This is Shadow, my personal autism service dog I raise and train. A two years young labrador retriever. He has been living with me since 2011 when he was 10 weeks old and since then we have grown to eachother a lot. He usually wakes me up when I oversleep and reminds me to get to bed when it’s getting late. We are together at nearly all times and everywhere. The few moments when I don’t have him by my side I truly miss him. He is my “Shadow”.
Autism service dog
But he is not only an alarm clock, there is so much more. Shadow knows exactly when I’m not alright, way before I can sense it myself. When we enter a public train I feel strong and think there is nothing to worry about, but my buddy knows better and makes sure there is always space around me. When strange people come too close I get distressed, resulting in moments of internal panic and eventually I abort my schedule with all consequences. Instead Shadow uses his full size to reserve a seat next to me, or in very dense moments he stands on all fours before me. That forces people to move around and those who don’t like dogs leave the seats empty.
Labradors are very smart dogs, they love to work and search things. I taught Shadow commands to find exits, stairs, seats, food stands, etc. When I’m stuck in panic I simply say (in Dutch) “Shadow find exit”. He will look around a few moments and pull me towards the nearest door or entrance. In such moment it doesn’t matter if the exit leads to a shop or outside, I just need to get away from the scene. He also literally pulls me trough dense crowds where before I would walk a long way around or not at all.
Also when we are walking outside I need to pay attention to our surroundings. But as I constantly process all information around me in the greatest detail I often ‘zone out’, getting lost in deep thought. That can be quiet dangerous and I miss crucial signals from traffic, people, etc. The very moment I start to zone out Shadow stops walking and refuses to move until I make real contact with him again. He makes me snap back to reality long before anything can happen. I talk to him, make contact, see if he needs anything and then he decides whether I am ready to continue. He really takes over all control when I need him to and happily give it to me when I’m back in the here and now.
A new home
There are various projects running in the Netherlands where service dogs – mostly labradors, golden retrievers and labradoodles – are trained to assist children with classic autism, Asperger’s or similar challenges. Not many of those were working with adults, but we found Wundering Heights, the breeder in Wamel. The following months I got to know Shadow’s parents Mollie & Dustin (Hillary van de Romy’s Hoeve & Elroy van Holdenstein) and his newborn brothers and sisters. Mariolein de Krom from SAAC became my trainer and she tested the puppies with her colleague to select a few candidates with service quality but keeping their names quiet until I made a choice. That last part was extremely difficult. There were 5 dogs I liked a lot, but one was special. When the choice was made it turned out we both favoured Quintino. On the day I got there to take him to his new home, he was the only one who ran towards me. Like they say: the dog chooses his owner. His official name is “Quintino of Wundering Heights,” but I named him “Shadow” because it is easier to pronounce when I need to get his attention from a distance.whom were running a pilot with autism service dogs for adults. I would buy a dog I felt good with and they would assist me with the training. So it happened. I went to the very nice people at
“It’s a new world”
Thanks to Shadow my world has become a lot less complicated. He changed my way of thinking, planning ahead, and I learned to place responsibility where and with whom it belongs. Because a dogs’ world is pretty fast and direct I have to learn to respond quick and effective, there is no time to take every other person’s state of mind into account and pretend to be nice all the time. I’m learning to concentrate my attention on what really matters; safety, well being and fun. When we come across a problem I ask myself “do I care,” “is it really my problem,” “can it be fixed right now?” If not I just move on and park it for later if necessary, a huge time and energy saver.
Most of all, Shadow is my best friend. But I could never have imagined how much value he would add to my life.