What the term “eloping” means for one family may be entirely different for another.
David and Stacey regularly worried that their daughter, Braylee, would elope. Braylee is 8 years old, so she’s not planning on getting married anytime soon. She is on the autism spectrum though, and has a tendency to flee the safety of her caregivers—or “elope”—when in public sometimes. To prevent this, Braylee’s parents had her ride in a shopping cart or a stroller when out and about. As David explains, “When she has her feet on solid ground, she’s fast. And we’re getting slower.” As Braylee’s interests and hobbies grow, creating a greater need for community outings, her body is continuing to grow as well.
David and Stacey recognized years ago that they would need a different solution. They applied to Can Do Canines, and in late 2020, Autism Assist Dog Norton became their perfect answer. They admit they faced some self-doubt when Norton first entered their home. Stacey equates it to the feeling of “when you bring home your newborn and it’s all on us now. Do we know what we’re doing? We’ve done all the work, we’ve done all the things, but easing into that.” Despite the best preparations, they had some second-guessing that they would do everything correctly to help Norton become part of their lives. Yet, Norton assimilated beautifully and Braylee’s behaviors are progressing in a positive way.
New Levels of Confidence
With Norton serving as a tethered link between Braylee and a parent, he makes going out in public an entirely new experience for Braylee. Stacey says, “He allows for her to have that independence of being part of our shopping trip and being actively engaged.” Braylee can even enjoy learning more about products since she is now at a different physical level of accessibility.
Using their feet together is not the only way Norton and Braylee connect. Since Braylee often has issues sleeping, this loyal yellow Labrador Retriever is skilled in applying pressure and snuggling as a sleep aid for her. He can also be both a calming tool and mathematical means for her, since Stacey will occasionally prompt Braylee while they are waiting for something to “pet him 10 times” to stay patient and relaxed.
In the Company of Strangers
Braylee is not the only one showing extra patience. The family notices it with strangers too. Stacey explains that because Norton “mitigates the invisibility of Braylee’s disability,” people are more understanding and friendly.
And while many of the people who helped raised Norton are strangers to this young family, David credits them, saying, “They probably don’t get to see the result of their work. What they’re doing is amazing and they’re making big differences in people’s lives.” Stacey concurs, adding, “I think they need to hear how much they are appreciated for contributing…for being able to change people’s lives and help them with everyday things and independence.” She says this new reality is “really helping us help Braylee be more independent now while she’s younger and be able to put in some great foundational things of ultimate independence for her.” Also referencing the financial burden that having to purchase an assistance dog would mean, Stacey says that the way Can Do Canines handles this, providing dogs free of charge, “means a ton. It makes it way more accessible to people.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser: The Newman family
Name-A-Puppy Donor: Julie Carlblom
Whelping Home: Ken & Holly Schultz
You: Thank you for your donations!