News from the NODCC
August 26 is National Dog Day. To celebrate, we are recognizing the special and important dogs who are working partners to those with disabilities. The Tompkins family recently added a service dog to their family, and they have graciously shared their process and journey with us.

A Boy and his Dog: The Journey of Welcoming a Service Dog into the Family
By Chris Tompkins

On January 31, 2020, I brought home a service dog (Chance) for my 11-year old son who has hypoplasia of the corpus callosum (HCC), visual impairments, neurodevelopment delays, and falls within the autism spectrum. This post summarizes my family’s journey in welcoming a service dog into the family in hopes that others will find it informative and helpful.

The Background: My wife and I love Labrador Retrievers and began our lives together “parenting” two lab dogs even before we thought about having kids. Once we decided to have children, I was comfortable with the temperament and gentle nature of our furry family members and knew they would learn to love our children. When our son was born, we noticed early on that he had delays. He was formally diagnosed with HCC at 13 months old. As our son grew, we noticed our chocolate lab was a little more receptive to our son and would try to comfort him during times of behavioral issues, while our yellow lab would just leave the room. My wife and I always thought our chocolate lab would have been a great service dog, which put the idea in our heads that if an opportunity presented itself in the future, we would look into how a service dog might be able to assist our son in his goal for independence. 

The Research: Several years later as our dogs started showing signs of age, my wife and I started to research service dogs for children with special needs. Through this research and connecting with friends, we learned about an organization that breeds, trains, and provides service dogs to individuals with disabilities at little cost. However, upon applying to this organization via an online intake form, we were notified that our son did not have the physical disabilities to qualify for the type of service dogs that the organization trained. The organization specialized in training service dogs to assist individuals in wheelchairs and/or with physical disabilities such as amputations or muscular sclerosis. At that point, my wife and I were starting to give up on the idea of getting a service dog until were learned of a non-profit organization called Tender Loving Canines (TLC, now merged with Guide Dogs of America). TLC specializes in training service dogs for children with autism and was accepting service dog applications within our geographic region. In short, it is important to acknowledge that there are service dog organizations that specialize in training dogs for specific purposes. Although this was frustrating at first, this level of specialized training in fact is a benefit and aids in the ability to “match” the dog’s skills and training to the needs of the individual, which enhances long-term compatibility and bonding.

The Application Process Begins: TLC uses a training program called POOCH. The dogs are trained in prisons by incarcerated trainers who are trained and supervised by TLC staff members. The dogs are trained to perform baseline cues/skills. Once the dog is matched with a client, the incarcerated trainers continue to train the dogs on custom assistive tasks which are cues/skills designed to assist the client in preparation for graduation and home placement. We applied to TLC online and had a follow-up telephone interview to discuss our son’s needs for a service dog. During the phone interview, I was amazed to learn about the different ways a service dog can assist an individual with autism. To start the eligibility process, the phone interview focused on identifying at least four ways in which a service dog would benefit our son. The four needs we identified were: 1) developing independence; 2) socialization; 3) mobility; and 4) sleep issues (I lay on my son’s floor every night for him to fall asleep). 

The Approval Steps, Form, and Training Process: To our delight, we qualified and started the process to be approved and matched with a service dog. I jokingly tell friends that it was easier to purchase a home than pass the rigorous checks to be approved for a service dog, and in some instances, it is true. Items we were required to submit for review include an application, pay stubs, criminal background check, proof of residency, medical verification from our pediatrician, and character letters of support from friends and family members. I also completed a virtual meeting and a one-on-one interview with a trainer at our house to ensure the safety of our residence for a service dog. After completing all the above, we were approved to be matched with a service dog. Our son was matched with “Chance,” a 2 ½ year old male black Labrador Retriever. We were ecstatic! Once we were matched, the placement process consisted of a three-week online training and then a one-week, in-person, hands-on training with Chance for him to be placed in our home. The online training was a good training to give a baseline understanding of service dogs and their capabilities, training methods, feeding, what to do and what not to do, as well as identifying behavioral issues and how to address them.

Meeting Chance the Service Dog: After completing the online training, I felt confident in my ability and understanding of how to care for and maintain the training of a service dog. Once I started the one-week in-person training, I quickly realized that the online training only scratched the surface of what having a service dog entails. The in-person training I attended was in Southern California at the Guide Dogs for America campus, which provided me complementary room and board during my stay. On the first day, about an hour after I arrived, I was introduced to “Chance.” From that point on, everywhere I went, Chance was with me to help establish a bond between me as the handler and Chance the service dog. Trainings were from 8am – 5pm Monday through Friday and included four other clients and their matched service dogs. We did classroom training and off-campus trainings at the local mall, airport, pet store, and community areas all in preparation for a public access test that the handler and service dog must pass by the organization’s standards before the service dog can come home with you. Chance and I passed the training and we went home on Friday at the end of the training.

Bringing Chance Home: What I was not prepared for was how overwhelmed I would be once returning home to my family’s routine and introducing Chance into our family. The training prepares you for this but learning about it and experiencing it are two different things. It is important to understand that a service dog is not a pet. It is a working dog that needs continual training to maintain its skills. A difficult conversation I had to have with my daughter and wife was that they had to ignore this new dog in our house for a few months. The reason for this was so that Chance could create a bond with our son which is the whole purpose for going through the process of getting a service dog. Keep in mind that you and your family are new to the dog and vice versa. It took a few months for Chance to develop trust in my family and me. In that time, I had to train my son and family on how to interact with him while also keeping up on the maintenance of Chance’s trainings, including 43 skills/cues he was trained to perform. After almost 6 months of bringing Chance home, I can attest that my son’s social skills, anxiety, and mobility have all improved. While we are still trying to figure out how Chance can benefit our son’s sleeping routine (Chance snores when he sleeps which we think may wake up our son because he is a light sleeper), we are so blessed to have Chance in our lives. We are extremely happy with our decision to apply for a service dog through TLC and would encourage any family that is interested in an service dog to do diligent research to identify an organization that aligns with their family’s needs.

Follow the inspiring life adventures of Chance and his favorite boy on Instagram @myboy.myworld

Family Highlight: Meet Noah

Our son, Noah, was born July 2005. All indications at birth were that he was a healthy baby boy with no identified issues of concern. However, three days after he was born we found ourselves in the local children’s hospital where he was diagnosed with jaundice and an extremely high bilirubin count. Fortunately, he responded well to light therapy and the attending physician felt confident that he would not have any long-term challenges. Over the next year, Noah was consistently missing development milestones, which we attributed to his high bilirubin episode since it can cause nerve and/or brain damage. We were fortunate to have access to early intervention treatments in Tennessee including in-home speech and physical therapy, as well as access to pre-school care for children with developmental issues.
To continue reading Noah’s story on our website, CLICK HERE

Interested in sharing your family’s story on our website? Register for your free NODCC account today to submit your story and become part of our NODCC story collection.
Here are the latest opportunities to get involved with the NODCC community.

Regional and Community Gatherings

The NODCC will continue hosting regular virtual gatherings via Zoom. Details, dates, and Zoom links will be shared on our website with reminders on social media (Facebook and Twitter). Please contact community@nodcc.org or info@nodcc.org for the Zoom link.

Upcoming Zoom calls include:
August 15 at 1 pm EST
Teens with a DCC

August 15 at 3 pm EST
Parents of newborns with a DCC


Fundraisers & Donations

2020 Fall Fundraiser
Stay tuned next month for information on our Fall Fundraiser that will be held mid-September through October. This is an important fundraiser for our organization, and we will share the ways you can help us virtually raise money for the NODCC.
 
New Charitable Tax Deduction
Interested in making a charitable donation to the NODCC? The recent Covid-19 Stimulus Package outlines a new charitable deduction opportunity under the CARES Act for Nonprofits. “The CARES Act allows for an additional, ‘above-the-line’ deduction for charitable gifts made in cash of up to $300. If you are not itemizing on your 2020 taxes, you can claim this new deduction.” Continue reading HERE.
**This information is not intended as legal or tax advice. For such advice, please consult an attorney or tax advisor.

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Facebook Fundraisers
Fundraising for charities on Facebook is an easy way to help raise money for the NODCC. Simply click on the “Support Nonprofit” option when creating a new Facebook post and select the NODCC as the recipient. Birthdays, memorials, remembrances, and celebrations are great events to encourage giving from your family and friends.
 
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