Sara often updates the “Simply Isla” page with her thoughts about our journey with Isla and I thought it might be helpful to some Dads out there if I gave some insights from a bloke’s point of view. I thought I would describe my feelings when Sara said we should apply for an Assistance Dog, the fundraising that we did, the amazing people we have met and how our lives have already changed now that Bo is with us.
I can remember sitting on the couch discussing Isla and the prospect of an assistance dog with Sara in January this year when our application had been accepted. My first thoughts were a) she doesn’t need one, she is okay and progresses along at her own pace and b) the cost; both financially and in terms of the added difficulty looking after the dog would bring, would be more than the benefit. However, I know that when Sara has set herself a goal, there is not much that can stop her and she felt it may be a real asset to Isla for her to gain independence as she got older and for us to regain some lost freedom as a family.
She described how people fundraise for the dog, not just for raising money for the charity but also for helping to raise awareness in the community about Isla, Autism and Assistance Dogs. She said it wouldn’t be too hard and that she would look after that side of things, one hurdle down. She also said that once a dog was with us the people at Assistance Dogs would help to train us and that once we were up to speed with the details another dog would become part of our routine. Sara was firm in her views and knew that an Assistance Dog would help both us and Isla. So we began planning our fundraising.
If anyone is like a “dog with a bone” (excuse the pun), when it comes to achieving a goal, it is Sara. She asked for help from the community and some wonderful girlfriends of hers came forward to form a little fundraising committee. After having a brain storming session there was a list of potential fundraisers and the plan was to do pretty much all of them one after the other culminating in a big “Back to School” disco.
We thought that it would be good if we paid for any costs associated with the events so that all the money raised from people went directly to Assistance Dogs. So we covered the cost of sausages and sauce for the sausage sizzles, the hireage of the cinemas and the cost of the DJ for the disco etc.
Thanks so much to all of those involved for your amazing help. I was taken aback by the community response. I was a little scared of putting ourselves out there and asking for help but was astonished by the generosity of spirit that there is in Glendowie. For example, in order to arrange the disco we had to find a place to hold it, get sponsorship from local businesses and sell heaps of tickets. The guys at the Churchill Club were great in referring us to the local bowling club and they, in turn, were so generous in letting us hire their wonderful lounge for free.
The local businesses were generous in their sponsorship by donating food and prizes for the night. It was an amazing night not only because of the amount of people who came but the absolute abandon with which everyone threw themselves into the event. Everyone loved getting back to their roots and danced the night away to old school classics like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. I bet there weren’t too many without sore heads the following morning.
I was amazed at everyone’s support and donations then and still am now, it is lovely to know that so many people care.
Throughout the journey we have been so well supported by the wonderful team at Assistance Dogs. Initially Susan helped us through the fundraising and introduced us to some wonderful Assistance Dogs in training. Then when Bo first came to our house, Tracy was wonderful in training and guiding us in how to get the best from Bo and how to look after him. Julie, who set up and runs ADNZ also helped us in how to tether Isla to the dog and how to think about ways to let Isla work on her own and gain more independence from us and has been on call for any questions as they come up.
We can be over protective of Isla because we have spent longer than usual in a pre-school type phase with her and it is difficult to let go sometimes.
Bo is truly amazing now that he is in our house. The three things that he has changed for us already are Isla’s walking, sleeping and eating. I walked Isla and Bo to school on Friday and it was such a difference to other times I have taken her. We passed three girls of about Isla age walking independently to school. Isla is a long way from being able to walk to school like someone of her own age and it reconfirmed to me that we definitely made the right decision.
Before Bo she would be all over the place, frequent stopping, often wanting to go back and getting distracted, wanting to touch power poles and trees all along the way. On Friday, she walked directly to school in about 5 minutes while tethered to Bo. He seems to calm her and help her to focus on walking rather than all the other stimulus around her. I’m not sure how this works but it is wonderful to hear her asking questions about things while walking and singing little tunes instead of wandering off to touch and explore.
Bo sleeps on Isla’s bed and again calms her so that if she wakes in the night she no longer needs us because Bo is there. They are both early risers though and we are working on strategies to keep them both in bed until 6 am.
At dinner times Isla would frequently not eat her dinner or run around the table in between bites. We had to resort to feeding Isla while she played on the computer because that was the only way she would eat. We felt that this was not a good thing to do but it was the lesser of two evils. Better that she had some food rather than waking up hungry at 2 am. Now Isla takes pride in getting Bo to lie on his bed while she eats a healthy dinner at the table. It is great for family bonding and our other girls that we have more family dinners together.
We recently took the whole family to the Churchill Club for dinner with Bo as well. This is the first time we have eaten at anywhere other than Mama Mia locally. Isla would normally have a tantrum if she went anywhere else because she loves her cheese pizza and chocolate ice cream. She sat still and mostly calm for the whole night.
It was great to spend some time with friends and their families. Some of the guys who helped us with the hiring of the bowling club and organising the bar were at the Club and it was lovely for them to see Bo and for us to thank them in person for their help.
So my initial fears about the costs, in money and time, and whether she needs a dog have been proved wrong because the benefits already of having Bo in our lives are amazing. He is helping all of us to live better as a family and especially helping Isla in her unique behavioural challenges.