Updated: 2 days ago
In 2022, a family's life took an unexpected turn when their son, Romeo, was diagnosed with autism at just shy of 3 years old. Romeo was nonverbal, which presented challenges, as his inability to communicate and express himself led to harmful behaviors, including biting, pinching, and hitting himself and others. Their daily struggles were heart-wrenching, and they were determined to find a way to help their son.
One memorable incident underscored the difficulties they faced. While in the car, Romeo bit his sister, causing a serious injury. This, in turn, frightened Romeo and triggered aggressive self-harming behavior. His parents, attending to both children in this distressing situation while driving, found this incredibly demanding. Although Romeo was undergoing recommended therapies, the family was desperate to find additional support.
Their search for solutions led them to the remarkable world of service dogs for children with autism and epilepsy, like Romeo. However, the daunting cost of obtaining a service dog, often ranging from $30,000 to $60,000, made this option seem out of reach. Undeterred, the family explored dog adoptions and came across Palm Valley Animal Society (PVAS). A visit to the Laurie P. Andrews Center marked the beginning of a life-changing journey.
There, they met a young pup named "Rolls," whom they later renamed Buddy. Our staff at PVAS facilitated a meet and greet, allowing Romeo and Buddy to interact in a controlled environment. Their bond was immediate, and it became evident that they had found the perfect companion for their son. When they discovered that Buddy was part German Shepherd, a breed known for its positive impact on children with autism, they knew they were on the right path.
The initial weeks with Buddy were undoubtedly challenging, filled with puppy training and adjustments. However, once they overcame these hurdles, their routines settled into place. Buddy's intuitive and devoted nature shone through. Whenever Romeo experienced distress or a meltdown, Buddy was there, swiftly diverting his attention away from self-harm. Buddy never left Romeo's side, providing support during pacing and helping ease transitions and emotional upsets.
Buddy's natural instinct to protect and comfort Romeo was a game-changer. He offered hope to a family in dire need, granting them the precious time required for therapists to teach Romeo how to cope with his emotions, communicate using picture cues, and redirect harmful behaviors. The family's journey with Buddy was not just about low-cost adoption; it was about a second chance for Romeo to excel in his challenging day-to-day life. Buddy's presence and support gave Romeo something they had never imagined possible. Buddy dispelled the notion that Romeo's days would be confined to a safety helmet and gloves, proving that sometimes, a loyal furry friend can be the greatest support one could hope for.