When Mason was born I would have never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be a Mom walking down the mall with a beautiful autistic boy attached to his best friend and protector. A god sent gorgeous eighty-pound golden retriever service dog, meticulously trained for our son by National Service Dogs.
Mason developed just like any other child until he was eighteen months old. He was a great baby. Hit all his milestones and started cooing and talking early. Then he started to regress. He no longer would talk, look us in the eye, or respond when we yelled at him and he seemed deaf. He also developed a scary habit of bolting out of the house or yard and had (and still has) no sense of danger. He is also extremely fast.
We sought the help of the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Mason was diagnosed with Autism and we were unsure of what to do. How could we keep Mason safe and provide a out going life for our family? A sympathetic mom in the waiting room told me about a show she had seen where an organization called National Service Dogs was training dogs for children with Autism. So I went straight home and hit the net.
I was convinced that Mason had to have one of these dogs. Little did I know that we wouldn’t be gaining a dog, but that our son would be receiving his best and only friend. So we applied for a service dog and were accepted. We started fundraising and then just before Christmas they emailed me and said that an anonymous donor had paid for Mason’s dog. How do you express gratitude to someone who is gracious enough to give to a child a future and his only hope for safety? A child that they did not even know.
It was the best Christmas gift our family has ever or will ever receive. It gave Roy and I a renewed hope for mankind and let us know that there are still people in the world that care for others more than they do about themselves.
Then we were introduced to Zeus, a wonderful, gentle, huge golden retriever. My husband and I spent the week bonding and learning how to work our new angel. He was a great help, gentle and very forgiving of these two new masters that forgot the commands and were so unsure of them selves. By the end of the week we knew the commands inside out and backwards and had made a new family with the other new families and NSD’s staff and volunteers.
Tears flowed as we said our good byes and headed back home to introduce our son to his new companion. Our son shocked us with his reaction to Zeus. Mason whom at the time was completely non-verbal snuggled into Zeus as if he had been waiting all along for us to bring home this dog for him.
Mason had earned his ticket to freedom. He new if I took out Zeus Jacket he was going out and he loved it. In the first month we were given our life back. We went out to parks and shopping and even camping. Our daughter was thrilled with her new found freedom as well. Unless we could get a sitter for Mason, we had literally been stuck inside our house were Mason was safe.
Zeus seemed to blend into our family like he had always been apart of us. Then over the next few months amazing things started happening. Zeus was getting the idea that Mason was his boy.
The first event occurred when I came into the Kitchen one day I noticed Zeus lurking in the hallway to the laundry room like he had done something wrong. I called him to me and he wouldn’t come. I tried to pull him out of the hallway but he wouldn’t move. Then I heard a sound in the Laundry room. There was Mason sitting stuck in the washing machine full of water.
We were getting out of the van to go to church when I heard this little voice say, “There’s my puppy dog”. I turned to my daughter and said “Hayley, Zeus is not your dog”. She said “Mom I didn’t say that. It was Mason”. I couldn’t believe it Mason was talking! He still has a hard time with speech but before Zeus, he had no speech at all.
One day Mason, Zeus, and I were walking in the mall. A gentleman was looking at Mason and Zeus, laughing really hard. I looked over to see Mason on all fours walking next to and just like his best buddy Zeus.
Another time, while shopping, I stopped to look at something. I guess I took to long because when I went to gather up Mason and Zeus their they were lying next to me on the floor of Wal-Mart, Mason with his head on Zeus, and both fast a sleep.
One time I was downstairs when Zeus ran down and barked at me, so I followed him, only to find Mason out in the garage. Or another time Zeus was barking around the house out in the back yard so I stopped weeding to find Mason gone. We opened the gate and Zeus rounded the corner of the street to show us were Mason was.
Going out to eat at large restaurants would have been too much for Mason before Zeus but now he loves to go out. If it gets too much he crawls down on the floor with Zeus and he feels better. He loves going to amusement parks and zoos now. All would have been too overwhelming before.
Zeus also goes to school with Mason. The teachers and Mason’s aide wonder what they did without Zeus, and claim that Mason is much calmer with Zeus there.
Zeus has given Mason and our family a whole new life. Don’t get me wrong it is not always easy to travel with an eighty pound golden and we have had a few issues regarding public awareness, but know that we would never go back. Zeus is our extra set of eye’s and hands. He has brought quality back to our lives.
For this I am eternally grateful to: Zeus’s donor Kevin, Cathy for raising Zeus, our anonymous donor for funding Zeus, and also to Chris, Heather, Wade, Sharon, Danielle, Allison and all the other people whom give of themselves with National Service Dogs.
In my opinion National Service Dogs is not an organization; it is a group of angels that are working on earth.
Thank you NSD. We love you!
By Roxanne Davis
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.