Couldn’t let January end without acknowledging the 5th anniversary of the successful placement of Zilly (nee Zilla). A change of career working dog. Sometimes even the best of intentions and hopes for what it could be to partner a child, adolescent or adult with special needs with a service dog, even when in the possession of a remarkable spirit and temperament such as Zilly, isn’t enough for a service dog partnership to work. So it was for Zilla at the end of 2014 when her original owners, wanting her to provide assistance for their son on the autism spectrum, gave up on her through no fault of her own and she returned to my care and possession.
Raising, learning how to train, taking on the needs of a dog on a daily basis through thick and thin (said after having to give FIVE dogs showers today to clean off the mud from a decidedly un-wintery winter DIP along with a mop of the floor!) is the commitment one makes when one brings a dog into his or her life. Especially for a dog whose job is provide serviceable functionality when being trained as a service dog. A dog trained to mitigate the symptoms of a variety of challenges. Maintaining and continuing the training is sometimes a challenging row to hoe, and it is within this transitional phase, going from trainer to partner, usually but not always lasting 3 months, that the challenges arise. It is hard work. But for those who get through and past the thorny parts, even if some tears are involved, it is transformational. It is always an honor to help in the process. And so it was for Zilly.
Through a serendipitous chain of events, the perfect placement came along. With my youngest daughter, Sophie, we headed east on a blustery January day in 2015 with Zilla in tow — to deliver her to The Children’s Inn of The (NIH) National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The residential facility—a home away from home for families staying long-term in the area while their children participate in research at the NIH—was looking for a therapy dog to live at the inn in order to brighten visitors days, offer emotional support to guests in need, and even provide motivation for children to complete their prescribed therapeutic treatments.
Now nearly six, Zilly is still hard at work at The Children’s Inn, and is a bit of a social media influencer with her feel-good Instagram account sharing her love with families and kids at the NIH!