Amy en Katies verhaal op Pinelodge Labradoodles (Alleen in het Engels)
In the summer of 2008 I came in contact with the Seinstra family for the first time. They had a young daughter who had recently been diagnosed with a type of Autism called Aspergers. I am very familiar Aspergers and we had an instant link. This family, instead of being devistated by the diagnosis, was very pro-active! They did their research! They decided their daughter needed a dog to help her, and so they contacted me. They did their research on trainers and decided on a training company called Bulters + Mekke. This month Katie, the little labradoodle and Amy, her girl, graduated! This is their story, written by Amy’s mom Miriam. The family lives in The Netherlands.
Two and a half years ago, after numerous tests, Amy was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrom, an autistisc disorder. Part of this particular form of autism is that overall Aspies are highly intelligent people, which means they are very often overestimated and also very aware of their limitations, their being different. This was certainly the case with our daughter. 7 years old at the time of diagnosing, and very aware that life was far from easy for her.
What we also noticed was that Amy found some sort of support, some sort of peace of mind, when she was around animals, particularly dogs. Soon we decided that she was to have her own dog and the search for a friend was on. We scoured the internet and found that labradoodles not only made great friends and had an allergy friendly low shedding coat, but were also used as service dogs for people with autism. We decided that was what was needed!
The doodle we found through Heidi, who had a mini girl doodle from a litter by O My, waiting to find her family. Contact was made, and the deed was done. This particular litlle black and white fur ball was ours! We hadn’t yet told Amy because of the long wait before the puppy would arrive. But during a particularly devastating sad outburst Amy had, we decided to tell her.
She was over the moon and had very high hopes for this doggy. She so needed a friend! She named her fur ball Katie and started her count down to D-day!
In the mean time we started to contact schools that would train service dogs. I emailed anyone who seemed to be involved in training these dogs and had very little luck in getting anyone interesting in training a puppy in her own home as a service dog for an autistic child. This simply wasn’t done! Service dogs were trained up in adoption families and placed with their new owners as service dog from the age of one and a half. No way would it work to train a pup and a child together. But we persevered and eventually Astrid from Bulters & Mekke phoned me. Joop Mekke and Erika Bulters had just started up their own school after years of working for Stichting Hulphond ( an official organisation working with service dogs) and were now mostly working with seizure dogs for people suffering from epilepsy. They were willing to hear us out. Astrid told me they would discuss it and get back to me. The following week they decided to take us on. They had never worked like this before, had no idea where it might lead, and nor did we. We just felt that Amy would benefit so much from working with her dog and that it would be good for the dog to socialise with Amy from day one. Amy’s motorskills are not great, so the dog would not be handled in the most delicate of ways at times. Amy has her outbursts, which can be quite noisy and frightening for a dog, so that would have to be normal in the dog’s perception.
And above all the dog needed to focus on Amy and not on the rest of the family. Other than that we had no idea what could be the outcome of such a training project.
Joop was the one to train with Amy and Katie at our own home and we decided to go with the flow. First he needed to gain Amy’s trust. Amy was very much ‘once bitten, twice shy’. Having to cope with a world which simply has no understanding that such a bright intelligent child is not coping, finding no support anywhere but with her family, she would not give her trust easily. But Joop was very gentle, never pushed, never asked for more than Amy could give, observed Amy and her dog, turned their own little games into training games, and very gradually won Amy over.
She started to chat with him and look forward to the training sessions.
Joop respected Amy for who she was, was never bothered by Amy’s not always socially accepted behaviour, listened to her, gave her room to develop her own ideas and miracles very soon started to happen! It was beyond our wildest expectations!!
Little Katie, wearing her service dog jacket, raised a lot of eyebrows. School allowed Katie to come into the school ground for bringing Amy to school and pick her up. A parent at the school asked Amy how this little creature could possibly be a service dog. And instead of closing up and shying away, Amy explained about her autism and how Katie cheered her up and kept her calm. She was communicating with a virtual stranger, telling them about her handicap!
More miracles happened. Rather than being full of frustration and grief after another day of struggling in school, Amy came running out of the doors, full of smiles, knowing Katie would be there. She was followed by lots of children from her class, all wanting to cuddle this lovely funny doggy. The only way that was allowed was through Amy’s permission. And Amy was no longer alone! She made some friends, brought them home, allowed them to play with Katie, and contact was made!
Taking Amy shopping had long not been an option, even in our own small town. Now she has visited Venice and London, with Katie at her side.
Where Amy would get so cross if things didn’t go as she wanted or somebody would accidently bump into her, Katie could do no wrong. A chewed up favorite toy? Amy took responsibility. She had left it out and Katie could not know it wasn’t hers to take!
Our whole family benefitted from this wonderful friendship. Amy was no longer sad and depressed, but had fits of giggles with her dog.
Because of her motor skills and lack of concentration, she could not always train Katie properly herself, but her brothers stepped in and worked with Katie as well.
Joop usually taught me, her mum, the tricks and I worked with Amy and Katie between sessions and we had so much fun!
The training was nothing like the usual puppy training. We worked on the bond between Katie and Amy, on Katie focussing mainly on Amy, on helping Amy concentrate for a longer period of time, on her motor skills, on learning from Katie’s body language and translating that to friends in the playground. And it worked!! Amy became more open, more confident, more able to do things by herself.
Katie helped her talk to strangers, to explain why she was different. Katie helped the whole family. Outings and holidays were possible again! Katie gave Amy back her life.
14 October 2010 was the icing on the cake. Amy and Katie graduated together and got their service dog and owner certificate. Joop was reminiscing about their time together and told everyone how much this project had taught him. How much he had learned from Amy. How a standard service dog comes with a set of 70 commands, but how Katie has about 120 because Amy never used the regular commands but came up with her own and how this worked just fine. But also, how Amy and Katie didn’t really need so many commands. Whenever Amy was lost in her own world, her own mind, how Katie would still find her, no words needed.
And how we all entered this project with an open mind, with no firm idea where this might lead, and now two years later we have our girl, grown beyond expectation, coping so much better with her dog at her side and we cannot express our gratitude enough to everyone involved in getting us there.
So, thank you Heidi for your continuing friendship and support, thanks to Amy’s school for letting Katie be there for Amy at the beginning and end of the schoolday, and most of all, thank you to all at Bulters and Mekke, and especially Joop, for believing it was possible and making it come true.
Below are pictures from Katie and Amy’s graduation. Our congratulations to Amy and Katie and all the other graduates that day. You have worked hard! And we are also so grateful to trainers like Joop. You make the world a better place!
At the end of the wonderful day, everyone was happy, but tired….