A tale of two dogs

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Once upon a time there was a boy

named Jacob.  When he came into our lives, we had such a plan for him and for us.  By the time he was three, he had been diagnosed with autism, and all of our carefully laid plans had changed.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a sad tale.  Turns out the new path we were on with this kid is pretty awesome anyway.
So, Jake was barely verbal at the time.  His world was as structured as we could manage it.  We had a little baby girl and infant at home, so structured is a bit of a reach.  We were in Augusta at an Autism Resource Fair when we met our first service animal.  Wait, let me back up.  Jake, needing structure and repetition and familiarity, loved watching the same few videos over and over and over and over again.  He loved knowing what comes next, how it ends, etc.  His attraction to familiarity was also the key to his repulsion of animals.  They’re ANYTHING but predictable.  Especially dogs.  They want attention, sniff your crotch, lick your face, rub up against you until they get their way.  Exactly what Jake hated.  Fast forward again to the Resource Fair.  Here were a row of highly trained service animals, sitting at attention.  No slobbering, no begging, no in-your-face behavior.  Jake slowly circled closer and closer until finally he touched one.  He ran back to us and said, “I happy!”  I swear.  Not only was he happy, he SAID he was happy.  It’s hard to grasp the enormity of those two words, but at the time, it was huge!

Justus, the wonder dog!

Justus, wonder dog!

If memory serves, we immediately went up to the guy with the dogs and asked how to get one.  I mean immediately.  We would’ve done anything to give Jacob that feeling and foster that language.  Turns out all you need to do is have most of your providers draft and submit letters to the board of directors at the dog training service for approval.  Turns out it takes 14-16 months to train a dog and they don’t just hand them out to anyone.  If you’re approved, you have to pay thousands of dollars for the dog.  Then, spend twelve hours at the training center learning how to properly treat and command the beast.  Once that’s done, four more hours are spent with dog and boy, making sure you can handle them both together.  For the grand finale, you have to pass a public access test with the dog at the mall.  Undaunted, we went for it.  Success!

My crazy son, who loves to steal my iPad and take photobooth pics of himself.

Justus and Jake became fast friends.  Justus wears the harness, follows the commands, and Jake stays tethered to Justus.  Jake was a huge flight risk and being tied to a 100 pound dog who would actually listen when spoken to was such a treat.

Over the years, Jake became calmer, less flight-risky, and Justus became utilized less and less.  Don’t get me wrong, he still serves his purpose, but not as daily as before.

Annie, wacky redhead.

And then along comes Annie….  A good friend of mine got a job an hour from home and her 10 month old golden retriever was spending the majority of her days alone.  Lonely, sad.  My friend Jane asked me to help her find a home for this puppy so that she’d get the attention she deserved.  I did some asking around, but deep in my heart I think I already knew that we would make the perfect home for a golden.  I had one when I was a kid – got her for my third birthday.  So I knew that a golden makes a phenomenal pet.  Also, Justus was in need of some new blood to breathe life into his boring life.  Not only was Annie free, she came with a kennel and a half-bag of dog food.  Where Justus is reserved, listens, is highly trained and cost a butt-load of money, Annie is wild, youthful, energetic, and was a gift.

Jake and Annie

It’s the weirdest thing, but …

Jake loves Annie and Justus in much the same way I love my children.  Each is different, each brings something very different to the table, but I can’t imagine life without them.  Jake is completely nuts for his dogs.  They’re the missing pieces that he was looking for.  He mauls them, takes them for walks around the block, shares his movies with them, and even tries to get them to sleep on his bed.  On this, he’s marginally successful.  They both prefer to sleep on the floor in my room.

Three amigos


our two dogs came into our lives in very different ways, for very different reasons.  They’re as opposite as two dogs can be, but are alike in that they love their boy.  Jake needs to wear these Winchester shooting headphones to help him with the onslaught of sensory overload.  One evening Jake was sitting on the couch and put a second pair of headphones on Annie.  She handled it pretty well, so we got the idea to take the lot of them into the yard to stage the above photo.  True to form, Justus ‘took it like a man’, and Annie was squirming so much I had to take eight shots to get one I liked.

They love their boy differently, too.  Justus was trained to be a perfect pet.  He goes about it in a controlled manner, stoic and safe.  If we got to the beach, Justus acts like a border collie shepherding his flock.  Jake can’t get too far away before Justus reigns him back in.  Whether he’s wearing his harness or not, Justus is always working where Jake’s concerned.   Annie is smitten.  It’s the best way to describe it.  He’ll pick up her front legs and ‘dance’ with her, move her mouth to make her talk, press down on the center of her forehead (why, I don’t know), and she just soaks him in.

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