A.D.H.D., ALL neurological Disorders and Disabilities, Alzheimer’s Service Dogs, Anxiety Service Dogs, ASPERGER’S SYNDROME, Autism, Autism Service Dog, BI-POLAR, Bi-Polar Service Dogs, Dementia Service Dogs, Depression Service Dogs, dog psychology, Dog Training, Dog Wish Service Dogs, EPILEPSY Service Dogs, Family Defense K9, Home Defense K9, Impulse control, MEDICALLY FRAGILE, neurological disability, O.C.D., Obedience Training, P.T.S.D., P.T.S.D. SERVICE DOGS, PDD.NOS Service Dogs, PSYCHIATRIC SERVICE DOGs, Service Dogs, SERVICE DOGS FOR CEREBRAL PALSY, Service Dogs for meltdowns, sleep Apnea, Tethering, Tethering Service Dogs
I would like to preface the following letter with an introduction to Mathew Raley, a 5 year old little boy with Severe Autism, and his dad Chris.
Mathew was so disabled with sensory problems that he would have a meltdown just changing locations in the living room in the Raley’s home. It would take him 5 minutes to acclimate to the different sights, sounds, and feelings he got by doing so. To a Child with sensory issues this acute, the potential for success with a Service dog was very low.
To complicate matters, Mathew was extremely a mama’s boy, and a daddy’s boy, and completely controlled their attention, everywhere he went. He demanded their attention, and got it “now”! Chris and Angelica Raley lived on a 15 minute schedule, twenty four-seven, where they survived each day and night in 15 minute intervals. Mathew was extremely spoiled, undisciplined, self-absorbed, and immature, at best. To expect his to adjust his life, to allow his parent’s & Dog Wish to change everything, to bring another pier-like dog into his home, who +beyond expectation, any expectation or hope.
To make matters even worse, Chris and Angelica were so tied into caring for Mathew that until our final trip to take Argus, our beloved, trained, Certified Service Dog to them, Chris had never been willing to separate from his son long enough to learn how to work with Argus, and we wer afraid it might not happen.
I have to say that when Argus entered Chris’s home, everything changed. It was Argus, his energy, his loving desire to please and be a part, made it all work. So, I would like to say a special “Thank you” to Argus, and to Cowboy, his dad, and Chloe his mom, three great, wonderful, Certified Dog Wish Service Dogs, and my wife Kerry, who loves them all, with all of her heart.
Finally, Mathew has now changed, grown, and is becoming more functional, and workable. His ability to handle the constant sensory overload is better because Argus make it better, easier, and more acceptable. His play times with Argus get a lot of face book attention, and his demeanor and attitude have changed by watching and now helping Chris, as he works with Argus, who is setting the patterns for proper behavior in Mathew that before were impossible.
Training Argus was a critical, life and death endeavor, and we went”to war” for Chris, as we do all our clients, everyday, until Argus became the dog he needed.
Bob Taylor, President
Dog Wish, Inc
Written By Chris Raley
Jan, 29th 2015 Life with Argus the Autism Service Dog
Hello. My name is Chris. My wife and I have two children: Karen and Matthew. Karen is in middle school and is typically developing. Our son, Matthew was diagnosed with autism around age 3 and is about to turn 8. He is on the more severe end of the autism spectrum. He struggles with communication and many basic life skills. He is a very intelligent and loving child but he can be very set in his ways which can lead to problems.
One of the biggest things we struggled with was shopping as a family. Matthew is too big to ride in a shopping cart now and would completely refuse to even enter a big store like Costco or Target. So for about a year and a half, my wife and I took turns shopping. One would shop while the other would stay at home with Matthew. We could not function in public as a complete family.
In early January, 2014, I saw a story on the news and in social media about a little boy who had wandered off. This little boy was also on the autism spectrum. His family was out in the country when he went missing. This was happening just 45 miles from our home. By the grace of God, they found the little boy alive just after dark. That scared me deeply. Not that we ever take our eyes off Matthew for more than a minute, but I knew deep down inside that could easily be us.
Around that same time, I saw a photo on Instagram of a friend holding a tiny German Shepherd puppy at a place called Dog Wish. This puppy was going to be a service dog when he grew up. Dog Wish was given this name by their founder, Bob Taylor, who has worked for 29 years now as the Critical Dog Trainer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The combination of the little boy wandering off and this photo made something click inside my head. I decided then and there that I wanted a service dog for my son. I had a basic idea of what I thought a service dog could do for my son but I’ll get to that later.
I asked a couple of trusted social media friends about service dog trainers. They both said I needed to contact Bob at Dog Wish. That’s exactly what I did. I filled out the application, sent photos and videos to Bob so that he would have an idea of who Matthew was.
We set up a GoFundMe page online and I started promoting it on Facebook and Instagram. We were blessed to receive so much support from family and friends and strangers alike. We had raised about a 5th of the cost when a large check arrived in the mail. It was from an old family friend and it covered the remaining cost for Matthew’s dog. I still break down in tears thinking about all of it. It was an amazing thing to be a part of. I called Bob and told him the good news. We discussed dogs for Matthew and settled on a 4 month old German Shepherd puppy named Argus and we made plans to visit Argus that weekend.
We packed up and made the 5 hour drive to Dog Wish where we first laid eyes on Argus. He was beautiful. We met Bob and were immediately moved by his loving attitude towards our family and our son. Matthew loved the sights and sounds of the dogs in the kennels. He wouldn’t pet any of the dogs but he was a happy boy nonetheless. We took Argus, the same dog we had seen in the picture that drew me to Dog Wish, to the hotel with us that night. We had no idea what we were in for.
At the hotel, Matthew would not set foot on the floor where Argus was. If Argus came anywhere near Matthew, he would panic and try to get away. It was so bad I couldn’t get a photo of the two of them together. I was on a mission to not let Argus have an accident in the hotel room so I spent most of the night walking him outside in the dark. He wasn’t leash trained yet so we were a tangled mess most of the time. Hour after hour passed and nothing. He refused to do his business outside. Back inside the room I collapsed and tried to get some sleep. I vaguely remember my wife waking me up and letting me know that Argus had defiled the carpet. I cleaned it up and somehow managed to get enough sleep to function the next day. We worked with some of the other dogs at Dog Wish and talked about plans to return to visit in a month and a half. We left Argus behind and headed home. These visits were important because I wanted Argus to know who we are and I knew we would never see him as a little puppy again.
Over the course of the next 5 months we visited Argus 3 more times. Each time it seemed as though he had doubled in size. Each time though, we still struggled to make a connection between Argus and Matthew. It wasn’t Argus’ fault. Matthew was just too anxious around an increasingly large dog.
The visits weren’t perfect either. On the last trip we took down to visit him, he began barking at people walking on the sidewalk and had an accident in the car. We were only 20 minutes down the road when this happened. I was extremely upset. My wife and daughter were too. We couldn’t have a dog that did things like this. We rushed back to Bob and let him know what happened. I told Bob that the last thing I wanted was a dog that was a liability. I began to doubt that Argus was even the right dog for Matthew. We needed him to be calm and housebroken and at that point in time, Argus was neither. Bob assured me that he would be ready for us but we had our doubts.
In early September, Bob and Kerry drove up to our home to deliver Argus. We had spent the whole summer preparing for this moment. We were nervous and excited. I was most nervous about the fact that we still had failed to build any real sort of bond between Matthew and Argus. I had video of them running around at Dog Wish and I had a photo Matthew gently touching Argus on the head (the result of a huge bribe I should add). That was it. There was no guarantee after all this time and all the money spent. There was a very large German Shepherd about to move in and I was very worried he’d just become a very large pet. When Argus and I walked through the front door, our cat Jet hissed and flew up the stairs faster than any cat ever had. Matthew saw Argus. He panicked and ran across the room to the relative safety of the couch. Argus was home. This is where the story really begins, I think.
We trained with Bob and Kerry for several days at home and out in public. I was impressed with how easy he was to handle. Matthew was still not having any of it. At Bob’s suggeston, we let Mathew and Argus develop their own bond. It didn’t take long. The third day Argus was with us, for the first time since Mathew was born, we invited all my brothers and sister over for a family “cook out”. They hadn’t understood why we were so anti-social, or distant, until that night. It was a night of healing, and re-bonding for our whole family, and wouldn’t have been able to happen if it weren’t for Bob and Kerry, Argus, and Dog Wish. That night was tough for Mathew, who was still beginning to adjust to Argus, however, he would run by Argus, which was becoming a game for him, screeching, and quickly petting him on the back, with a big grin on his face. We experienced many “break throughs” during the training. The most amazing was that now, if we got Mathew to hold onto Argus’s vest, he was willing to go into stores, and restaurants, without having a “meltdown”, for the first time ever.
On our last day of training, we found a park on the campus of the local university. Our whole family was there with Bob and Kerry. At one point we sat on some benches and just talked. Normally, Matthew would have nothing to do with this. Instead, he walked up and sat down with us. He then started to walk next to Argus as we trained him. Finally he turned, and ran jumping into Bob’s arms. Bob picked him up and hugged him. What a complete turnaround. It was like he was saying, “thank you Bob, for my dog!” No iPad, no toys or snacks. He now just sat there with a little smile on his face, and his dog by his side. That was the first time I had really seen a change in my son that was directly related to Argus.
Bob and Kerry left later that day and it was all on us now. Argus was ours and we still had no idea what a service dog would do or could do for our son. It was almost as scary as bringing a new baby home from the hospital. The bond wasn’t there immediately. People were constantly asking how they were getting along and I was worried. Bob assured me that it would grow on its own and he was right. Matthew still doesn’t pet Argus in the traditional way but he is all smiles when Argus jumps into bed with him. Matthew will walk by Argus and casually slide his hand across his back. For Matthew, that’s huge. That’s as big as a hug in Matthew’s book.
The day after Bob and Kerry left I had to drive Matthew to therapy. I had no choice but to cram Argus in the back seat of the car with him. Matthew wasn’t having this at all but after a few minutes on the road, Argus was asleep with his head in Matthew’s lap. I sent a photo to my wife. A few days later, we had settled into a routine. Argus would accompany me while I took Matthew to his school, therapy and speech sessions. It was while I was driving to therapy one bright day that I had my first revelation about what a service dog can do.
I spent most of 2014 struggling with retina problems in both eyes. By the time Argus came home I’d had several laser surgeries and the remnants of torn retina floating around in my field of vision. It wasn’t painful anymore but it was very distracting and annoying. I started noticing the junk in my eyes floating around and it dawned on me that this was the first time in almost a week that I had even given them a thought. Argus had distracted me from the things that were bothering me. They were still there, but they were diminished in my mind. Argus got me to relax, and I am much healthier.
Our whole family noticed that the energy in our home, especially when we were around Argus, had changed. The normal “stressed”, having to cope, and worry, was much less, and much better for us all! It was like Argus radiated a loving, healing vibrant energy that we all loved. It was something I never expected, and am very thankful for, to Bob and Kerry, and the Dog Wish Staff. Most of all I am thankful to Argus, for changing our lives, and being OUR family Service Dog; he helps us all to be better, especially my son son Mathew.
The second revelation came to me when I was walking Matthew through the parking lot and into school. In months past we really struggled to get to class. If Matthew decided he was going to stop in the parking lot that was it. The second I would try to take his hand or arm and keep moving towards the school he would start to resist. The more I insisted, the more he would fight. If I really pushed the issue and carried him kicking and screaming into class, I would be setting him up for a bad day, so most of the time we would just retreat home and miss school that day.
On this day, five days after Bob and Kerry left us, Matthew had stopped in his tracks. Hands on his ears and a look in his eye that told me he had no intention of going to school or even walking through the main door. Had this been a week earlier I would have grabbed his arm, he would have fought me, we would have gone home. Instead I reminded him to hold onto Argus (the handle on the service dog vest to be precise). After another reminder, Matthew grabbed the handle. I told Argus “OK, come” and started walking. Matthew held on tight and started walking again. He then reached out, and took Argus’s leash in his hand, and walked into school with his dog by his side. We made it to class and he had a good day. Argus turned a potential failed day into a successful one. In fact, since Argus has been with us we have only missed one school day because of this type of behavior. We used to miss one day a week.
In the first example/revelation, Argus was a distraction. He helped me forget some of the things that bother me. He does the same for Matthew. In the second example/revelation, Argus is a somewhat impartial third party. He’s secretly on my side of any disagreements or struggles I have with Matthew, but he’s never had to raise his voice or physically restrain or move Matthew the way I have. Matthew has a different history with Argus than he has with me. He knows if he does A, I do B, whatever B is. With Argus, Matthew still feels in control. It’s no longer a situation where I am trying to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do. It’s now a situation where he gets to decide to hold on to Argus or not. Most of the time he makes the decision to hold on and go wherever Argus (and I) take him.
Argus isn’t perfect. I won’t lie and say he is. He’s still a puppy despite his size. He gets into trouble at home. He chews on things. He harasses the cats. He plays in the mud when it rains and tracks it everywhere. However, that all changes when he’s wearing his service dog vest. He knows his job is to listen to me and to get Matthew where he needs to go. He has an almost perfect record when it comes to that. Argus does go, everywhere we take Mathew, now, and our life is much easier because of him.
I wish I could say that we now go shopping every week and all our problems are solved, but that isn’t the case. Our schedules are so full that we only occasionally go to Target with Matthew. We only occasionally all go out together as a family. Most of the time if Matthew goes “shopping” it’s just a practice lap around the store. That’s fine. It’s something. It’s something we couldn’t ever do before.
Doing things we couldn’t do before…that’s what it’s all about. Argus has opened doors for Matthew and the rest of us as a family. We may not always have the time or guts to walk through those doors, but before Argus came along, those doors were all closed.
I look forward to seeing what the years have in store for Matthew and Argus as their bond grows and I want to thank Bob and Kerry at Dog wish for delivering exactly the dog Matthew needed. They made it possible for Mathew to feel secure, to explore and be vulnerable, and to communicate much better, even with friends and family, like never before. He’s also doing better at School and Therapy. He’s gone from at 15 to 20% response rate to a 75 and 80% response rate. I hope Argus never dies.