I have been talking a lot about the decision to get a service dog for J or any child or adult lately in various mediums so I figured I would bring it here and chat it out somewhere I could have everything neatly laid out. Okay after writing the post that likely should be messily but I tried at least! 

Children with complex special needs kind of force their parents, like it or not, to reach far outside traditional boxes. We’re parents, after all. We want the best for our children, but the path we’re on isn’t going to be typical. Quickly, to meet your child’s needs and help them to succeed, you have to start reaching outside the expected. You have to twist your world view to include things you never considered before. You become adept at planning, able to sort out anything from a grocery trip to a hospital stay with the precision of a well seasoned general: You deploy your troops, you select your arms, and you make the situation you are in work. Does it always work? Oh heck no. Failure becomes your teacher on a daily basis, from big things to small, and there are many days where you come out of the battle going “Did no one turn blue? Is everyone at least clean and somewhat fed? Good, let’s call it done and do it again tomorrow but better.”

It’s life.

In thinking outside the traditional I found 4 Paws for Ability. What they offer suits my son’s needs and my family’s needs. There are many organizations that offer service dogs and they run the gamut in terms of how reputable they are. This is the organization that caught my attention. They focus they place on individuals, their families and their specific needs meant the world. They train specific to the needs of each child or adult and make every effort to give you the dog you need, even if this is not the dog you envision. Trust me, I envision these sweet shaggy faced golden doodles every time I look at the puppies but when the staff at 4 Paws sit down to find J the right dog for him, it could be any of their larger breed dogs. If for some reason the match does not work out, they are right there supporting you to make things right. Every step of the way the support is incredible.

We have not even gotten our dog yet and I can say the latter. The moment you enter the program and begin your fundraising you join this group of families representing a wide swath of the special needs community and they quickly become your family. You lean on each other, you bolster each other, you laugh and cry with one another… It’s the hidden treasure you never thought you’d get in starting such a journey to be sure.

Do I think the choice to get a service dog is a light one or an easy one? Absolutely not. It should be considered with great care. You are, after all, committing to a new family member who has their own needs as well. Can you handle the cost of the dog? Are you able to commit to their care too, from walking to play to working the commands to keep the dog’s skills fresh? Are you willing to handle the potential confrontations from people who do not understand the laws pertaining to where service dogs are and are not allowed (4 Paws does educate you in this and is there to assist you in situations of an animal being denied access to a place they are by law allowed)?  Are you willing to accept that this dog is at heart a dog and will do dog things, like chew on something they should not or carry all your socks around in their mouths because it’s fun?

When I sat down and weighed this out, the benefits to my son by far outweighed the drawbacks. He needs the companionship, the security and the safety this dog will be able to give him. This could be the key to unlocking some of these emerging skills that seem to get stuck. The dog could also help with his increasingly severe separation anxiety… Every day the “YES” list grows and every day I get more excited for October.

If you’re considering a service dog for someone in your life I strongly encourage you to do your research, ask questions and trust your gut instinct. I am always happy to answer questions about our journey thus far and will continue to do so as we get our dog and meet our future. If you would like to learn more about 4 Paws for Ability, please check out their website at http://www.4pawsforability.org.