Submitted by Orcas Island School District
My name is Ukie and I am the first Autism Service dog in San Juan County. I work at the Orcas Island School District with my buddy Oly. Before I talk about Oly, and what we do together, you should know a little bit about me.
I was born in Portland, Oregon and my breeder thought I was just the perfect puppy for a life of service. They donated me to a wonderful training facility: Autism Service Dogs of America. The mission of ASDA is to “make a positive impact on the lives of individuals living with autism, and their families, by providing exceptionally well-trained service dogs.” And that’s me. The well-trained service dog.
Which brings me to my best friend, Oly. He is 7 years old and he has autism. With autism you have a spectrum of challenges. For Oly, one challenge is that he is an “eloper.” That means he likes to run. All the time. Running is great, in fact, I like to do it myself when I’m not working. A little boy running indiscriminately, however, can be difficult at best and dangerous at worst. Oly’s mom and dad had read about service dogs and began to do research. Maybe an Autism Service Dog was just what Oly needed. Their research brought them to the ASDA.
What, you ask, does an Autism Service Dog do? I help keep Oly safe through the use of a tether system. I reduce anxiety. I facilitate and encourage communication and eye contact. I increase confidence and allow for greater independence. I teach Oly how to build social relationships. I provide deep pressure to help regulate his sensory needs. I allow Oly to participate more in family activities. And I get to wear a pretty awesome green vest when I’m working.
I had a lot of training to do all of this. The training, however, is two-way. After waiting two years for a dog, George, Oly’s dad, came to Oregon to meet me and spend 10 days learning how to become one of my handlers. In November 2019, I came to my new home on Orcas. I met Oly, my best friend, Oly’s mom Megan, and Bodhi their other fur-person.
Once on Orcas, trainers from the ASDA came to work with Oly, George and teachers at Oly’s school. Oly had to learn how to work with me tethered to him. We went to the market, a pancake breakfast, a restaurant. At first, it was a concern if the tether would work. But as time went on, it seemed like Oly and I were going to be a good duo. The teachers at Oly’s school had to learn how to work with us too. I have to say learning can be difficult when it’s new, but eventually everyone gets the hang of it.
The reason I want you to know about me is that you might be confused when you see me in the market, or school, in my green vest. Now you know a little about what I do. When I’m wearing my vest you can say “hi” to me and Oly – but don’t forget I’m working, and it is not a good time to pet me or play with me. Once the vest is off though, I am just like all 2-year-old dogs looking to chase deer, or just cuddle with my best friend by the fire.
For more information about Autism Service Dogs of America, go to www.autismservicedogsofamerica.org.