2008. Do you have a child who might benefit from owning a service dog, yet you are skeptical? Perhaps I can shed some light on this critical issue. My daughter, Bekah just turned eight, and we received her dog from 4 Paws for Ability just before she turned six.

While Bekah doesn’t have autism, she is pretty much mute, but with good receptive language. She also has terrible flashbacks and dissociates and is in a constant state of fear and/or panic. Some of her behaviors are similar to those on the autism spectrum. She suffers especially in three areas:

  1. Complex PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder).
  2. RAD (reactive attachment disorder).
  3. SPD (sensory processing disorder) from some severe pre-adoptive abuse and neglect.



Her dog, Grizwald, is called a multipurpose service dog. His brother Oswald is in service as an Autism Assistance Dog.

Grizwald (we call him the wonder dog) is trained to do interrupt behaviors and to tether to her. Before we received him, we couldn’t go anyplace for fear of flashbacks. Our Bekah was in a constant state of high anxiety and panic. Now, where she might earlier have had to be carried, she will tether to Grizwald and walk even in a very public place like a mall.

Due to her RAD, it’s been a slow attachment process, but I know she is attached to him even if she outwardly doesn’t always show us. For example, our upstairs bathroom has been a source of real terror for her. A couple of months ago, on her own, she took Grizwald into this tiny bathroom and used it without me or any other support. This may not sound like a lot to someone who doesn’t know Bekah, but let me tell you, this was a major breakthrough.

Grizwald hasn’t just helped my younger daughter either-he has been a source of healing for the entire family. I’ve always loved animals, but to think this furry four-legged critter could so turn our household from upside down to right-side up in such a short period of time is nothing short of miraculous in our book.

How I wish you could see my youngest playing with her dog. When Grizwald is in harness, he is all business (well mostly all business), but when he’s not working he is all fun-loving dog! The 4 Paws for Ability dogs are trained to be just about perfect in public.

Whenever we go out to eat, Grizwald is under the table right at my daughter’s feet keeping her anchored emotionally and knowing he is always there as a constant for her. They are so well behaved that sometimes the biggest impediment to getting our shopping done is that many people want to stop and talk to you about your dog and how beautiful and well-behaved he is.

One last word about 4 Paws and about Karen Shirk and her staff. When Karen founded this nonprofit, there was literally no one placing dogs with children. Karen has such insight and is such a forward-thinking person. I believe they were also the first to train and place Autism Assistance Dogs.

As you well know, these kids have very complicated issues. Not just any organization could do what 4 Paws does. The reason I think they are so successful is due to not only their passion to help these kids but also their dedication to the dogs and their training, and to humanity in general.

Update March 14, 2009

Grizwald makes the daylight longer and the nights more tolerable and seem shorter. No one can look at Griz without laughing — and that includes Jeremy! He is 55 pounds of love on 4 paws. He can be very proper and working business like when he trots along side Bekah in public but when he is released to interact with other children and rolls on to his back pawing the air asking to have his tummy rubbed — he is also hysterical!

At night if he isn’t fed right on time, he puts both feet in his bowl and flips it until someone brings food. When he is finished — he flips the bowl over and over until we refill it — not because he wants to eat it — but because he wants “that” food in his bowl!!

He is a constant companion to Bekah who while she would like us to think she can do without him — I really see how he gives her stability in public as she removes her shoes (under a restaurant table and puts her feet on him to help ground herself.)

During the middle of the night when Bekah sobs in her sleep, he will lay next to her putting deep pressure on her. She has terrible flashbacks but they have changed now to where you can actually reach her. One of the things that really helps is when Griz starts out licking my hands and gravitates to her arms and back — she starts to come out of the flashback and laughs – when he stops licking me, she asks that he do it again and again.

No matter how bad things seem to get – Grizwald is a constant, never a robot, always there, making us laugh and making life so much better. He has helped heal the whole family. Grizwald is a movie star (comedy, drama and adventure all rolled into one, a best friend, a healing force, a confidant when no one else will listen, a huggable ball of fur and life is so much better with him. He has met with a former U.S President (Jimmy Carter), the Governor of VA, he’s done Disney and a Dude Ranch in CO but to us he’s just GRIZman the wonder dog and definitely a force with which to reckon!

If we had a million dollars to give back to 4 Paws tomorrow, we could never buy the good times, freedom and independence – the love he has shown to all members of our family (well maybe all but the cat:) that 4 Paws through Griz have given to us…

4 Paws is the best – and yes they ROCK for sure!