The changing of agencies brings with it a lot of new questions, I imagine. Here is an idea of why we chose APAW, what happens next and what we are hoping for.

Why did you choose APAW? There’s a lot of agencies out there! 

When it became clear that a change of agencies was needed everything became even more overwhelming than it was before. There are a lot of places that advertise placing service dogs with children with autism, but deeper searching revealed that either they did not place with children so young as J or that they had serious marks against their reputations. I spoke with one agency that with one email sent up all the red flags that had us turning away from the agency we were already with. There was no way we were going to go through that again! Other agencies looked like they might work but multi-year waits or distance were big drawbacks, drawbacks I wasn’t certain we could weather at this point.

I spoke to not only APAW itself, but to people who worked with them, an outside agency that we have worked with since we finished fundraising with the other organization and looked through the background of the staff. It was not a hasty, emotion-made decision. Everyone I spoke with was positive, honest and transparent. Then, we had a several hour interview with the founder of APAW who proved to be an absolute delight. She treated both myself and J with patience, humor, respect and clear personal interest. We were not numbers, J was a person in her eyes. She paid mind to how he interacted with each dog she introduced him to, answered my questions honestly and clearly and gave a great insight into the organization she runs. I knew the moment we walked out of the interview this was who I wanted to work with and who would likely help J best.

What happens next? Will it work like before?

This journey is likely to look a lot different from before. This is one of the things that appealed to me the most. This go, we will be able to hopefully volunteer within the organization as well as work towards J’s dog. Now, the fundraising for the dog was complete two years ago. That money is now with APAW to pay for the placement of J’s dog. However, rather than wait 12-24 months until a dog is fully trained to bring the dog into our home, we are hoping to bring a younger dog in training to live with us instead. This dog could be as young as a just out of their mother’s care puppy or slightly older.

Seems weird, right? Why’d we invite an unfinished dog into our home?

The hardest part of service dog relationships, especially for people on the autism spectrum, can be bonding. It is even harder when the human side of things is a young child. Young children are even more unpredictable than adults and it would be a lie to say J doesn’t have some behaviors that would take some getting used to, namely his volume. The younger we bring a dog into our home, the more normal this all will appear to the dog. They will grow up understanding J’s language as one of their first languages, something incredibly important for any dog but especially poodles who form their social understandings early and solidify them. The noise of our neighborhood, the number of people, the sirens from the police station and fire station, the weird noises the wind makes against our old windows, J’s sounds and randomness… A young dog would grow up with this beside their boy and it would be a part of the air they breathe, just part of their day to day life. An older dog might have to work hard to grow used to a lot of this and runs the risk of never fully acclimating.

The dog will go through full training and eventually go through a class and graduation with us just as other organizations do, the upbringing will just be done in the most advantageous way for a full, life long and happy match. The best way to explain it is we’ll be the puppy raisers or foster family, APAW will be the trainers.

Note that there is nothing wrong with receiving a 2+ year old dog as a service dog. In fact, most organizations place in this age range, especially for guide work or mobility work. These dogs work magnificently for their partners and it is a method that clearly works for a lot of people, it just is not the most likely for success in a case like J’s.

What is the timeline for J’s new dog?

This is fluid right now. Frustrating answer, right? Yet, somehow, it does not feel that way here for us.

The placement of a dog in our home, be they on their training journey already or just starting out, all depends on availability and suitability. They are aware of what we need. Now, it is a matter of whether or not there is a dog started on their training or if we await the next litter(s) of puppies and see if one of them is a decent match.

Yes, you can tell early on if a puppy is likely to have a service career. It involves being a subject matter expert who spends long hours working with their litters getting to know how they behave, but over years and experience it becomes something known instinctively. We are still working with dogs and children here and when working with those groups, there is no such thing as complete and utter certainty. Things can go awry and APAW is by our side to work with us just in case that eventuality comes to pass. They know the hurt we’ve already suffered. They are eager to see that hurt not happen again for us yet we are all aware of the inevitable risks.

Personal hope? I hope that J’s new dog is able to join our home in the early part of 2016. That is a hope, not a definite. We’re in the waiting now and that’s where volunteering we hope will come in. As volunteers we can get to know APAW better plus do something positive with our wait, however long it may be.

If there’s any other questions, I am always happy to do my best to answer.