Therapy Pets: Service Dogs

Carolyn Voisey by Carolyn Voisey Additional Needs

Carolyn Voisey

Carolyn Voisey

Mum to one incredible little dude, I work full time in higher education and have my own small business as a jewellery designer/creator. I love noth...

Of the furry, canine variety.

Merlin, an 11 week old golden retriever, arrived from the service dog charity a week ago and is settling in well, however it really DOES feel like we’ve got a newborn baby all over again!

He needs house training, we’re up a couple of times in the night to let him out to pee, teaching what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t, and how to play nicely (i.e. no nipping).

And it is overwhelming.

More than once I’ve asked myself if we’re doing the right thing bringing a puppy into our lives, especially as Sam can’t get out of the way of nips when Merlin is overly excited to see him and wants to play.

Hubster put it perfectly; we never had a, "normal", baby, we’ve never had to deal with potty training or with the more usual behavioural issues which afflict toddlers and their parents.

It has come as an incredible shock.

It’s also raised a lot of feelings and thought which I didn’t really want to resurface.

I have ultimate respect for those who have more than one child – hats off to you guys.

For now, Merlin is starting his training to become a seizure alert dog/guide dog with basic socialisation and obedience training (he has a long was to go on that front), but over the next 12 months he’ll be trained to respond to Sam’s seizures and to alert us so we can keep our little boy safe.

In short, Merlin will be Sam’s constant guardian, companion and best friend.

For now, he’s a lovable ball of fluff fast asleep by my feet having just dunked his flurry noggin in his water bowl to cool down!

Like everything, in the special needs world, when things are going well it is fabulous, but things turn in a heartbeat.

We’re incredibly excited about Merlin’s potential, and about training him up as a service dog but at the same time like anything that worth doing, it’s very hard work.

Add that to the sheer exhaustion and frayed nerves that we all live with daily and it’s easy to lose sight of the here and now.

It’s also very easy to be bogged down with thoughts like, ‘If only he didn’t have these disabilities - we wouldn’t have to DO this!’

I am currently countering those thoughts with the mantra nothing that’s worth doing is going to be easy, and it’ll be worth it in the end.

Training Merlin will be difficult and I have no doubt there will be tears and doubts but it’ll be worth it to give Sam that loving companionship that only a dog can give.

In fact, he has already shown his worth on a recent trip out…

Last week, we attended Twycross Zoo’s Dream Night, an evening where the zoo opens its gates out of hours for disabled children and their families to enjoy.

After checking that it was OK to bring him, Merlin came along with us.

Towards the end of the evening Sam had a particularly nasty seizure which left him twitchy and miserable.

Merlin was exhausted after running round like a loony on his lead trying to fuss EVERYONE in sight so we scooped him up and plonked him on Sam’s lap in his wheelchair.

The change in Merlin’s manner was immediate – no longer the bouncy, overexcited puppy, he calmed down immediately and lay down gently on Sam’s lap, gently licking his young master’s hand.

Sam responded by resting his other hand against Merlin’s fur and we watched as our little boy visibly relaxed.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – animals have an understanding and magic about that that humans simply lack.

Merlin stayed in that position for the remainder of the evening, every so often checking that his young friend was OK.

If this is a sign of things to come then we have most definitely made the right decision.

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