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The Journey of Owen and Chance….

Our story begins with a little boy named Owen.  A boy with Autism, Hyperphagia, ADHD, social anxiety and a mother with a dream.  A mother determined to find independence, love and understanding for her son.  And a trainer named Stacey Payne from Positive Paws in Waynesboro, VA.  Stacey took a huge risk on Owen and our family, as we live three and a half hours away in VA Beach, VA and Owen was only 6 years old at the time.   I could never put into words how much she and Positive Paws have changed our lives.  But I will give it a try.  

In January of 2015, we met Stacey Payne for the first time.  We explained how we believed that a service dog would help our son Owen.  As we told Stacey Owen’s story and some of his issues, something tugged on her heart strings.  She believed in our dream for Owen and felt sure that she could help us.  Stacey helped us every step of the way.  In February, a beautiful litter of Golden’s were born.  A “Chance” was born.  Soon after, I got a call from Stacey setting up a date for the 1st assessment of these puppies.   So we packed into the van and off we went full of excitement and hope, but trying to remain realistic because “the perfect puppy” might not be in this litter.  It was a rainy day which kicks up Owen’s sensory issues a notch. As we pulled up, I could sense that Owen was beginning to feel anxious and unsure. Stacey didn’t miss a beat as Owen buried his head in my jacket and began to tear up.  The unknown is extremely scary for Owen.  I was so afraid that maybe I had made a huge mistake….  But then as Stacey brought these puppies out to the playpen, I could see an instant change in Owen’s face!!  This was huge!!!   He completely transitioned out of a possible meltdown and into a focused, engaged little boy in a matter of seconds!  I had never seen anything like it!!!  By the end of the assessment and play time, we watched as Owen and one little male puppy had bonded and kind of chose each other!  It was incredible to watch.  At that very moment, I knew that I made the best decision…. a life changing decision.

As Owen and Chance trained with Stacey at Positive Paws and as I watched several more incredible moments.  Our 1st ahha moment was when Stacey took us to our 1st public access training in Walmart!  We hadn’t taken Owen in Walmart for years.  His Autism creates lots of sensory issues that are difficult for Owen to ignore inside Walmart.  The lights, sounds, movements and the crowds are meltdown triggers for him.  Owen and Chance both did wonderful…. We are happy to say Owen shops frequently, but never without his Chance!  The confidence that I see in Owen when he trains Chance and our other dogs is a joy and an unexpected gift!  Stacey Payne had my shy, socially awkward boy doing public demonstrations and even speak on a microphone at her fundraiser.  Stacey has given Owen and Chance something that we could never give him, confidence and the belief that they could do anything together! Chance has given Owen support at cheer competitions, restaurants, festivals, dental and doctor appointments and many other locations.  Owen never leaves our house without Chance!   

We could never have asked for a better service dog than Chance.  He has a natural alert to many things.  I remember Stacey telling me to look for certain behaviors and document when they happen.

How Chance helps Owen mitigate his autism symptoms… Tasks include 1) Chance has been trained to alert to Owen’s Asthma, as well as his anxiety prior to a meltdown.  2) Chance provides deep pressure therapy before & during meltdowns. 3) Chance assists Owen to safely access different environments which results in improved communication and social skills.  This will help Owen to bridge the gap with his peers to allow a “close to conversation” to occur naturally.  4) Chance will prevent Owen’s autism from reaching a shutdown mode by a nudge, lick or otherwise redirect Owen’s attention when he becomes anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed by the information and sensory input that his brain is trying to process.  5) Owen has been known to wander off or bolt away; however, since Chance has joined Owen, he has not wandered or bolted. Owen use to wear a project lifesaver ankle bracelet to track him if he was to wander off.  We no longer need the tracker.  Instead of wandering or bolting Owen focuses on Chance until the “fight or flight” urge subsides. Chance has given Owen the greatest gift, the gift of independence, participation and opportunity.

As the demands of Owen’s education grow greater every year, we felt it was imperative that Chance be allowed to accompany Owen to school.  Beginning this year 2017-2018, Chance was approved by the school to accompany Owen to his 3rd grade class for half of the school day.  We are seeing so many improvements with Owen and his peers.  In 2nd grade, Owen did not speak with his peers very often.  This year, with Chance by his side he speaks with everyone in his class.  His class says good bye to Chance every day when he leaves Owen.   We are praying for a full day approval next year.  Owen and Chance are the only service dog team that we are aware of in VA Beach Elementary Schools.  These two are going to accomplish great things together!!

With Autism it’s difficult at times to keep my cool and Chance will alert when I’m getting too upset, so I can walk away and regroup!  This dog has changed all of our lives in a way that I could never have expected.  He has brought us back together as a family, helping each other with love, understanding and he gives Owen the most precious gift…  Independence, participation and opportunity.   He is Owen’s “Chance” for a normal future living with Autism, Hyperphagia, and ADHD and I am one proud determined mother!  I couldn’t have made my dream come true without the help from Stacey Payne and Positive Paws!