Setting Austin and Bo up for success has been my first priority in all the training I've done with them. This is no more evident than in the hundreds of hours I've spent over the course of our journey preparing them for the day they would attend school together. We've trained for years in schools and places that mimic school environments — spaces like gymnasiums, libraries, cafeterias and even our church's education classrooms. We've created mock classrooms and simulated busy locker corridors to prepare boy and pup for the cachophany of distractions school presents. We've practiced walking in sync up and down stairwells, resisting the temptation of dozens of tennis balls on the feet of classroom chairs, and placing under desks and tables. We've had short training sessions at the end of the day in school and on the busy school campus. Most recently, Austin has worked Bo in school at the end of the day while I've waited outside.
Taking a service dog to school is a big responsibility for a child; working with a child at school is challenging for a service dog. The team's success is dependent on one thing that cannot be taught or trained — the maturity that comes from experiences, mistakes and understanding. And so, as I've waited for them to mature I've fielded questions from friends, strangers, family and Austin about when the two would attend school together. Often times fielding the questions with the tenacity of a defendant under cross examination.
"When is Bo going to school?" friends asked.
"Do they go to school together?" strangers wanted to know.
"Isn't Bo old enough to work with Austin in school?" family members probed.
And of course there were the seemingly endless questions from Austin as to when he could take Bo to school, without me.
Despite the questions, that sometimes carried an undertone of disappointment, I maintained my commitment to giving boy and pup the best chance for success no matter how long it took for 'the one day' to arrive when they were capable of handling the responsibility and challenge of working in school.
I'm so happy I was patient because the perfect opportunity has presented itself for boy and pup to trial working together at high school this summer. Austin is taking a writing class that meets four days a week through the month of July. Because it's summer session the classes are only half days and the school is not at full capacity. They'll have the chance to find their rhythm in a shorter day and under less crowded conditions than what they'd encounter if school was in full session. While I don't have a crystal ball, I'm cautiously optimistic that they are capable of success under these modified conditions.
Last week, I met with representatives from Austin's school to revise his 504 Plan to include Bo this summer. We are fortunate to live within a school district that is supportive of our family's use of a service dog to help manage Austin's Type 1 Diabetes. Together, Austin's guidance counselors and I identified the accommodations that would be most helpful to ensure Austin and Bo's safety at school. I left the meeting filled with hope for what lies ahead on what has been one of the most wonderful journeys I've ever taken.