Dogs Know They Have A Purpose


Veterinary technicians and even boarded veterinary behaviorists have been inspired by Julie Shaw for years, as have I. Shaw’s passionate voice regarding positive reinforcement for handling animals in-clinics, and support of behavior as a specialty for technicians has changed the profession. Shaw, is a registered veterinary technician, was the senior animal behavior technologist at Purdue University for 13 years, and is now the owner of TEAM Education in Animal Behavior, LLC. She is also co-editor (with Debbie Martin) of “Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses,” (Wiley Blackwell, 2015).

As I’ve said for years, ‘Smart as we say we are – dogs understand us far better than we understand them. We’re playing catch up, learning what they know and what they can do.’  Here’s an intensely personal guest blog, which I am honored to provide a platform for. Julie and I had a mutual friend, the late “father of veterinary behavior,” Dr. R.K. Anderson, who once told me, “Oooh Julie, she’s the real deal. Watch her – she might change the world.” May I add, I know that if confronted with a mountain, Julie will not only climb it but also inspire others to make the trip with her. 

By Julie Shaw, RVT, VTS (Behavior), KPA, CTP

It started with the words, “Your baby has cerebral palsy.”

Rarely do we humans realize the feeling of purpose and destiny.  I think dogs feel this all the time; it is one of the characteristics we humans envy of them without knowing it.

I am a veterinary technician who specializes in animal behavior and an animal trainer but most importantly I am the mom of a child with special needs.

My son was born 14 weeks prematurely, weighing 2 pounds and 4 ounces nearly 22 years ago. The doctors told me Dylan had cerebral palsy when he was 10 months old and I grieved.  I grieved the child I thought I had as I began to accept the child I did have.  It was unlikely I would see my son play baseball or run in the sprinklers. I was frustrated.  I couldn’t  ‘fix’ my son’s traumatized brain but it became my mission to find something I could do to help him.

I began contacting every service dog organization I could find in 1994, only to be told service dogs weren’t given to young children because young children couldn’t utilize them.  I strongly disagreed! I wanted Dylan to grow up with his service dog at his side.

So, I did what moms do – I didn’t give up and I found a way.  I made the decision to train a service dog for my son on my own.  First came “Faith” and later “Hero.” They shaped my son into the man he is today and made our family whole.  They were beside Dylan through every Star Wars movie, they lay beside him in hospital beds, they carried his books and they brought friends and the world to him.

Faith and Hero are both gone now.  Dylan no longer requires a service dog but Faith and Hero remain a large part of our lives. Dylan doesn’t remember a day as a child without one of them at his side.

The “purpose” part of this story began with an email from a student requesting information for a mother of a child with autism. That mother was relentless in her pursuit – she KNEW a service dog would help her son, Isaac, through his many anxiety attacks and help him to relate better to the world around him.  She reminded me of me!

I’d already seen first hand what a service dog could do for a child but when I trained Faith and Hero I was both the mom and the trainer – at times a difficult balance to keep.  This time I could be the trainer and assist a mom whose shoes I knew all too well. Suddenly I felt my world settle into place.

THIS is where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to do.

I fell in love with Isaac at first sight.  He is sweet, kind and loves his sister Maddie.  Isaac’s autism often makes socializing difficult or impossible.  He has great anxiety and is frequently overwhelmed. When I think about how Isaac’s life is about to be transformed my eyes fill with tears of joy because I am grateful that I can be a part of it.

Charlie is due to be born in May and will began training with Isaac when he is 8 weeks old.  Please support “Charlie” and Isaac and at their GoFund me page as we begin this great adventure together and follow every step of our progress on Facebook.  Also, please at the very least live this Facebook page.