Saturday, November 10, 2012

an autism service dog for max.

Chester, an autism service dog from National Service Dogs (NSD), joined our family on October 26th. We applied to NSD for an autism service dog two years ago. While the wait list was lengthy (I think it's down to 18 months now), at the time, Max was only 4 years old. We weren't ready for a dog quite yet - I figured that when Max was 6 years old, that would be about the right age. During our wait, Milk-Bone generously sponsored Max's service dog for $18,000. NSD also raised money for Max's service dog through their annual Easter Egg Hunt For Dogs Event. When I got the call in September that Max would be getting his service dog in October, I was excited and nervous and OMG is this really happening??

I rushed out and bought a dog bed for Max's service dog "to be". Max, who has never slept on a pillow, immediately claimed it as his own. I rushed back out and bought another dog bed for Max's service dog. In the meantime, Animal Planet aired an episode featuring National Service Dogs and two families who had autism service dogs for their sons who have autism. I watched it and bawled my eyes out. I wasn't sad, but uplifted with the possibilities that were opening up for Max. We started talking with Max about the fact that he was going to be getting his very own dog. While he was excited, he didn't totally understand what it would mean to have an autism service dog. In retrospect, neither did we.

And then came Chester. The incredible trainers at NSD matched Chester to Max by reviewing 2 weeks of Max's behaviour data, Max's busy schedule, and meeting for a follow-up with myself and Max two weeks before team training in Cambridge. They also took how well I worked with him into consideration. As lead handler, they had me work with all seven of the service dogs that were going out as part of the Fall 2012 class. I like to think Chester and I had a special bond right off the bat, but really, he was terrific with all of the families. The picture of him chewing on his bone was the first picture I took of him when they brought him to me and told me he would be Max's autism service dog at the end of the first full day of team training. I was on cloud nine. And after a week of team training in Cambridge, I headed home with Chester to introduce him to "his boy".

We had been told not to expect any Disney moments when introducing our new autism service dogs into our homes. Often children with autism take months (some even years) to bond with their service dogs. It took Max a couple of hours to feel comfortable to even approach Chester. He started out by petting Chester with his feet and worked his way up to petting him with his hands. At the 3.5 hour mark, Max was laying on Chester, and I started to cry with relief.

Later that night, Chester passed out on the couch (it had been a long week of team training for both of us). Max was very happy having Chester with him on the couch and one of my favourite photos of them was taken as Max reached out to pet his dog. My heart continued to melt.

The next morning, I went to check on Max and Chester, wondering how their first night sharing a bedroom went. They were chilling out together, neither in a hurry to get moving. Truly amazing. Later that day I took Max on his first walk with Chester. He wasn't even hooked up yet, but he held onto the handle attached to Chester's harness like his life depended on it. For the first time in Max's 6 years, he did not try to bolt when we went on a walk together. More tears on my part.

Over the last two weeks, we have continued to settle in as a family (of five!). Max refuses to go to bed if Chester isn't with him.

When Max is playing with his iPad on the couch, he counts on Chester for support.

When we're on the road, Chester keeps a close eye on his boy.

When Max has to go to the dentist, Chester keeps him company in the waiting room.

On walks, he reminds Max to stop and look both ways before he crosses the street.

And when Max isn't feeling well, he has his back.

There is so much more to say, but the thing that stands out the most is that we feel blessed to have Chester as part of our family and most importantly as Max's autism service dog. He has brought peace to our home, and a calmness to Max that brings joy to our hearts. We are only two weeks in and I can't wait to see what the future brings for Chester and Max. Stay tuned for more of their adventures!


  1. Anonymous7:05 p.m.

    That is so sweet. I'm glad Max and Chester are such good buds already!

    Does Chester go to school with Max, too? If so, how is that?

  2. Chester will start going to therapy with Max in March. His therapists need to be trained on how to handle Chester. The plan is for Chester to start attending school with Max next fall.

  3. I feel like you're taking us on this journey with you from your soulful writing to the awesome photos. All the best for continued success!

  4. The pictures of the two of them together are priceless. I'm loving reading about your journey with Chester and can't wait to hear more about their adventures. We've been on the wait list with NSD since January 2012, I can't wait for my kiddo to get his dog after watching Paws for Autism, and reading your post!

  5. Anonymous2:08 p.m.

    This a great Story! We are tryng to get my Son on the waitlist as well for a NSD dog. It's so nice to see a boy and his dog and how much of a different they can make in their lives. Thank you soo much for shaing your story.

  6. Anonymous7:32 p.m.

    Decide to be a good person who will not be evil.
    Inherent in the offer of clone hosting is a clue:::"Earn" by hurting others. This violates this vow, causing people to incurr evil, and the clue you need to avoid it. Sadly, as young people too many are still corrupted, still unenlightened and make the mistake when offered.
    Only innocent pure children ascend into heaven, while evil is relegated to entering clone hosting, where they are reincarnated as lesser life forms. One day the Christian Rapture will be used as a "consolation prize", and usher in the era of compensation according to the Bible:::1000 years with Jesus on Earth.
    Everlasting life with Jesus, but only for true believers:::Placement to suffer on the next Planet Earth punishment for worshipping a false god.

    The antients used Christinaity to initiate the "Beginnning of The End". Along the way they used it to initiate other tools which they will use to further mankind into decay and towards the Apoocalypse:::USA, "democracy", capitalism/corporations.
    Of the tools they have used, religious, political, economic, social is by far the most damaging and seems reserved for those who have experienced each tactic:::
    The god's social tool promoted moral decay, whether sexual, behavioral, professional, etc. It created an enviornment where indecency is the norm.

    Breaking my ankle at the Summitt was shamelessly gratuitous. The only purpose was to slow me down as I got older, ensuring I didn't continue hiking or being active.
    And they knew they were going to parlay kidney failure into cardiac cmplications, effectively doing the same.
    People don't believe me when I say the gods are monsters, saying it is specific to my life. We're all being set up for ugly, and Republican debt spending will lead to bankrupcy and the use of all these semi-automatic guns people are hoarding at these gun shows.
    The gods are ordering all proceedings still. If one day this changes it hasn't yet. Their vested interest is still very high.
    The gods chose the Eutruscans to destroy Planet Earth and imparted their value system because these were the values the Antients would inflict on us when the chips were on the table. Ironically they are the big gangsters in the sky.

    The gods may share some values of the conservatives (mostly good, a little evil), with the exception of capitalism, warmongering and environmental degredation, but they also share in the economic degredation of the conservatives which will bring the United States to bankrupcy and anarchy. It initiated with Ronald Reagan taking the National Debt from $1T to $6T.
    And me, the hundred billion dollar man, will have to meekly ask for a nice apartment (conservative timeshare dream).
    As long as the gods have this vested interest of the Situation they are calling the shots. They order all proceedings to ensure they get what they want. This is not to say they will transistion when it is over, but I suspect this final absolution of culpability is necessary for them to completely wash their hands of Earth in preparation for the Apocalypse.

    Something godly about dork, innocent and pure, unlike the status quo. Kinda like the Simspsons episode when Rod and Todd go back to Germany and become normal, because everyone in the USA are the freaks. This was a valuable clue.

  7. awesome, i really enjoyed this photo essay. Thanks.

  8. Oh, those pictures of the two of them sleeping together -- so amazing! So thrilled that this dog has come into your life.

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