In honour of Mother's Day, I am happy to share a post written by my good friend and co-worker Andrea Haefele. Andrea's daughter Bella is a student of mine and from the outside presents as a non-verbal learner with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome. Andrea's advocacy for her daughter's exceptional needs knows no bounds, and recently has included the training and guidance of the newest member of their family - Kadence. Read her story below...
Dear Kadence,We’ve waited almost three years for you to come into our lives. I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am that you are finally a member of our family.
I know that you’ve already been through a lot and have worked very hard to get to where you are today. From birth, you were exposed to different noises and obstacles to help encourage confidence and curiosity. You were then raised by a foster family who gave you basic training and socialized you to as many sights, sounds and smells to prepare you for your future career. When you were only one-year-old, you left your foster family to endure many assessments, and you were carefully selected to become an Autism Assistance Dog Guide. Since February, you were matched with our daughter Bella and have officially joined our family. Our household is now filled with high-pitched screams of excitement every morning when Bella sees you. You’ve brought such a sense of joy and hope into our lives.
We’ve worked very hard to get Bella to where she is today. However, I never expected to, one day, welcome the expertise of a four-legged furry creature who wags her bum, drools and passes gas unapologetically.
We are now on the journey of, not only embracing you as part of our lives, but entrusting you with our happy little girl. The trainers have told us that it may take up to a year until you meaningfully bond with Bella. Because she is non-verbal, I know it is challenging for you to read her and understand her needs. However, in just the few months that you have been with us, you have already learned Bella’s pace as she tiptoes while she plays, and stomps while she walks. You quietly lie beside Bella when she is in her IBI, speech and language, and physiotherapy sessions and provide her with the self- assurance and confidence that she needs. You tolerate her pulling and whacking on your tail because you see that it makes her giggle. You lick her hand because you know she likes the feeling of your teeth and your tongue. When Bella wakes up crying in the middle of the night, you’re beginning to check on her and turn Bella’s terrified cries into reassured smiles.
Kadence, I admire your work ethic, patience, and manners. As I load the kids into the car, you sit by my side until you are given the command to jump in. You always wait patiently for your food as Bella is learning how to place it into your bowl, and refuse your dog treats before we give you the command to go ahead. When other dogs bark at you for your attention, or when a squirrel runs across the road, you continue walking straight ahead because you know you have a job to do.
I wonder if you’ll ever truly grasp the importance of your role, not only for Bella, but for all of us. We will never be able to provide Bella with the companionship and emotional support that you can. Nothing makes Bella’s smile larger than seeing you. I look forward to witnessing your growing bond and seeing Bella thrive with you by her side.
People are now more open to approaching us with questions. Meaningful questions such as: How does Kadence help her? What do you need Kadence for? What kind of training did she have to go through? Does your daughter enjoy Kadence? I love how people have the courage to ask.
We are working towards having Kadence go to school with Bella in September so that Bella can continue growing, learning and moving forward as you provide her with confidence, competence, and independence. Thank you, Kadence, for providing my daughter with laughter, companionship, strength, and courage. But most of all, thank you for being a friend to our Bella.
Although a dog guide is valued at $25,000, they are provided free of charge to families who apply for a dog guide (whether it be for the vision and hearing impaired, seizure response, autism assistance, diabetic alert, and other service dogs). The Lions Foundation of Canada is the founder and primary funder of Dog Guides Canada. Lions clubs across Canada contribute 25% of the revenue for the organization, so they depend highly on donations, sponsorship, and fundraisers.
Every year our family has done an annual run to raise awareness for people and families who live with special needs. With the addition of Kadence into our family this year, we decided to do the Purina Walk for Dog Guides on May 24th at Harbourfront Ontario. Please consider making a donation to help provide dog guides to other families HERE.
Click HERE for more information on Autism Assistance Dog Guides.