|Paula's graduation picture|
My autistic son is 13 now but we got our precious dog "Paula" 6 years ago when he was 7 years old, and at his most difficult behaviorally. And Paula was a godsend and extremely helpful to us.
We got Paula from an amazing organization called Heeling Autism. It was an offshoot of the long-standing not-for-profit Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB)
GEB had a long and storied history of supplying guide dogs to the blind population for the past 60 years.
And back in 2008 they launched a program that took guide dogs that weren't a right fit for working with the blind, and they retrained them to work with kids with autism and gave them to these families for FREE!
I wrote all about our experiences with Paula and the organization back in 2011 on my blog post, "The Story of Our Autism Service Dog Paula" that you can read HERE. I encourage you to go over and read that for more of a blow-by-blow of how we got her and how she helps.
In fact I really think you should read that one before continuing on with the rest of this post.
We will wait for you, and while we are waiting we'll look at some pics of some more cute Heeling Autism service dogs doing their jobs.
The one thing that always stuck with me over the years about the HA program was the amazing trainers. As I wrote in that post:
the 3 trainers we worked with were AMAZING! They somehow knew more about autism and our daily struggles than many people / even experts in our autism world... And they’ve only been doing this for 4-5 years. Before that they were blind guide dog trainers. Anyway… AMAZING women.
Well the reason I'm writing today is that the Heeling Autism branch of GEB is being eliminated. That's right the amazing organization that you just read about is going, going, gone!
And this makes absolutely no sense to the 70+ families who have received the miracle of a service dog from this organization.
The reasons that have been given by GEB of why the program is being eliminated are frankly ridiculous.
What they are stating is that the program is too expensive and wasn't self sustainable in its current model.
Yet, Heeling Autism costs less than 1.5% of the organization’s total annual expenses, including less than 50% of the postage/mailing services and less than 23% of the printing/publications expenses.
And worse of all, GEB gave nobody any indication that the program was in trouble.
The families who have received these dogs would gladly have fundraised like crazy if we knew there was a problem. But we were never given the chance.
GEB is trying to appease the autism community with plans to instead offer therapy dogs to schools.
Saying that clearly undervalues exactly how monumentally helpful and life-changing these "service dogs" have been to the 70+ families that have received one.
Can you imagine saying you're not going to give a blind person his or her own guide dog but instead going to put one dog in a group setting for a bunch of blind people to benefit from?
In both the blind and autism community there is a huge difference between a therapy dog and a service dog trained to perform very specific safety oriented tasks.
For many of us having a service dog saved our kids lives on countless occasions.
For some of us the idea of going on a plane or going on vacation was impossible with their autistic kids until the service dog came into their lives.
However, the board of directors at GEB makes this seem like a done deal.
The Heeling Autism program as we knew it will be eliminated after they graduate dogs for the 10-15 families that are on their wait list.
(Meanwhile, they shut down their wait list a few years back because it grew too long and they didn't want to dedicate more trainers and dogs to the Heeling Autism program)
After those wait list families get their dogs GEB says they are moving towards this therapy dog in the classroom model.
And there's a bunch of us who are trying to reverse this and implore them to go back to the current model.
And this is where you come in.
A petition was started by graduates (a part of a team with either a guide dog or autism service dog), staff, volunteers, donors and members of the community who believe strongly in the Guiding Eyes mission, and we’re concerned about the direction Guiding Eyes has taken under the current leadership. The abrupt elimination of the Heeling Autism program is just the tip of the iceberg.
One last thing to mention, we autism families never wanted to make this a competition between the blind and the autism communities.
They both deserve service/guide dogs and GEB has plenty of dogs to go around.
And while the CEO is using the need for GEB to operate as a financially responsible organization as a reason for Heeling Autism's elimination, they have recently launched (and seem to have enough dogs for) a new program called "Running Guides" which is dedicated to training guide dogs to help blind runners run long distance races.
Saving the lives of children on the autism spectrum by preventing them from running out into a busy street, or wandering away to be lost, drowned, or even killed, is arguably an equally worthy cause.
Also, as any service dog trainer will tell you training a dog to run those long distances will almost definitely shorten that dogs working, service dog life.
So we implore the Board of Directors at GEB to reverse their decision and reinstate the Heeling Autism program to its current model. And if possible to put even more resources towards the autism service dog program.
And when you sign, comment, and share the petition you'll see a lot of the other comments. And you'll read a lot of negativity. Yes, things have gotten a bit nasty over at GEB. There has been a lot of staff turnover and turmoil.
Just last week the long time head veterinarian was abruptly fired. He worked at GEB for 26 years and knew every dog, and every dog recipient and their family (both the dogs for the blind & the autism service dogs).
Many of us think that his firing is in retaliation of this petition as his wife is the head trainer of the Heeling Autism dogs, one of those amazing trainers I wrote about above.
But we feel that it's not too late to turn this around! Please sign, comment, and share the petition like crazy.
Thanks! Now here's two more cute doggie pics for ya of the king and his princess "Paula"
Wait, here's the petition one more time! #SaveHeelingAutism Please sign, share, tweet, etc! You can also reach the petition at www.saveheelingautism.com
-- If you're gonna shop Amazon anyway, can I ask that you enter Amazon by using the search box above or by going to http://www.amazon.com/?tag=a050ef-20 This way I can make a little money to help pay for my son's after school & weekend therapies. This blogging thing has been awesome & life changing for me... but I must admit that it's taking up a lot more time than I ever thought... so if I can make a few bucks it'll make it easier for me to justify....Love you all! Thanks!!