I had read all about Assistance Dogs, and after many years of chasing children in all directions I imagined a dog could help me track a missing child. I explored the idea of an Assistance Dog, the more I read about how they helped nonverbal children to talk and that they help calm anxiety, the more excited I felt.
A friend really believed that an Assistance Dog would help us, so was on a mission to find us one! A few weeks later Clare emailed about a charity called Helpful Hounds, and that she had spoken to them and we could join their programme. I questioned if I had the time and energy to train my own assistance dog? I did not want to appear ungrateful. ‘A dog is for life not just for Christmas’, I really wanted this, but I had no idea what I was taking on!
I asked the family how they felt about having a puppy…. they were excited and wanted a boy puppy called Alfie, I explained I could not promise them a boy! I arranged to visit Tina, a local Breeder, and her 5 ½ week old puppies. They were sleeping when I arrived, but one little pup sat up and came towards me, he was our puppy! Tina felt his name should be Alpha for new beginnings! They say a dog chooses his family and he certainly did! His Canine surname is ‘Tambetae’ Latin for well blessed. He and his name were perfect, I felt certain this was meant to be! We arranged for Matt & Nicola from Helpful Hounds to meet and check that Alpha was suitable for his task!
We took the boys to meet Alfie. As Isaac is timid, we explained he probably would not show interest in the puppy to begin with. We carried Isaac as 7 puppies and 3 big dogs excitedly circled our legs, but to our surprise our non-verbal little boy said ‘down’ and began laughing, running around, and playing with the dogs, and tried to instruct the dogs to sit just like his brothers!
I felt like I had had a concealed pregnancy, we were so unprepared for a puppy! It was just over a week between our first email and Alfie actually arriving! Alfie fitted in well to our family. 10 days after Alfie joined our family Isaac mounted his Riding for the Disabled (RDA) Horse, Poppy, for the first time. Previously, he had been too frightened. After RDA, a little voice said, ‘poppy fun!’. I did not recognise the voice, I looked at Isaac and he said again ‘mummy poppy fun!’. His voice was different, it was calm. Isaac had never spoken anything other than a single highly motivating word such as ‘Ice cream’, ‘drink’, or ‘cake’. Isaac had just spoken for the very first time to express his feelings. Isaac and Alfie have partnered well. Issacs confidence and speech has developed rapidly as he has learnt to instruct Alfie to ‘sit’, ‘lie down’, ‘wait’, ‘stay’, ‘eat’, and ‘drink’. If Isaac begins to cry with frustration, Alfie will come to Isaac and sit with him. Isaac will wrap himself around Alfie. Alfie, now alert’s me if Isaac or my boys need help or are in danger. All my children enjoy snuggling up with Alfie, he is as described on the box, ‘very comforting and calming’ for our family.
Alfie has four exams before he fully qualifies as an Assistance Dog at approximately 18-24 months of age, Puppy foundation (which we have completed), Bronze, Silver & Gold and finally public access. Helpful Hounds Assistance Dogs are really supportive, they come to us regularly to check on Alfie’s progress.
Attending puppy training classes has even inspired me with new ways to train my children, our sweet jar at home is now called kiddie Kibble!