“Rarely do we humans realize the feeling of purpose and destiny,” says veterinary technician Julie Shaw, of Lafayette, IN. “I think dogs feel this all the time; it’s one of the characteristics we humans envy of them without knowing it.”
Shaw is known throughout her profession as a leader, helping to create a specialty in animal behavior among veterinary technicians and teaching her colleagues at veterinary conferences. Still, the co-author of “Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses” (Wiley Blackwell, Ames, Iowa, 2015; $66) says her most important role she can describe in one word: Mom.
Shaw’s son, Dylan, was supposed to be born in October 22 years ago. Instead, he arrived on the Fourth of July, weighing only 2 pounds, 4 ounces.
“He was given zero chance to survive,” she recalls. Dylan pulled through, though not unscathed. He was soon diagnosed with cerebral palsy caused by brain trauma in-utero.
“I was grieving very hard because I wanted to fix it,” says Shaw. “I was working very hard to make the boo-boo better, as moms are determined to do, but I couldn’t. I started researching other ways I could help, and because I’d been a veterinary technician for so long, I thought I could find a service dog to assist him. But that didn’t go so easily.”
Even today, most organizations providing service dogs wouldn’t be keen on pairing one with a toddler, and certainly the idea wasn’t welcome more than two decades back. Shaw persevered, however, ultimately finding two dogs for Dylan, appropriately named Faith and Hero.
Dylan is now a student at Ivy tech Community College in Lafayette. “Today he can barely speak about the two dogs he grew up with, (they were) so incredibly important — as important as any of us. Those dogs could help him in ways I couldn’t. At times, when I couldn’t comfort Dylan, they did.”
Being a dog trainer, Shaw taught the dogs practical skills, such as picking up items for Dylan. “But that was only a small part of it,” she says. “The dogs never judged, and they were always, and I mean always, there for Dylan emotionally. When he didn’t have the confidence to talk with other children, the dogs helped. When he had difficulty putting the right words together, the dogs didn’t care.”
Faith and Hero also provided the family with what is today dubbed a “social lubricant.” Other kids, at first concerned because Dylan was different, overcame their initial hesitancy because of their attraction to the dogs.
The years sped by, and then, earlier this year, Shaw was in Baton Rouge, LA, for a speaking engagement when an email caught her attention.
The message had a link to a GoFundMe page for a 7-year-old boy with autism named Isaac. Krista (and her husband, Scott) Schultz wrote about their determination to get a service dog for Isaac, but how every group she approached denied her. She was also worried about the cost. Still, Krista was determined to help her son.
“She reminded me of me,” says Shaw. “I got goose bumps all over and tears came to my eyes. I instantly realized: I can help.”
Shaw intervened, and now Isaac will have his service dog, a Labradoodle to be named Charlie. The litter from which the pup is expected to be chosen will be born in late May. Shaw will help pick the right pup and begin training the dog. To help still others, Shaw will document everything on a video that anyone can watch and learn from. She is, after all, a teacher.
But does Shaw know how to train a dog for autistic child? Does anyone know how to do this?
“Those are excellent questions because I learned that if you’ve met one autistic child, you’ve met one autistic child,” she says. “Knowing what I know, though, about Isaac, I’m confident that a dog will be helpful, helping him to calm down and ease (his) anxiety in social situations. When I think about how Isaac’s life is about to be transformed, my eyes fill with tears of joy because I’m grateful that I can be a part of it.
“Of course, I don’t believe all autistic children need a service dog, but I do believe that a service dog can benefit many autistic children who are sometimes being left behind, and bring them into our world,” says Shaw. ‘We need them here. They see the world in a different way, and I do believe they’re here to teach us.”
We’ll follow Isaac and Charlie’s story in this column, and you can also ‘like’ the Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/IsaacandCharlie.
©Steve Dale Pet World, LLC; Tribune Content Agency