Bo joined our family a month ago. Those with assistance dogs told me our lives would change but I must admit I was quietly sceptical. However now as these changes have become the norm, I have to keep reminding myself how things are so much better and easier “after Bo” and he really has made a difference in our lives.
Once upon a time the way we would make Isla keep up a good pace would be to hold her hands and give her a good swing to propel her along while saying “1, 2, 3 weeeee”. Being 7 and a lot heavier than she was at 3 this was no easy feat. Walking anywhere was painfully slow and frustrating. She doesn’t really like her hand held for a long time so was hard to keep her on course without touching, exploring and even licking obstacles in her way. It got to the point we have stopped taking isla out for walks as isn’t really enjoyable.
Walking now is completely different. Tethered to Bo, Isla has the freedom to still touch or at least try to but she keeps a steady pace. She likes to feel the different textures of the fences as we walk up the hill from school and names them woody, smooth, bumpy. This helps me keep her on track as well as me directing her back to hold the handle on Bo’s harness. If she gets distracted by a keypad on an electronic gate for example, I just use Bo to give her a gentle pull along by a tasty treat in front of him. She also likes me to shorten the lead which attaches to her belt on the big hill when she is finding it challenging.
Her sensory system seems to be calmed and organised through him and her mind seems clearer. This is the only way I can describe it. She can talk, sing and communicate easier. She is calm and she is safe and no one is grabbing her every minute. It is similar to how she is in water. We have the best talks in the spa as the water has the same effect.
Isla doesn’t run like she did up until a year or so ago however she is unpredictable. Before Bo, a ball being kicked out of school as we were approaching resulted in a quick dash after it. If I wasn’t there to quickly grab and scream at her she would have run straight onto the road. Also her fear of the diggers excavating our driveway recently had the same effect…just to run without thinking.
Isla is already approaching the roads when Bo stops to sit and says look out for cars. I think she likes to say it more than she means it but is still a starting point of being road safe. It will be a while until she can safely cross a road on her own but we are laying down the foundations now and through a lot of repetition which is how she learns hopefully she will learn that skill. She also likes to tell Bo to “leave it” as we pass barking dogs and tells him he’s good boy for leaving it.
Isla’s motor planning is poor. The world can appear chaotic with no clear boundaries, order or meaning. With having Bo by her side we are training her to have a plan when she goes somewhere to a shop for example. Julie at ADNZ taught us to walk around the outside of a shop when entering so she can find her way out. I feel there is now hope for her future to be able to navigate her way on her own with a little help from her dog.
What a relief it is to wake up having a full nights sleep! Isla gets a book read before bed and likes to settle herself now with Bo on the end of her bed. Around 5.30am when she hears the birds chirping Isla and Bo make their way downstairs and she lets him outside. No night time calling out, no 4.30am wakings and a much happy Isla and mummy & daddy! There have even been a couple of 6am and 7am lie ins too which is promising.
For the first 2 weeks I was waiting for the novelty to wear off. For Isla to have a tantrum about not wanting to walk, sit at the table, go to bed, not getting what she wants as this is the norm. It did happen at around week 3 but we worked our way around it. I have found with not being so tired myself I am able to follow through and handle her behaviour better. When she didn’t want to walk home we just sat and waited until she was ready. She is still sitting beautifully at the table to eat and delights in calling Bo to come to his bed for her meals. She also plays a part in feeding him his food by blowing the whistle which means he can eat.
I can see their bond growing as Isla becomes more and more trusting of him. She hugs and touches him and is learning how to do that gently and appropriately. He is very patient throughout all the prodding and exploring ! Isla is getting better with him being in her space even on the mat where she plays with her toys which is definitely by invitation only! Mostly at home though she still does her own predictable thing of computer, iPad or toys and only uses Bo when he has a role to play. It’s still an effort to get her outside, however when we do she has a purpose of throwing a toy or jumping on the trampoline with him. She loves being tethered to him with her belt and is proud he is her special dog.
I feel so grateful to have the opportunity of having one of these amazing dogs. The reason it has been such a smooth transition for us is the extensive training, and upbringing of Bo before he arrived.
There are many, many families on the waiting list and being a small non government funded organisation they are always looking for support. For ways you can help go to http://assistancedogstrust.org.nz/faqs/