For parents everywhere, the photo of a 5-year-old Autistic boy meeting and bonding with his new service dog was an image of hope and inspiration.
In October, the Niehaus family went to meet Tornado, a 1-year-old service dog who would be a companion to their son, Kai. The Niehaus family currently live in Japan, but traveled to the United States to visit 4 Paws For Ability in Xenia, Ohio.
The non-profit organization trains and provides service dogs to children with disabilities (as well as veterans), and allows families freedom, support, and companionship for kids who need it the most.
After a family applies to see if they are a good fit for a service dog, they spend two weeks meeting and learning how to work with the dog before taking him home.
When the Niehaus family went to meet Tornado, the incredible, touching moment was captured in a joyous photo and shared online.
On the Facebook page Love What Matters, Kai’s mother Shanna wrote, “See this moment? I’ve never experienced a moment like this.”
The moment she writes about wasn’t just their joyous meeting (which was filmed), rather a tender moment in which Kai leaned upon his new dog.
Mrs. Niehaus, who explained that the family had been waiting nearly two years to get a service dog, continued, “This picture captures the face of a mother who saw her child, who she can’t hug, wash, dress, snuggle and touch freely lay on his new Service dog of his own free will, with a purposeful, unspoken attachment.”
“This is the face of a mom who has seen her son experience countless failed social interactions on the playground in an attempt to have a friend. Any friend. Any kind of connection. She has sat with her son while he has cried at night for months because he has no consistent connections outside of the family no matter how hard he tries and no matter what he works hard on in his Autism therapies. It doesn’t transfer to the natural occurring world for him. And now she is sitting behind her son silently watching this moment, with the air sucked from her lungs, and no words to say.”
Niehaus concluded the heartwarming post with the words, “It’s worth every fight for services for my son, every diagnosis, every new provider, every dollar spent, every paper filled out, every school meeting, every shed tear, every step forward, every step back, and every wonder of the unknown future. Somehow because of this – because of Tornado – I know everything will be okay. As a mother, I have seen countless challenging and painful moments my son has encountered and cried countless more. Yesterday however, I cried for a different reason. It is a feeling that is indescribable.”
Her words, accompanied by the photo, touched a nerve worldwide. With nearly half a million likes, it has raised awareness for how important service dogs can be for families.
As Karen Shirk, the CEO of 4 Paws for Ability, tells PawCulture, “The thing that we hear the most from our families with children who have Autism is that the service dog gives them back their lives.”
Image via Love What Matters Facebook
Aly Semigran is a lifestyle writer for the world, and roommate of Ruby, the cutest dog in the world.