Erin, PAALS Team Facilitator for Smith and Autism Dog Aubrey

There is a saying that has been around for as long as I can remember that a “dog is a man’s best friend!” However, in our situation we are working towards a “dog being a boy’s best friend!”

My husband and I have eleven year old twins and my son, Smith has autism. He was diagnosed when he was two years old and we have been involved in different therapies for the past nine years. Smith has worked tirelessly learning all that he can to have the best possible future. He is involved in applied behavioral therapy, music, speech and occupational therapies and even rides horses. Smith’s week looks like most adults’ work weeks, but one thing that we had been thinking about for some time was the idea of bringing a service dog into our home. I had looked on the internet at how service dogs were helping individuals with autism and even my brother-in-law in Florida served on a board that provided service dogs for children. To be honest, I really never found anything said that was negative about what these dogs were doing for these children. It was all so very positive.

So, this is where my story begins and our journey with Jennifer Rogers and her organization of wonderful volunteers at PAALS. We are actually coming up on our one year anniversary of getting the “go ahead” from Jen and board that they would like to take us on as official clients. I believe they knew that they wanted to work with individuals with autism, but maybe not for the first graduating class. Obviously, we made a good impression when she came and did her home visit interview because on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2007 with all my family here, Jen called and said, “the board agreed and that PAALS was going to help us with getting a service dog for Smith!” Needless to say, that was a wonderful gift on Thanksgiving. Here we are year later and what a ride it has been! From the trips to Columbia with my daughter Emily to learn some basic training skills, to the swim-a-thon held in honor of Smith to raise all the funds we needed and them some in June, and the team training held in Columbia for two weeks, we have a beautiful, two year old yellow lab named Aubrey at home with us in Charleston. Sometimes, I can not believe it!

I like to say that Aubrey and Smith are on a journey together. We are figuring out things together everyday. Smith has taken to her much more quickly than we ever expected. He knows that if you ask him her name, he will reply, “Aubrey.” This was one of things we were hoping that she would be a point of conversation and help Smith with his language skills. Aubrey sleeps in Smith’s room and sometimes when you come in to wake him up in the morning, she is on his bed. She is trying very hard to be a true buddy and companion for him. Smith likes taking her for walks and even petting her while he is watching a video before bed. Aubrey also enjoys going to music therapy and having a song written about her, so that Smith can sing to her.

I know in my heart that this will be a match made in heaven! Jen and her team of volunteers worked many long hours to get dog like Aubrey trained to help a child with autism. It is truly a remarkable thing that they have accomplished and should be commended for their time and effort. They have given Smith a gift that loves unconditionally and will be there for him on his good and bad days.

I would like to end this letter by telling you of a story about when we first found out about Smith having autism. A friend of mine gave me a poem entitled “Welcome to Holland.” It describes a “trip” you have been planning for a long time to take to Italy. You buy the airline tickets, learn the language, etc. but instead the plane lands in Holland. It certainly was not what you expected, but you come to learn that there are beautiful flowers, windmills and soft breezes in Holland and that is how I feel about Smith and the folks at PAALS. If we had not been in this situation, we would have never met such wonderful individuals who wanted to help us make a difference in Smith’s life.

Thank you again PAALS and our wonderful friend Aubrey for being a part of our “Holland.”