learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

The Many Questions

There are so many questions that come up in a journey like the one we’re on. They are asked by a wide variety of people ranging from those who know us and J very well to those who have only fleetingly encountered our story online. Most questions are fair, and should you have one you’d like answered, feel free to ask. You can always inbox me on our Facebook page if you do not feel comfortable posting it publicly.

Here’s some of the biggest questions. I did do a brief Q&A when we were fundraising for 4 Paws that covers some of this so if you’ve read that, this might be redundant in places!

Does J really even need a service dog? What can a dog even help him with?

This question always comes across to me as more confused and uncertain than it does potentially accusatory. When you realize what a very, very small percentage of the disabled community uses service animals and how rarely most people encounter them in day-to-day life, the question becomes all the more fair. When we do not see something or engage with it, it’s really hard to understand it.

J’s dog represents three things to him: comfort, security and independence. Brooklyn will be able to mitigate anxiety driven behaviors via commands from her handler that will draw J’s attention to her, giving him a focus and place of peace when he is overwhelmed. She has at least 3 actions she can be asked to take, and as we get into training and work with each I will detail them further. He has a very, very hard time accessing things that most take for granted: A grocery store or mall can be completely heartbreaking torture for him right now. I can plan trips to these places with the precision of military special ops and still end up in a situation where he cannot cope. This is not anyone’s fault, it’s just life in our world. Brooklyn will mitigate that.

His dog is trained to also maintain safety for him. She will be able to tether with him when we’re out as a team under a handler’s care, ensuring he cannot bolt off somewhere dangerous. She will also be able to track him should he vanish. There are those who scoff, claiming these dogs cannot possibly do that for these children… I cannot see why they scoff unless they have not themselves witnessed a dog track a child. I’ve had the chance to witness it on video several times now and every time I am amazed. They do not falter, these dogs. They find their child and in an emergency situation, this skill is mission critical. Remember, my son is attracted to water and trains and has zero sense of danger. We need every advantage we can to bring him back should he ever run off. He’s tried a few times and thankfully we’ve caught him but he’s only going to get bigger and faster, as kids do.

Is he really autistic?

There is no “look” for autism. No one “looks” autistic. The disorder is characterized by a series of behavioral and cognitive traits, not by appearance. When J so chooses, he makes splendid eye contact and will utterly melt your heart with a soul felt smile. Most days, however, he’s much more content to do as he does, engaging the world in his slightly either side of typical manner. That is his autism. He is a sensory seeking, object studying, train loving, hugs and squeezes needing little boy who struggles with communication but works hard at it every day. He is in a classroom of several other children with varying needs. You cannot tell on sight what any of those needs are… You just see several amazing kids who happen to be fighting big battles to make their way in the world.

If you take anything away from learning J’s story, I pray that it is the understanding that autism is deeply individual. People on the spectrum may share traits. They may share habits. They may share interests and disinterests just like the entire world does… but there is no one single autism. It is a spectrum for a reason and each individual diagnosed with autism is like a different star in a dynamic sky.

How come service dogs are so expensive? Why didn’t you find an organization that gives them “for free”?

The quotes on that question are important. There is little in this world that is actually free. There are organizations that do place service dogs for various disabilities with little cost to the recipient except time. The waiting lists are long. It’s the trade-off for the low-cost to the recipient. Some of these waiting lists can be 5+ years and many organizations will not work with such young children.

We did not lay out $13,000 of our own money for this dog. That is now how 4 Paws for Ability works. When you’re accepted into the program you become a fundraiser for them, sharing their message with the world. You raise not just the money to place your dog but awareness for their cause. We are their biggest advertising campaign. The money we raised is just about half of what it can cost to breed, raise, train, place and support a service dog through their life. Our dog will be supported through her whole working life by trainers and staff who are on call whenever we might have a question. If there is an emergency, they’re there for us. If our dog needs refresher training, they’ll help. They connect us with other families who are going through similar things and give us a home within the organization along with placing this well-trained dog with our child.

Sometimes, $13,000 seems far too little.

Can  you ever write anything short?

Nope. That’s why I blog.

PS: Super excited I spelled “recipient” right without spellcheck.


  1. Chanci

    I’m looking into a service dog for my son with CP. He turns two next month! Can you lead me into the right direction for info on 4 paws for ability? And what other service dog companies you looked into before choosing this one? How long was your wait process?

    • Nicole

      Hi Chanci!

      2 years is such a FUN age. Your son must be priceless! When I started looking, I searched google far and wide for an autism service dog. The problem I ran into most was not wait times or expense but the fact that most organizations will not work with children so young as ours. Jacob was still 2 when we applied for a service dog. Children this young require an adult handler to team with them to work the dog, so it’s not something a lot of places even have experience with doing. 4 Paws has made it one of their areas of expertise.

      If you want somewhere great and unbiased to talk to, Canines for Disabled Kids is fantastic. They keep tabs on the training community as well as the disabled community, trying to find just what training programs are great to help children. You can check them out at http://caninesforkids.org/. Their executive director has been a fantastic help to us.

      4 Paws for Ability’s bread and butter as it were is working with children and even more so working with children who most agencies would not work with. Their training is very child-centric, so if your child has complex needs, they focus on what your child needs rather than cookie cutter skills and task training. If your son needs a dog for assistance with balance when moving, they’ll work the dog in balance skills. If your son needs behavior disruption skills, they can work on that. When you apply, you do an interview with the director of the program and she asks a series of questions about your child and family. She will let you know exactly what a dog can do to help your particular circumstances and should you proceed, that will be the type of dog you’ll receive.

      Fundraising can take however long it takes. If you take 2 weeks or 2 years, you do not get removed from the program. Your dog begins training when you finish fundraising. We finished fundraising in 6 months last year – April to October – and Brooklyn was born in November. She was not trained from birth for Jacob, yet they had her in their sights to work with children in this current class or one of the classes in close proximity. She went to advanced training about 2 months ago to focus solely on Jacob’s needs and now here we are. 🙂 The wait time from the moment you finish fundraising is about 15 months at this point as 4 Paws is expanding their facilities which means smaller classes for a short duration. This will improve. We waited a year.

      Most organizations that claim to give “free” dogs ask you to wait years. That’s the “cost” of the dog. No matter what organization too remember this will be a highly trained, highly skilled and wonderful dog who is at heart still a dog. They’ll be a lot of work but ever so worth it for what they give our kids.

      If you have any other questions I am always happy to help! Best wishes to you and your son!

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