Saturday, 20 October 2012

Eleanors journey

Owen was diagnosed with Autism aged 4. I knew very little about it so I  joined a local family support group to help me gain a better understanding of what Autism was and the various ways I could deal with it.

Me with Alfie at 9 weeks
I have always had a dog in my life so when another mum told me about a new charity training assistance dogs for children living with Autism I got in touch straight away. I spoke with Cliona on the phone and she made arrangements to come a visit us to meet myself and Owen.
Cliona then came to meet us and get an idea of what we needed for Owen. As I have another old dog bonnie already, cliona thought getting a puppy for training would work better for us and she explained about her puppy training programme and how she felt that it would suit us best. 
Alfie with his brothers Ralph and Cookie 

On July 11th 2011 myself and two other Mums went to collect our pups. Alfie was about 9 weeks old and settled right in with our family. Owen took to Alfie from day one. He just fell in love with Alfie and took on the job of feeding. He also liked to try to brush Alfie's hair.

As Alfie's training progressed he received a training jacket. This meant he could come everywhere with us. This had a huge impact on Owen who became responsive to people asking about Alfie and I began to noticed a big improvement in his socialising almost instantly.
Alfie was very much a part of the family. We met up with other families with pups for training sessions on how to socialise him. We also attended lots of fundraising events where he became very popular.
Alfie the fundraiser
Time flew, as it does in all families and suddenly it was time for Alfie to go to the My Canine Companion training centre in Cork for intensive training and hopefully his graduation into a fully qualified assistance dog.

It was only when he was gone did I actually realise how big a part of our family Alfie had become. We all missed him a lot but it was great to get updates on his progress and to see pictures of him on Facebook.

Then at the beginning of October it was my turn to travel to Cork. I was really anxious that he would recognise me or that he would not make the grade but i needn't have worried.He remembered me and over the next couple of days I trained with Alfie and the rest of my graduation class. We had a couple of days going over our training  and we learned a few new things under Clionas supervision. Alfie passed his training and graduated to a full assistance dog.

Training with Alfie and the rest of the class.
Then it was time to head home. As I drove home I could just imagine the excitement in the house and one very excited little boy waiting for his best friend to arrive.

It was all hugs and kisses for Alfie as he jumped out of the car. Such excitement and happiness. But the work was not over yet.

A few days later Cliona came to visit and to do the first attachment with Owen. I was a little worried but I need not have worried because the attachment went really well. Owen thinks it's him walking the dog and that's just fine. For me it is just so good to see how comfortable they are together. I will admit that it felt really strange walking down a busy street and not holding Owen by the hand. But then that is the reason why I decided to get an assistance dog for Owen. He now has the Independence to walk along a busy street without holding my hand and I have the comfort and piece of mind knowing that he is safe and that he will remain with Alfie no mater what happens.
No hands, Owens first attachment 
It has been an amazing journey. It is hard to believe that the Alfie I see today is the same little ball of fluff I held in my arms way back in 2011. I have met some fantastic families on the way and made many friends. Owen now has his best friend to play with and to keep him safe.

I am delighted that I decided to get Alfie as a pup and it has been amazing to watch as he has grown up and matured into the confidant handsome Assistance dog that he is today.

I have had some marvellous support from Cliona and the other trainers at My Canine Companion and I can not thank them enough for all they have done for me. If you are reading this blog and you are considering an assistance dog for your child then I urge you to contact My Canine Companion today.

Our 2013 Charity calendars are now on sale. Click here to get yours today.


Monday, 15 October 2012

When hope and spontaneity collide.

At the beginning of October Barry and Zarah Doyle were among a number of families who travlled to our training centre in Blarney to complete their assistance dog training. Below Zarah & Barry tells us of their story.

When we received the diagnosis of Autism for our son he was 4 years old. His attention span was non existent and was consumed by his own little world of Thomas the tank engine, aeroplanes and cars. He also would run off at the first chance he got which was very stressful and he became very unpredictable when we were out in public.

 We discovered his love of animals when he first attended preschool. His teacher had a cat and she had noticed that after Luke had spent five minutes around the cat he was far more regulated and could concentrate in class for longer periods of time. We had heard about children on the autism spectrum getting assistance dogs to help tackle this problem. We applied for a dog through other charities however the waiting lists where so long and we became impatient because we could see the benefit of having animals around Luke.

Adorable Toby
We had a sudden burst of spontaneity and went to view a litter of golden retriever puppies in Ballitore Co. Kildare. It quickly became clear to us that we were not walking out of there without one of these absolutely adorable dogs! I think I would have taken them all home with me if I could. Thank god I came to my senses before that happened.
Most of the puppies were running around the garden and one came up to Luke and seemed to take a liking to him, Luke thought this was hilarious and that was our decision made for us, we collected our gorgeous 8 week old puppy two days later. When we got him home we named him Toby. The kids were besotted with him.
 I started thinking about how we were going to train him and asked a few people I knew who had already had an assistance dog if they knew anybody that could train a puppy to become a qualified assistance dog.
I was given Cliona Rourke's contact details. Cliona was well know in the world of assistance dog training. Cliona was in the process of setting up her own charity and she came up to see us and explained all about a new charity and what she hoped to achieve. Talk about meant to be!!

Cliona thought Toby had an ideal temperament to become an assistance dog and started us on a puppy socialising programme. Toby received a "puppy in training" jacket. This meant we could bring him everywhere with us, shopping, school runs, relatives homes everywhere we went he went. We had a lot of stuff to learn ourselves and we attended group training classes with other parent/puppies in the programme.  
We watched him grow from a clumsy puppy into a very handsome good natured adult. Toby is absolutely part of the family, it is such a relief to have a dog that Luke is so familiar with and that such a strong bond has already been established.

Toby is one of the family

Training with Toby in Cork

At 14 months he went to Cork for his full assistance dog training. His absence left a big hole in our family but we knew that when he returned he would be a fully trained assistance dog. As Toby's training was coming to an end we also travelled to Cork to be trained. It was so good to see Toby again and he was so happy to see us.

Because we had been on the puppy training programme a lot of what were taught in Cork was stuff we already knew but it was great to be able to practise with Cliona and the other trainers. Toby looked so proud in his new jacket as we walked around Cork with the other families in the class. At the end of a very long couple of days Toby was graduated to a full assistance dog and we headed home to Kildare.

The first attachment
We now have a fully trained assistance dog but one hurdle remained; The attachment!! As we waited for Cliona to call to our house we wondered how the attachment would go. Luke and Toby are best friends, they have grown up together, but how would Luke react to being tethered to Toby? We soon got our answer.

Only back from training in Cork a few days and Cliona and Linda arrived. Cliona likes to do the attachment in the area where the family live so that the child is in familiar surroundings and not distracted. We need not have worried, the attachment went perfectly. It was amazing to watch as Barry held the lead from behind and Luke and Toby strolled along like any normal little boy with his dog.

This has been an amazing journey for us as a family. My Canine Companion is not just another assistance dog charity, it is a lot more then that. It is like a big social network of people. We all have one thing in common; we live and deal with Autism on a daily basis and we have turned to this wonderful charity to help us in that fight through the assistance of wonderful dogs such as Toby.

My Canine Companion has 13 fully trained assistance dogs partnered with families across Ireland. If you would like to know more about our Charity and the service we provide please visit our website