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.

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