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IMG_0588Showing up at Andy’s home was exciting.  I was to learn from Marie Therese that Andy had just about lost his life; that while in hospital being treated for anaphylaxis, Andy had a ‘knowing’.  A discussion ensued and a decision was made that was changing all our lives…

The change of my life had silently begun, the Krzus family and my entourage including Hunter headed out into the back acreage to visit and I was to learn of a selfless gift of love.

Hunter was placed in an large outside run beside the children’s play set that the younger children were playing on.  My eldest daughter supervised so I could focus on my conversation with Andy and Marie Therese .  On the ground lay Lutz, a beast of a male German Shepherd.  Within feet of Lutz lay Cora, a female German Shepherd, much more slender than her companion. Between the dogs sat Peter, the youngest of the Krzus’ children at just a year of age.   Peter had a wood stick in his hand twisting it and scratching in the earth.  The dogs were content to allow Peter to play with the coveted stick.
Andy spoke about Kai’s specific needs related to his Autism that I had expressed on our initial consultation.  Andy had grasped the areas of concern for Kai and he was prepared to show me what a trained service dog could do. As much as Clara the eldest wanted to join in with us but gracefully  kept Kai entertained so we could see what Cora offered. Annie, at four, is an old soul and the middle child.  Far more mature than her years Annie joined us to show how she and Cora worked together. Cora stood and came on command.  A leash was attached and Annie walked with Cora in a heel from where we stood to across the expanse of the upper yard never pulling or out of step with Annie.  At that point Annie had Cora ‘place’ and she went up onto an inverted milk crate.  Next Annie walked tethered to Cora showing how Cora was comfortable with the child attached to her and able to walk as a team.  Then Cora was put in a down-stay while still tethered to Annie.  Andy had Annie try with all her might to pull from Cora, encourage Cora, all without Cora responding beyond her last command of down-stay.  Andy then asked Cora to back up and she easily pulled Annie from her position; Cora had the strength to move or hold a child in a position.

Moving on, Andy had Kai go hide in the lower yard without Cora knowing where.  Andy gave the command and Cora was off like a shot and soon alerted she had found him by eye contacting Andy, barking, and then returned to her ‘find’ for verification of location until the handler had appeared.  This ‘game’ was repeated three times while Andy explained how Cora worked and what I was to look for in her body language and actions.

The discussion turned to an offer of a lifetime… Cora was being offered to Kai for service.  Much more discussions and planning followed in the next days – we had young children being deeply affected by the decision of Cora going back to work but having to leave her family home and those that loved her. Kai was also having his new black puppy going to then live with Andy and continue his training as a specialized support dog. We still had to see if this new idea was going to work.
Andy and Cora came for a home visit and we spent the time hiding Kai in his scent filled home and releasing Cora to find Kai.  This was important to me as Kai often hid when upset or embarrassed and would not reply from the hiding spot.  The house is not super large but when Kai hid, and sometimes went to sleep in a shut down from his external environment, he was like finding a needle in a  haystack. Cora repeatedly, with rapid speed easily tracked Kai and alerted us upon finding him.  Cora was eager to continue to participate in what she had been qualified and trained to do.  The difference for Cora was the house terrain was kind to her hips.  Her new job was exactly what she was able to use her skills for and would give her the love and quality of life that she deserved.
The last Sunday in August Andy and the girls came to my home with Cora. We met out on the front lawn to do the exchange which had been explained as a sleepover in case for unforeseen reasons it was not to work out… They would take Hunter and we would keep Cora.  We tried to keep goodbyes short and respectful.
ImageThe first night went beyond my expectations.  Kai had fallen asleep on the living room couch and was carried to bed by my daughter with me following behind Cora who was already following Kai. The minute Kai was laid to bed Cora jumped up, checked Kai out and gave him a kiss and draped herself at his feet.  I can say, I was impressed.  Cora had not been shown to act in this fashion, she had instincts.
The bed I am speaking about is in the master bedroom.  The king bed was where Kai slept with his parents for safety through the night.  Kai had demonstrated he was able to go out the house front door at his desire and required constant monitoring.
It took a few nights but I soon trusted Cora to alert me to activity in the night of the bedroom door being opened.  I could sleep!  No one can grasp sleep deprivation more than a parent of a child that requires 24 hour monitoring.  Then not just one 24 hour day, but multiplied by days and weeks to the years that followed.  The prisoners of war tortured in this manner, I had a small window into the atrocity.  And yet here I was in suburbia, facing the endless war for Kai’s safety and my sleep deprivation. Until Cora.
The following days were spent in more freedom than we as a family had since Kai was an infant.  We went everywhere, our first place to go was the Vancouver Aquarium.  It took a bit of a time getting Cora approved through the management, but the documents I had passed inspection, with only a request that we not visit the Aviary with Cora.  I was happy to comply.  The time inside was wonderful and Cora ended up being treated like an attraction by the visitors.  The multicultural crowds that came up wishing to meet Cora were amazing.  Cora seemed to draw attention even while I was discretely sitting off to the side while Kai was escorted through the Aviary by an adult and my teenagers.  Many didn’t speak English but were happy with my nod of approval to pet Cora, and she didn’t disappoint giving kisses to any face close enough to hers.  Imagine here I am in a massive Aquarium, saying ‘look, a jelly fish’ and those that passed us were more attentive to interacting with Cora.
The PNE was thrilling.  I had no questions bringing Cora onto the fair grounds. Cora wore a vest that was clearly marked she is an Autism Service Dog, this vest was worn on every excursion since she had come to our home.  The two teenagers that had joined me ran off with my blessing to enjoy the rides. This was a complete change from life before Cora.  First I would not have gone to the fair without assistance meaning my children would have not been free but stuck at my side to keep Kai safe.  We had chosen to forgo the fair the previous year as the daunting thought alone overwhelmed us. The family had all been required to adjust to Kai’s needs in every area of our lives.  But not this year.  I felt confident with Cora walking beside Kai in his stroller.  Kai often reached over to touch Cora and she in turn would look at him.  Kai was content to stay in the stroller; not true before Cora.  We all met up for the Superdogs… Cora even enjoyed the show, given the chance I know she would have happily showed them what she had been trained to do.  Kai was calm, which with the noise level was not his normal response.  Loud noise caused Kai to be triggered to become highly agitated and if the noise was not silenced he would quickly escalate to an all out meltdown.  Yet here we sat, with Kai showing only small signs of agitation and Cora at his side. We then challenged through exiting the Coliseum with the thousands who also wanted out. Cora calmly weaved with us the long exit with multiple legs squashed up against her.
Next we all ventured through the overcrowded building to shop the vendors.  The Peking Acrobats was our final show. They never disappoint and I was peacefully happy with the day. The noise, lights,  smells and crowds had no effect on Cora, and Kai had braved many hours of over stimulus with not a single incident.  This was a day I did not dare to dream I would be able to experience.  My silent prayers of gratitude were sent out to the Krzus’ family that evening on my exit from the fair grounds
Brashly brave I decided to take Kai and Cora to the Burnaby train by Confederation Park.  Kai’s dad met us there to ride the train with his son while Cora and I observed.   I know Cora would have gladly hopped onto the rail line for her ride but to try to stay low key I opted for a picnic table in the shade . Kai was treated like royalty by Judith the conductor and the staff.  Judith had her own train and was pleased to work with Kai and took him for an extensive journey back and forth for a ride none of us will soon forget.  PWD, people with disabilities,  are respectfully welcomed at the park; and the visitors unique disabilities honoured and respected without making you feel like an inconvenience (not so true at many places I have encountered) even without a service dog.
Now to brave a restaurant,  over the passing weeks we hit coffee baritas opting to have my entourage sit outside while I ordered, I didn’t want confrontations or to have to continually qualify we had not just brought our house pet.  Cora was clearly marked but society seemed still to require education.  My experience at multiple locations of Starbucks were as if we were ‘normal’ customers; we were not out of the ordinary.  C-lovers in Poco was not welcoming, the waitress was rude as we were not even offered water, I did leave without my son finishing the fries he had ordered.   I did let the big boss know of the experience and that from our unwelcome would not be returning.  I was quickly learning where we were welcome as customers and where we would be best not to return.  Earls in Poco was to prove my favorite place to frequent, the staff was courteous to seat us where we would be comfortable, not centre stage nor hidden in a dark corner.  You have to understand, taking Kai to a restaurant was a coin toss, and with my averages I had quit taking the gamble.  Yet here I had gone on three separate occasions, seated in different sections, and having no difficulty with the staff, customers, or Kai.  Yes, I didn’t mention Cora, she was there but had become as natural as carrying a purse.   I was free to relax and enjoy a much needed date night for Kai’s dad and I, with Kai and Cora uneventfully tagging along.  I was living beyond my dreams.
Banking had been a challenge prior to Cora.  Another penny toss. I either watched Kai run to the handicap door press, then with him running gleefully to the tellers but more likely I would be stuck outside the bank with him physically unwilling to enter the doors screaming and tantruming his own internal murder.  How and why the difference is beyond what I could conclude.
My first visit with Kai and Cora was joy filled.  The banking staff at the CIBC knew who we were, and they too were astonished and commented to see Kai happily tethered to Cora, sitting on the chairs provided beside a book table. Kai had a novel in hand open to an unreadable page while having a private conversation with Cora.  I was able to now do my banking without event.  Cora had become my partner in raising my son in a much more productive and enjoyable experience of life.