3 posts in as many days - it must be a rainy bank holiday weekend.
I have been asked many questions recently and thought I would answer generically a few things I get asked a lot about the whole assistance dog situations. So in tribute to the ubiquitous FAQ's on every website (which don't answer anything you want to know), here is my contribution. And as a by the way - if you want to ask anything - just post a comment, and I'll do my best to answer as a novice in this world.
I am going to start with just one question which seems to be a hot issue which puts people off venturing on this journey.
Q. What happens when Lucie retires? (Or more dramatically - what if she dies?)
A. This is really a question about seperation and what happens between Lucie and Alex in the event of the working relationship ending. The first point is the short answer. All assistance dogs (from Support Dogs at least) retire at 10 years old. So maximum working life for Lucie is 8 years. And then? Well Lucie could retire before due to medical or other reasons, but either way people express their concern over the partnership ending. My first response is, while for all of us this could be extremely painful, Alex doesn't operate in the same social/emotional structure as us, and relationships take different forms. So a dog dying etc would not be comparable to how it would affect a more typical person. In fact I would go as far as to say that I think the learning that could come from issues arising from animals getting ill/dying is part of the crucial learning for Alex. Helping him cope with his emotions at these challenging times could help him prepare for other big events such as losing his parents....but lets not dwell on that too long!!
What are our options...well, this is unchartered territory in the UK so far, as no partnership has been going more than 5 years, so there is no track record. But as every dog/child relationship is unique, so is the approach taken. These are the possible outcomes;
Lucie retires and becomes a pet dog to our family,
Lucie retires, returned to Support Dogs and is re-homed as a pet dog elsewhere, and is either not replaced, or if deemed suitable another working dog is placed with Alex
Lucie is no longer suitable to work with Alex, but is still a good working dog, so is reassigned to another partnership,
Lucie retires and remains a pet dog with our family and Support Dogs place another working dog with Alex (the most challenging option as usually a working dog does not reside with a pet dog, but is possible).
The real point here to make is also, this is not like a Guide Dog, whereby the client can benefit from the long term skills of an assistance dog. In the case of Autism Assistance Dogs, the real aim is to develop the skills of the child via the dog, to a point they are able to operate independently. So a lifetime of dog assistance is not the aim, but more a stepping stone to enable Alex to help himself. The experiences he has with Lucie should teach him skills and broaden his experiences to a point the dog is no longer needed. It may be that in the long term a pet dog can fulfill enough of his needs. So with good work, we can help Alex deal with difficult situations with Lucie, that one day he can manage on his own.
So my view on this issue, is don't act in fear of a situation such as grief. Embrace it, as it is part of life and living. If Alex experiences loss and grief, then by default it must mean he has experienced love - a connection or bond, and that would truly be worth having in his life.