My name is Adriana and I am an NSD volunteer. I have been following your blog and facebook page since I read your "Dear Autism Service Dog" letter in the NSD newsletter. I wanted to share with you how much I love your writing and the fact that you share Kate and Oakley's journey with us. It gives us a unique perspective into your journey and reminds us every day why we volunteer. It serves as food for our souls and reminds us why we open our hearts and our home to these beautiful creatures. We had the pleasure of welcoming Oakley Long Legs into our home for 2 weekends this past summer. We were not able to volunteer as much as we normally do with the past group of dogs. My Mom was diagnosed with lung and bone cancer in late April and unfortunately lost her battle on September 6th. I miss her terribly but knowing that she loved animals and always supported me in my NSD work, I walked the fine line of balance and did what I could do to stay involved.
My husband and I have 2 beautiful boys - Evan is 7 and Alex just turned 6. We have been volunteering with NSD for 2 1/2 years. When we lost our beloved Golden retriever, Maddy, at age 8 very suddenly, our family was devastated. We got her at 8 weeks old and she was our first baby long before we made the leap to have human babies. When she passed, I was desperate to have a connection with a four legged fuzzy being and reached out to NSD. I started out doing the evening enrichment at the kennel and slowly eased into weekend sitting and then the school bus program (dogs who are near the end of advanced training who are experiencing kennel stress go home with families every night as well as weekends). Evan and Alex also love to participate in hook up training as graduation draws nearer for each group of dogs.
What started out as a means to fulfill my doggie fix has turned into an incredible family and personal experience rich with life lessons. At my first graduation ceremony in 2012 upon hearing one of the parents speak, I cried uncontrollably as he described how his dog would allow them to make a trip to Walmart which up until then had been a very difficult undertaking. I thought of my own experience taking 2 lovely boys to Walmart on many occasions (and recalled how they were not so lovely at times) and realized how blessed I was to be able to make that trip without added stressors.
At this past graduation, one of the parents read the essay "Welcome to Holland" which I had never heard before. Again, I found myself crying uncontrollably imagining what the journey would be like for parents in the room and feeling the pain of their struggles.
Then, your husband, Alex, delivered the incredible speech you had prepared for the occasion and I sobbed. I loved the way you allowed us to see and feel the experience from the dog's point of view! I was able to chat with Alex briefly as my boys gave Oakley one last pet and kiss that night. He asked me if we had ever considered puppy raising and that is the final frontier for us. I'm not sure we're ready to travel that path or if we ever will be ready to form that bond with a dog. So for now, we wait for the next group of dogs to arrive and look forward to more weekends with those furry, funny and healing souls.
I am crying as I type this just feeling so joyful that Oakley is bringing you and your family peace, grace and love. I continue to be amazed at the gifts these dogs have and the power they have to change lives. My family is honoured to be a part of that journey.
We look forward to hearing more about your life with Oakley. I just showed Evan and Alex the photo of Oakley in his plaid shirt this morning. We love it! We love hearing updates on how the dogs are doing and how they are enriching lives. It keeps us motivated and focused on what we can do to get more dogs paired with more kids and people who desperately need them.
Thank you for your time and for your insights into autism and for sharing your life with us. We are so grateful to be able to help families like yours.
Wishing you all the best!
Adriana, Andy, Evan and Alex
Grace and Kate's mom. (Shanell)