Autism Service Dog…

Today’s blog is not about farming but it is about Mark.  After all, this is ReMARKable Farms and I want to tell Mark’s story and about our family’s journey.

A few weeks ago, we were talking to our next door neighbor.  They were excited to tell us that they were getting a puppy to train to be used as an Autism Assistance Dog.  This article was on the front page of our local newspaper…

So, I just had to tell them the story of our (now retired) service dog, Coal…

When Mark was younger (under age 3), I used to take him to Lab School.  Lab School is a parent cooperative where parents grow and learn with their children. Parents and children come to daytime class together, giving parents hands on practice for the skills they learn in the adults’ only evening meetings.  It was challenging because Mark did not want to sit still and do the activities with the other children at the classes.  Also, he didn’t have any language yet and there was a circle time in which the kids went around and told their names.  It can be upsetting to see your child not keeping up with the other kids but we persevered and did our best.  Even today (5/29/2016), Mark and I went to Rite Aid this morning.  He likes to hang out in this little room in the back of the store where there is a blood pressure machine that people can use to take their blood pressure.  An older gentlemen was in there getting ready to check his blood pressure.  I went to check on Mark and he asked me, “Can he hear?”  I said “Yes, he can hear.  He has autism and sometimes it is hard for him to talk.”  Still working on this…

Anyway, I digress.  Back when Mark was so young, I really wanted to get Mark around other kids for the social aspect (this can be a big deficit for kids on the autism spectrum).  One lovely thing I remember about Lab School was sitting with Mark and reading Dr. Seuss’s book A Fly Went By.  He really seemed to like it (he also liked snack time)!

When Mark was 4 years old, we learned about autism service dogs and how valuable they can be for a family with a child with autism.  The child can be tethered to the dog so that they are unable to run away when out in public.  The dog can be trained for search and rescue to locate a child if they go missing.  The dog can do behavior interruption and apply deep pressure by sitting on a child’s lap.  Deep pressure is calming for many people.  In addition, a dog may be trained to alert to seizures.  About 30% of children with autism also have a seizure disorder.  (Please, note: Mark does not have seizures so we were not looking for  seizure alert activity in our service dog).

We identified an agency in Xenia, Ohio that trained Autism Assistance dogs.  We were living in Florida at the time.

We contacted 4 Paws and started the process.  First, we had to apply and help them determine what kind of dog we would need and what training the dog would need to help meet the needs of Mark and our family.  Then, once that was figured out, we start our fundraising.  Our dog would cost $12,000!  We asked all family and friends for donations and started our fundraising.  We had raised about $2000 and decided to do some bake sales.  At our first bake sale, we raised $200.  I quickly did the math…50 bake sales.  I was determined that we were going to get this dog to help Mark and our family…

Mark was now in Developmental Preschool and I had Joshua in Lab School.  One day, it was our turn to “host” so Joshua and I came in early to get everything ready.  Our Lab School instructor came up to us and said, “Your dog has been paid for.”  This was a really weird thing for her to say.  I countered by saying, “No, we still have like $10,000 to raise.”  She was adamant and said I should call the agency.  I called 4 Paws and it was confirmed that an anonymous donation of $12000 had been made for Mark’s dog.  I just started crying – tears of joy!  I felt like we had won the lottery!  We never did find out who made the donation but it had to be someone from the Lab School…
The next May, we traveled to Ohio for 2 weeks of training with our new service dog.  

Our service dog journey had just begun.  The end of June, we moved to north Idaho.  We had planned to have the moving company take our van (Henry sold his car that he had at the time and was going to buy a different car once we made it to Idaho).  Then, we would all get on a plane and go to Kansas and visit family while our belongings were being shipped across the country, literally.  Well, the moving semi pulled up and they said that they did not transport vehicles.  Boy, I wish someone would have told us that sooner.  So, the next morning, Henry dropped me and the boys and our brand new service dog off at the airport and he started driving and met us in Kansas.  He spent a couple days with us and then continued to drive up to Idaho.  We had bought a house there but we didn’t have any belongings so he was staying in a hotel.  
About a week or two later, the boys and I got on another plane and went to Idaho.  Then, more upsetting news from the moving company.  Our things had not left Florida yet!  So, we got to stay in the hotel for a few days.  When we were checking out, the hotel had charged us a pet fee.  I explained that our dog was a service dog (you cannot charge a pet fee for a service dog).  The hotel said that they could charge a fee and so I took them to mediation through the ADA.  It was months before we got our money back and as the manager of the hotel handed me the check he said, “We were right in charging a pet fee because once you bring an animal into a room, we have to do extra cleaning because of the pet dander.”  Some people just don’t get it…
We enjoyed our new dog and he worked so good with Mark.  We would put a harness on Mark and then connect him to the harness that was on Coal.  In this way, Mark could not run away.  This, of course, was back when Mark weighed about 50 pounds and Coal is 80 pounds.  We used Coal extensively the first 3 years we had him.  Even after Mark was too big for his harness, he would still hold onto the end of Coal’s leash when we would go out for walks.  Coal is now retired.  He is really a great dog and we are happy to have him as part of our family.

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