults for guidance and took our cues. Where we could we reassured her but honestly I got so wrapped into caring for J it was hard to give her non-stop coddling as I would have had to for Brooklyn through these initial episodes.

Blossom didn’t need it. She was observing, taking reassurance when it was offered and intelligently disobeying commands. I sent her out of the room when J was at his most overwhelmed. She moved away but refused to leave. If there was an opportunity, she pushed in to help try to calm J. She licked his feet, knowing he responds warmly to her kisses. She nuzzled his hands. She cuddled against him. She backed off when he wasn’t receptive and rather than be rebuffed, she tried again when it seemed a better idea.

blossomnuzzleWhen he finally started to fall asleep she curled at his feet and waited. I tried to send her away again. She politely refused and laid her head by him, occasionally sniffing him and checking on him.

I’m going to start crying again typing this.

Once all was calm and I could leave J to sleep I beckoned her over and just hugged her. I cried into her soft, curly coat. I told her thank you a hundred times.

The goal I had in mind in 2013 seemed increasingly like a figment and I did not know how much of my initial dream I had thought impossible until suddenly I saw it play out. This was from a dog who is magnificently trained with many tasks yet not trained for a child with autism specifically, too.

If she can do it I have every reason to hope that someday soon there will be a dog from her line in our home full time able to do that and more.

The sun shone our way, finally. And I smiled.

Thank you Blossom, Smile Sunshine My Way. We needed you and you answered the call. Any further time we have with you is a bonus after this gift.

Openness

These past two weeks have had a theme, I think. That theme is building.

The meeting with J’s new doc started the building process of a new path to help J garner the most appropriate tools to assist him for where he is at today rather than where he was at when he was three years old. It is going to be a process, likely a long one at that, but it is laid out and we all know what it is we want and how to focus on getting it. Everyone involved already and who will be involved in future will be focused on J’s best interests first and foremost. There will be no veering from him being the center of his care rather than an arbitrary rule book decided by others who have never met him. He will be respected, loved and guided so he can grow and thrive. It’s a situation that fills me with hope, anxiety, relief and optimism all at once: Anxiety over new things yet to begin; hope, relief and optimism that we have opportunities to focus on what is most important to us.

That meeting rolled nicely into a long, open conversation with the founder of APAW on Monday. She is remarkably easy to talk to and we discussed how things should progress in terms of J’s future partner. The open honesty with which she and her organization conduct their business should not surprise me by now and yet it does. If I ask a question, I am not given a run around. I am given a clear and honest answer. It does not matter if that answer is one I like or do not like, it is the truth and it is what it is for good reasons they are always open to share.

When we began the efforts towards a service dog back in 2013 there was never a feeling of “wow, these people actually care about my child”. We were just another client of many and shuffled through like we were checking out at the grocery store. We filled out forms, we did as we were told, we shuffled along ignorant that things did not have to be this way. There were only a few moments during training where it seemed like J mattered to anyone but us, despite his worshipful views of some of them. The on the ground training staff… Well, I can’t blame them. When you’re moving that many dogs, it’s hard to get to know every client deeply. That’s not on them. They don’t run the show.  Their big hearts can only do so much at once.

The difference between that and now blows me away.

black poodle puppy

Eclipse as a young pup. APAW poodle in training. Photo courtesy of APAW’s website

The focus of our conversation was dogs, of course, but also J-Bear. It was as meaningful to her as it is to me making sure that what is decided upon in terms of his future partner meets his needs. His healthy understanding of what is going on is not an added bonus now, it is an essential part of the process. His hurt does not mean nothing to them. His concrete manner of learning things is not disregarded. I didn’t have to bring some of my concerns up, they were anticipated and answered before I could because she, the founder, saw them.

So there’s a plan.

The first step will be to have some poodle weekenders come stay with us at our home. These are poodles on retreat. I have already been teaching J that sometimes, poodles need a break from poodle house and they want to come vacation with us. They hang out with us, he can play with them but they are not forever dogs. They visit, but they don’t get to do things like cuddle in bed with him or go to school necessarily. They come, we have fun for a few days and then they go back to their house. This is a process we hope to start this weekend and see how he manages. From here, we can work towards all future steps which will be determined based on how he manages over these visits. Right now, like any five-year-old, he’s pretty excited about a poodle visit! He loves poodle house (his name for APAW) and it will be fun for him to have one to one time with a poodle.

If this works and J adapts to this, fantastic! If this does not work, we have learned that too and we can move on with future planning from there.

Do I think it will work? I think it has a strong chance. He has a beginning grasp on the concept of what we’re doing thanks to him being a frequent guest at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The whole process is being presented to him very differently than how Brookie was, too. Everything related to the dog is out in the center of our home now. He will be in the loop on when to expect there to be a dog, when to not expect there to be a dog and most importantly whether or not to expect a dog’s (any dog, not necessarily a specific dog) return. We have firm answers now that he can rely on.  It’s miles above what we went through last year.

Am I ready for it to fail? I prepare for the worst while planning for the best. If this goes poorly after a couple of trials, since one is never quite enough to get a full picture with J, we’ll not push him further and we’ll work on a new plan. We have the luxury of not needing to hurry. He needs a partner but if the right one isn’t ready yet, we’re able to sustain him until that day. The right one is always worth waiting for and always worth working for. We are building towards a bright future and are happy to be laying foundations with care alongside tremendous people. Things are looking bright!

 

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