This is the story of a boy and his dog who met in prison; the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis. I am privy to this saga, because the dog was my dog, Faith.
Faith is the third puppy my husband Rex and I fostered for Leader Dogs for the Blind. At one year of age, Faith returned to Leader Dog School to begin formal training. Six months into training, she was released from the program due to kennel stress. We adopted Faith, with the intent of finding her an alternative avenue of service.
Canine Partners of the Rockies, a program that matches dogs with adults with disabilities, eagerly accepted her, only to release her a few weeks later. Though her guide dog skills were excellent, they did not transfer well for wheelchair work. As her “mom,” I was distressed that my golden girl had not yet found her purpose in life, or a home and family to call her own.
The boy in this story is Nick, a nine-year-old with Down’s syndrome. At age 2 ½, Nick was speaking simple sentences and enjoyed singing songs with his mom. Then one day, Nick disappeared into a private reality, no long speaking, singing, or answering to his name. When Nick was eight, he was finally diagnosed with autism.
Nick is a sweet, loving child, but when upset, he cries, screams, hits, bites, and throws things. In public, he often refuses to hold a parent’s hand, runs of, and plops to the ground to stage a “sit in.”
Nick’s mom, Katrina, intuitively knew that her son would benefit from having a service dog. Although Nick does not have the usual disabilities for which people typically receive service dogs, this determined mom searched for a program that could help him.
During the same time period, my husband and I were contemplating a third placement for Faith—and that is when God brought Faith and Nick together, via the Indiana Canine Assistant Network.
After several months of training, Faith was ready to be matched with a child. Three days into “team training,” when the child and parents work intensively with the service dog and trainer, Nick began speaking—to Faith. Like most children with autism, he needed something to spin, but one day in training, Nick threw his cup and pencil to the floor and made a beeline for Faith.
Faith was allowed to go home with Nick during training and one night, when Nick was crying, Faith went to him. Nick wrapped his arms around Faith and cried into her fur. With Faith’s comforting presence, Nick’s behavior did not escalate into rage or violence.
Nick is beginning to interact more with humans as well. He speaks in sentences. He sings with Mom—the tunes and lyrics he knew at 2 ½, intact.
“I’ve searched for my son for all these years," says his mom, “and it took a dog to find him.”
I dedicate my column to the ICAN trainers
at the Indiana Women’s Prison.
You are awesome! God bless you!