Updated: Feb 19, 2021
It was early on in Kai’s life that we noticed a void in his social life. His lack of critical social skills created an emptiness that we as parents couldn’t fill. He was never invited to neighborhood birthday parties. The one and only time he was invited to a classmate's party, we left in tears. Kai was unable to participate like the others, therefore he felt left out. The party was held in an indoor inflatable park. Kai can’t climb and has poor balance, this made it exceedingly difficult for him to partake. He sat and watched them play, even though I offered multiple times to get in there and help him climb. After 30 minutes, he asked me to take him home. While we walked to the car, we were both silent. For the first time I couldn’t utter any words of comfort or encouragement. We had a quiet tear-filled ride home. When I parked the car, I proceeded to open his door and we shared the tightest, most heartfelt hug. He needed my hug as much as I needed his. It’s ok that we let out those tears of frustration and sadness, it’s part of this journey and it’s important to allow and acknowledge those feelings. It’s equally as important to adapt, find solutions and overcome.
"an emptiness that we as parents couldn't fill"
It was shortly after Kai started grade school that we began to consider a service dog. We have a close friend who uses a facility dog in her therapy sessions. Kai began to work with them regularly and we quickly noticed a change in his demeanor. Not only did he think the dog was smart and cool but it also didn’t judge him for his different abilities. The dog was pure, inclusive, and easy to be around. He felt no pressure to socialize or make eye contact. Kai worked on improving his speech while giving the dog commands, solidified his fine motor skills while holding the leash and most surprisingly was how far he would walk when motivated by a four-legged friend. Everything that came from his interaction with a trained dog was positive and exciting.
We knew that it was time to apply for a dog of his own. We did our research and found the perfect organization for our needs. After a lengthy application and interview process, we were wait listed for over a year. We finally received the call that it was our turn to be matched, we were more than excited! We prepared for our two weeks of training on campus. Kai and I lived in the training center and learned everything from dog grooming to commands. Considering Kai is a minor and requires my assistance, he was paired with a “skilled companion”. These dogs know all the same commands as service dogs; however, they are trained to work in a group of 3. Facilitator (mom), recipient (Kai) and dog (McCotter).
"...the perfect match"
Kai was matched with McCotter, a 2 year old Golden Retriever, Labrador mix. During the match process, we worked with multiple dogs that were of all different temperaments. There were some dogs that were too hyper and excitable for Kai, and others that were uninterested in us. It took several rotations before we found the perfect match. McCotter was a light in Kai's life. He had the sweetest, most gentle nature, remarkably similar to Kai himself. He finally had a friend, he was no longer alone. They played together, went to doctors' appointments as a team and even napped together. Dogs have an innate ability to know when someone is different. They adapt to your needs and give 100% of themselves to you. Kai couldn’t have found a greater friend.
After 7 beautiful years with McCotter he suddenly became gravely ill. We worked with our vet and neurologist, trying our best to improve his life, however our efforts weren’t enough. Last year Kai said goodbye to the only friend he has ever had. We celebrate McCotter's life and keep his memory alive. Kai regularly shares memories of their time together and asks to look at pictures often. Although there is heartbreak in the loss of such a close friend, that heartbreak does not outweigh the beautiful memories they shared.
We recently asked Kai if he is prepared for a successor dog and he clearly expressed that he is not yet ready. When the day comes that he is emotionally equipped to welcome another four-legged friend into his life, we will gladly take another leap into the beautiful world of working dogs.
In loving memory of McCotter 2/3/11-6/8/20
"Your presence we miss, your memory we treasure"