Jennifer asked me to write a letter involving the topic of autism that I would be willing to share as a blog entry. The letter could be to Caden, to the world, to doctors, or to anyone to whom I cared to write. I have chosen to write a letter to Caden’s service dog, Elf. I apologize now for what is clearly a poorly constructed letter, as I am not fluent in Labrador.
April 4, 2012
First, let me apologize to you. Before I met you, I didn’t think that a service dog would be able to bring anything to our family, much less help Caden as he struggles through every day squarely on the autism spectrum. In all fairness, though, you have to admit that, now that you know our other two dogs, you can understand why I didn’t have much faith in the concept of a dog being able to help Caden. After all, the other dogs run away every chance they get, and the only thing I could think of was Caden bouncing along behind a much bigger, more expensive dog as it chased a rabbit across the countryside. I was wrong though, and I hope you accept my apology. There will be an extra treat in my hand for you tonight as you curl up with your boy in his bed.
From the second 4 Paws for Ability sent us your picture, I knew you would help us. The unconditional love that shown through your eyes and the smile that was on your face convinced me that Caden was going to have a partner in life and that perhaps some of our deepest fears about how he would manage everyday life started to lessen.
We both know how amazing the boy is, and that he has the ability to turn the world upside down with his intelligence, strength, athleticism, creativity, humor, and beautiful smile. Thanks to you, though, I now think that he will have the chance to let the world see all of these amazing traits and abilities. You open doors for him (literally and figuratively—I mean, how cool is it when you push the button for the automatic doors?) that I feared would be permanently closed. You create connections for Caden with other people and give him the strength and courage to go places and do things that he never would have done without you.
What’s amazing is that you don’t even realize that you have changed so many people’s lives and so many opinions about what people with autism can do. You don’t know that Caden is not “typical,” and you don’t seem to care. You just want to help, and you do it because you sense that your help is needed. I have seen you do this for other people too regardless of their age or trouble they might be having. I don’t know how you do it, but maybe if I cock my head and listen real close, I’ll figure it out.
So Elf, on the night before your 2nd birthday, I want to thank you for being my son’s “bestest friend,” and for loving everyone and everything you encounter (side note: ease up on sneaking the cat food please—salmon flavored breath is not very dignified for a service dog). You dutifully go off to kindergarten every day, go to speech therapy, go to the doctor’s appointments, go to occupational therapy, go to tumbling class, and go to countless other places with a 5 ½ year old spikey blonde haired wonder child attached to you. And you do these things with a smile and a sense that it is what you need to be doing. Happy birthday, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving my son the world.