Dylan has a 4 legged friend. Today 5 years ago I came home after being away on a week long training course and brought home with me Dylan’s assistance dog Hal.
I first became aware of autism assistance dogs through the good old internet. Research showed me they were very popular in the US and increasingly popular in Ireland where both locations had charities and popular organisations surrounding assistance dogs for autism. In the UK there were only 2 charities helping families find these special animals. One was up north and we were out of the catchment area. The second ‘Dogs for the Disabled’ as they were then known were closer and had a self referral system.
The application process was straightforward although there was an exclusion criteria which was quite tight; only one child in the house with autism, no other dogs, age restrictions etc. We thankfully met the criteria and were accepted on the waiting list to be matched with an appropriate therapy animal. It took years! However one day out of the blue we were contacted by the wonderful staff at the charity who confirmed they had a match for us and could we meet? Arghhh! We were so excited!! Of course we’ll meet!
Like some doggy blind date we waited anxiously for the charity workers to arrive with our match for the initial meet. Well, he was worth the wait. Still just a pup really Hal was 18 months old but big strong and lean. His nature shines as the most patient and gentle dog and when in his working jacket he is masterful and controlled. The meet went well and I was quickly booked in for a residential date with him and two other families and their matched dogs to receive handover on the training and upkeep of Hal once he comes home with us.
The residential week was the hardest ever. It was a 2 hour drive away and the first time I had been away from the children overnight since my dad died 3 years previously. I was so homesick but Hal got me through it and after 5 days I finally came home bringing Hal with me.
Hal is the sweetest, kindest dog. For Dylan, who is often sensory seeking, Hal will tolerate his pushing and rough handling until he has had enough and the he will remove himself from Dylan’s reach. When out walking, Dylan will hold his lead and Hal will stop at the road when Dylan will not; forcing Dylan to remain at kerbside and not shifting an inch until instructed to otherwise. Dylan quickly learnt that even if he wanted to turn left to go to the park if Hal was turning right to the shop then right we would turn. Unlike when we would explain to Dylan our undesirable destination there would often be aggression, frustration and anger. We found Dylan would follow Hals direction- with confusion initially but- without resistance. Dylan quickly learnt to trust Hal and would easily follow his lead.
For both Josh and Grace Hal is a positive presence in what can often be a difficult home life. Without the working jacket on Hal is a playful energetic dog with emotional insight and intuitive compassion. Often offering a wet nose or head rest to provide comfort to all siblings when they are quiet or upset. He will sit and wait patiently for his breakfast while everyone rushes around feeding themselves or getting ready for school or work. He is like the kindest friendliest most supportive person you could imagine but in dog form. And we love him.
Happy 5 year homecoming Hal xxx