Special Needs Families: Getting ready for Ewok

Kara Melissa by Kara Melissa Additional Needs

Kara Melissa

Kara Melissa

International school teacher turned stay-at-home mom. World traveller, food maker, writer, quilt maker, dreamer, activist, advocate, and part-time...

We were all really excited to see him again. The last time we had seen him was in May, for Sebastian’s birthday; he came for a visit with his trainer.

Sebastian was the only one of us allowed to interact with Ewok. It was difficult not to say hi, look at him, and even ignore him when he came up to say hello. But it is important that Ewok creates a bond with Sebastian.

As Sebastian is in a wheelchair in which he cannot move independently, Ewok has to go up to him. We have to hang back and allow that bond to happen and reinforce it with praise.

I wasn’t sure whether Sebastian’s five year old sister would be able to hang back like his dad and I, so she went to the park while we followed behind Sebastian, Ewok, and his trainer on a walk around the block.

I teared up seeing Ewok at Sebastian’s side; greeting him with kisses, and Sebastian’s wide smile. For his sister, it’s easy to interact with Ewok; she can embrace him, pet him, and even speak to him.

When we started this journey towards a service dog for Sebastian, I have to admit, I didn’t think about how it would fully affect the rest of our family.

My focus was on Sebastian and how having a service dog would enrich his life. I thought about the amazing bond he would have with a dog, a furry best friend by his side, all the time.

I thought that perhaps someday his dog would be able to notify us if he’s having a seizure or bark to get help if Sebastian needs it.

I set my eye on a goal for Sebastian and I am dedicated in achieving those goals.

Fast forward to our first training session with Ewok; we started with hand signs and verbal commands; sit, down, stay, ok (release), come, and heel.

Ewok must be able to respond to our commands every time. His leash will be attached to Sebastian’s wheelchair; we must tell him what to do when we stop to chat with someone, or wait at a crosswalk to cross the street.

He has to stay next to Sebastian and never get excited enough to run, as he’s large enough that he could take Sebastian and his chair down.

He’s already doing a phenomenal job with the trainer and now the baton is being passed to us.

Once we learn how to command Ewok and he responds consistently to our commands, we can train with Sebastian and then bring Ewok home.

I’m excited about the new dynamic having a service dog for Sebastian will create for our family. After our session we talked a lot about Ewok coming to home to live with us.

We talked about him being Sebastian’s working dog. How we can’t cuddle with him or get him too excited because he always has to be ready to follow commands.

He won’t be climbing up onto the couch to watch TV with us or cuddle with anyone other than Sebastian.

We plan to get a really big floor pillow so that Sebastian can cuddle with Ewok, or relax on the floor next to his wheelchair.

Ewok can hang out with Sebastian in another room while I’m making dinner. If his sister leaves the room, Seb won’t be left behind on his own.

Sebastian is excited that Ewok will have his own special bed in his bedroom.

Sebastian couldn’t wait to tell his friends at school about our first training session and his visit with Ewok.

I printed a photo of them together for him to take to school. His sister asked for a photo of Ewok, ‘because I love Ewok too.’

‘You know that he is Sebastian’s dog and he will be a working dog so you won’t be able to cuddle with him, right?’ I mentioned again.

‘Yes, mom, you told me that already. I understand,’ she replied firmly. And I know that she does.

I have conflicting emotions. I’m giving my son the opportunity to have the bond of a lifetime with Ewok, and yet also keeping his sister from creating the same bond.

As parents we want to do the best for our kids. We often struggle with feelings of inadequacy about whether we are doing something right or making the right decisions.

My husband reminds me of the things that don't come easily for Sebastian, like friendship and playing on the playground. Of course I know this.

Sebastian will be able to take Ewok for a walk, while his sister hangs from the monkey bars or makes new friends, easily. Research tells us that kids with disabilities struggle to build meaningful friendships.

I look forward to seeing Ewok (hopefully) make that part of childhood easier for Sebastian. I hope that he will not only be Sebastian’s buddy, but help break down barriers that disability often creates.

Ewok will become a part of our family. But he will never be the focus of our family.

We will never treat him as the centre of attention. He will be Sebastian’s buddy and Sebastian will learn to count on him to be by his side.

Ewok will calm Sebastian and be his #1 buddy. Having Ewok will not only enrich Sebastian’s life, but in doing so, enrich ours.


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