If you couldn’t cope with being overwhelmed, feeling safe by yourself, or expressing how you felt so others would understand, where would you turn for unconditional love? In the midst of a pandemic, Draven was able to find that understanding friend with a heart just as big as his own.
Draven lives with his mother, Katie; twin sister, Willow; older brother, Drake; and pet cats. Draven also has lived with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as various other conditions that affect his ability to self-regulate and communicate. Drake has similar disability needs, and Willow strives to manage the various challenges. Together, the family works tirelessly to maintain a healthy dynamic. However, the spiral of Draven’s anxiety levels and uncertainty in handling situations would trigger Drake’s meltdowns and cause Willow to become upset.
Katie recognized the family needed more help than what she had in place already, so she conducted extensive research into assistance dogs and organization potentials. The family discussed the idea of an assistance dog for Draven since he showed much more interest than Drake, who was happy with his cat‘s company. Knowing it may be a few years for the full process to occur if they were accepted, Katie applied for a dog from Can Do Canines. With a full-time PCA and multiple therapies tailored for each of the children, Katie still created an environment that would support the success of Draven’s future assistance dog.
New Hope from a New Family Member
That long-awaited partner is Ginny, a 2-year-old Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever mix who loves everyone she meets. Draven is very emotionally sensitive; one of his biggest struggles has been becoming vehemently sad and unable to recover. He also has a compulsion to want to be near someone for supervision and guidance. Ginny is up to the task, and Draven is engaging with her rather than relying on a family member for security. In these moments when Draven feels overwhelmed, Ginny applies light pressure therapy, leaning on him to help reconnect his awareness to the present moment.
Katie has watched Draven self-initiate tasks and become more confidently independent since he is becoming aware of his own needs. He is acknowledging his own triggering situations and seeking Ginny for solace. “She helps keep him grounded and for longer periods of time. His outbursts are a lot shorter now,” Katie explains. This benefits the whole family since the situation can be navigated quickly. Ginny has helped ease Draven's emotions and is truly a conduit in his sibling relationships, even as a social bridge when Draven plays with Ginny and his siblings.
Draven is not only able to do more by himself, but is re-engaging more frequently and building confidence in socializing. Since he is a happy and impulsive boy, Draven does not have a sense of personal safety. In public, Draven no longer sits in the cart, which had always been the safest place for him. Instead, he walks with Ginny. This allows him to build his muscle tone and coordination, as well as offers an outlet for his energy. Previously in danger of separating himself from Katie on walks, Draven can be seen today contentedly holding a handle attached to Ginny’s special cape. He also wears a belt that keeps them tethered to Ginny in case he releases the handle.
Katie shares that since Ginny moved home, she’s noticed Draven doing things “he wasn’t able or willing to do before that he’s doing now because Ginny is moving along with him. I’m very excited to see how that progresses.” After a long day of celebrating progress, Ginny helps Draven (and ultimately the whole family) sleep through the night. Katie had been initially intimidated by the thought of another dependent being in her home, yet cannot imagine life without her now.
Something For Everyone
Draven has flourished with the routines and responsibilities that Ginny requires, and every single member of the family has found a new level of thriving, thanks to Ginny. Seeing a light shining on their future is one of Katie’s greatest joys because of this extraordinary assistance dog. “The family feels full. It feels whole again.”
She’s connected with others in the community considering an assistance dog to tell them it’s beyond worth all the time and effort that goes into a team. Katie emotionally says, as she looks forward to supporting the organization’s future, “I shouldn’t be the only one that feels like this.” She shares that throughout her Can Do Canines experience, she always felt welcomed and understood. In profound gratitude for everyone who made this possible, Katie expresses, “It’s the best choice we’ve ever made.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser: The Nervick family
Special Thanks: Sherry & Charles Fonseth-Lais, Patti Dougherty
Field Trainer: Kelly Brunson
You: Thank you for your donations!