What is "normal", anyway?

I wish I'd written this, but I don't think I would have done it justice - this is a fantastic post on the Thinking Person's Guide To Autism that I think everyone should read:



I have felt this way for a long time, so nice to see someone else put it in to words.

ps. I have a post up on the TPGA as well, but it was about service dogs and since I already tortured you with 4 posts on that here, didn't think you needed me throwing more of that around! Feel free to check it out though, if you are interested. :)  I have the Guide on my links page, but you can also just navigate from the post above.

Water Baby

Josh loves water.  LOVES it.  Did I mention that he really loves water?  Loves to be in it, play with it, drink it, get rained on, you name it, he's all over it.  And as with most things Josh, this has an upside as well as a downside.

I'm not sure when I first noticed his affinity for it.  It's really been more of a gradual build-up I think, to the point now where it's a true obsession.  I'm sure it's tied in to his sensory interests.

With both boys, from the time they were babies, I've never been shy about getting their faces all wet in the tub (pouring water over their hair to rinse it off, etc) as I figured that would help them not be too uncomfortable with it as they got older.  Maybe that has worked out well as far as Josh goes, I'm not sure.  I do know that I have never, ever had an issue washing his hair in the bath and rinsing it off, and this is going on 12 years now.  We are probably lucky that way, as I know there are some autistic children who are so sensitive and/or fearful that water on the face or head can be a nightmare.  So this is definitely on the upside of things.  He asks for a bath often and many times a bath will be the only thing that can calm him down if he's in a particularly difficult mood.  Of course, he loves bubbles in there too.  I do have to use tear-free shampoo and bath bubble-stuff since he doesn't understand the concept of not getting it in his eyes (or eating it, but that's another story). That's ok.  As long as they keep making it, which they will since there will always be babies in the world, we're good.  Frankly, I like the way the little kid things smell better than the "manly" versions anyway!

He doesn't mind rain, in fact he will only leave the hood of his jacket on for a brief time then will just take it off.  He likes getting wet.  He'll hold his hands out open, palms up, to feel the rain drops as they fall.  He even just likes watching the rain.  This works well for us here, since the Pacific Northwest is a pretty rainy spot.  It often makes him very giggly so I like the rain too - hard not like something that keeps everything green and makes Josh happy.  I think the first time I really became aware that this was a "thing" for him, was the summer he was 3, I had taken the boys up to Vancouver Island to visit my dad.  This was back at a time when Josh was particularly difficult (if you haven't already, see earlier blog post "That Woman with the Screaming Kid" for more on that).  He'd been having a tough time one afternoon and then my dad went to get something outside.  Josh followed him.  It had been raining and was still, though very lightly, and there were a few small puddles outside the back door.  All of a sudden Josh was no longer screaming, he was quiet. Then he was actually making happy Josh-noises.  He was walking around in the puddles and getting rained on.  It stopped the tantrum, I was amazed (aka very relieved).  We took his socks off, rolled up his pants, and just let him play.  My dad and I watched him for almost an hour.  I have a few pictures, I'll post them in the gallery. 

I think I mentioned that when we went out to Ohio the second time for training (the time we got Buddy), I booked us in a hotel with an indoor pool and we spent a lot of our down-time in it.  Again, somewhat of an understatement.  Pretty much every evening once we'd finished training for the day, I'd take the boys to the pool.  Josh was in heaven.  He cannot swim, there is really no way he could be taught, at least not at this point, so I had to hang on to him the entire time.  But that was ok, he was very happy so it was nice for me too.  Of course getting him out was always an exercise in patience.  I had to give him several warnings first (one of our count-downs to being done with things he likes is "one more minute and we're going to be all done" swing, or pool, or whatever), then we would transition to the hot whirlpool.  We'd get in slowly, he was a little nervous about it.  He would sit on my lap and the three of us would hang out there for as long as the timer ran.  Then I would give him another couple of warnings and we'd get out and head back to the room.  Usually by that point he was toasty and tired enough he was ready to head to sleep for the night.

Water is also one of only two things he will drink.  For a while, it was the only thing he would drink.  This is not such a bad thing really, it's certainly good for him and better than juice.  Also makes it easier when we are not at home, whether traveling or just out - you can always get water.  At restaurants, on planes, even at our dojo.  The downside to it is that because he also loves to play with it/in it and get wet, if he has some for drinking it has to be in a water bottle apparatus of some sort, with a lid and built-in straw, otherwise it will be all over the place.  He mostly likes to pour it down the front of his shirt, he really likes the feel of wet clothes. Sometimes he'll just dump it on the floor though, and make his own "rain" puddles to play in. 

The wet clothes thing is another issue as far as getting him potty trained.  He LIKES his clothes wet.  So there is very little incentive for him to not go in in his pants.  Complicates things to say the least. 

His penchant for water play also means we have to keep him away from all the sinks and bathrooms in the house.  So many things to worry about.  We have the temperature on the water heater set so that it won't get hot enough to scald if he ever did manage to get to a faucet on his own, but I would worry about his getting in a tub, and either falling and smashing his head or drowning.  And yes, he has tried to play in the toilets. So we have child safety knobs on all the bathroom doors which for now and hopefully a long time to come, are doing the trick.  I just have to keep an eye on the kitchen sink, though he's short enough still that it is harder for him to reach the handle to turn that one on.  I just have to remember to not leave anything sitting in the sink with water in it because he has a radar for that sort of thing.  It's almost as good as his Blue's Clues radar, but not quite. So the bathroom lock-down is not just to keep him away from the shampoo, though recently it seems that's been more of a draw than the water! 

I do worry about his love of water as far as the outside world goes, there have been too many heartbreaking stories of autistic children who have wandered off and drowned in lakes or rivers.  But we don't live close enough to any bodies of water to make it an immediate concern, and Josh has become much less interested in wandering off on his own over the last couple of years. I think it's just something I have to keep in mind when/if we go other places where it's more of a temptation. 

If we lived anywhere near these guys http://www.surfershealing.org/  and Josh were able to swim, I think he'd love this.  Water and sensory input all at the same time, how awesome!  He might dig a wet suit too, though I imagine getting him in one might be a challenge...  or he could just surf naked... or not.  But I'll bet he sure would like it.  Think they have Blue's Clues surf boards?  :)

What Would You Do?

Alright, time for a tough one.  Not that any of it is easy but this is a dilemma.  Something that weighs heavily on me but is frankly a medical and ethical minefield so it's one of my many, "can't go there" subjects.  Josh will be 12 in just a few short months though, so it's time to deal with it.

I'm talking about puberty. 

Josh is very small for his age as is his brother.  At nearly 12, he is about the size of a 6 year old.  I watch him going in to school every morning, sweetly holding the hand of his aide, wearing his Blue's Clues back-pack, and it is very hard to believe he is a 5th grader let alone headed to middle school in the Fall.  There are a few check-out ladies at one of the grocery stores we go to that know us pretty well, we've been shopping there semi-regularly for almost 10 years now.  Yet they will still ask me every now and then when Josh will be starting school... they are and always have been very nice to us there, especially back in the days when Josh was very difficult in public, so I am always polite when I answer that he is already in school, and I leave out the part about the fact that he has been for almost 9 years already.  But you get the point here, he is small and under-developed enough that he does not appear anywhere close to his chronological age.  Matches his developmental and behavioral levels as well as they are more consistent with a smart toddler in most respects. 

While this is challenging on many levels, it works well on others.  Because he is so dependent on me/ an adult for help with just about everything, his size and lack of development make that relatively easy.  I give him a bath and it is not much different than when he was 3 or 4.  I help him on the toilet, clean him up, again, not much different than when he was actually, a toddler.  I get him dressed, carry him up to bed when he falls asleep on the couch (which is almost every night), climb in to bed with him sometimes to help him fall back to sleep when he is up at nights.  It's not a big fat deal when he decides he wants to take his clothes off as he looks like a little kid in every way. 

One of the things I have not talked much about yet so this is probably a little out of sequence, is that Josh can be aggressive, in his own way.  When he is really unhappy about something, he will act out not only with screaming but he will hit things.  Mostly walls and toys, but sometimes windows, cupboards, and any other inanimate object that will make a good noise when you hit it hard.  This includes the car window if we happen to be there.  He will also pinch, as described in the Service Dog story.  This used to be a much bigger problem and one of his medications helped with this behavior a lot, but it is still there, just not as frequent.  Apart from the acting out when he is upset, there are also times when I need to do things he doesn't like or understand and he will fight me.  The shoes are one example, but the best example of this is when he gets a nose-bleed.  Josh having a nose-bleed is a nightmare.  He does not understand that I need to pinch his nose to stop the bleeding and that he can breathe through his mouth.  He is terrified and fights me with everything he has.  For a child that cannot do so many things for himself and is so small for his age, he is freakishly strong.  And I mean freakishly.  Josh can lift the mattress up off of his bed and move it all around his room, flip it over completely.  He has kicked in both air vents in the back seat of the car.  He fights hard.  And I know it's because he is scared and doesn't understand what I am doing.  Doesn't make it any easier.  I can't let him hemorrhage all over the house but I hate having to be forceful with him.  It destroys me to know that he feels so afraid that he has to fight for his life.  These times have usually ended up with blood everywhere, Josh exhausted and me in tears. 

So what happens when he goes through puberty?  What happens when he gets bigger, stronger, and more developed?  I can barely think about it, it's too upsetting, but I have to, he's closing in on it.  Josh and I are bonded in a way that is not easily replicated.  All of the time that I have spent with him over the years means I understand what he's saying when most people can't, I know what he wants even when he's not being specific, I know all his Blue's Clues and Little Bear episodes, where they are, how to script back and forth with him, I know how to handle him in various situations, and he is very attached to me.  He has strong bonds with his father and some other family members, but none quite the same as what he has with me.  Makes sense, I've been the one taking care of him his whole life so far.  I intend to remain his primary caregiver, as long as I am able.  He is not going to be independent enough to live without full support and we have no intention of placing him in any kind of facility.  Puberty is going to lead to some very serious problems though and this is the dilemma.  I know I can take care of him the way he is.  I can't imagine how I'm going to manage once he goes through puberty, however.  And given that he already has some aggressive tendencies, what happens when the testosterone kicks in?  There are stories, real stories of terrible, terrible things that have happened with some post-pubertal autistic teens.  One in particular you may have read about last year (I think) about an autistic young man who ended up killing his mother during a struggle.  I realize this is extreme, but it happened. There are other similar stories and situations and I don't want to end up in a position where I can't take care of him any more, where we're faced with being forced to place him somewhere.  I can't do it.  I won't do it.  Josh is a sweet little boy, his tantrums aside, just so affectionate and dear.  I can't bear the thought of puberty changing him, as it certainly might.

Yes, we can get help, I can have people come and help me with him at home.  I am aware of this.  But my point has a broader scope to it.  He is happy, for the most part.  I foresee the changes that will have to happen after he goes through puberty making him much less happy, along with the rest of us.  I think his life and ours will be far more challenging than it already is.  Maybe it seems like a minor thing to others, but how could I make him understand why I can't just lie down and cuddle him in his bed to help him get back to sleep when he is a grown man?  He would never understand.  Do we really have to go through shaving?  Really?  This is a child that will not allow a band-aid on his body, anywhere, still sits in my lap for haircuts and even then won't sit still... shaving, oy.  Honestly, I can't even imagine some of this.  There are other things, I'm sure you understand all that is implicated here.  So as extreme as it may sound, I have been thinking a lot about exploring a medical intervention if there even is one, to keep him from going through puberty.  I realize that this flies in the face of a lot of medical and conventional ethics.  I am not on a campaign to alter every disabled person so please don't misunderstand what I'm saying.  It's very specific to Josh and our situation that I think about it.  There have been other cases.  All very controversial, so I know this is a big deal.  I don't think it's right for everyone, but I would certainly consider it if it were possible, for us.  I just think it would make his life better in the long run.  He is not ever going to be capable of having a family or a job when he is older so keeping him from maturing physically wouldn't be taking away anything from him.  It would be ensuring a better, happier existence for him.  Would also make it much easier in the very long term for his brother, in the event that I can no longer manage due to age or physical issues.  Zach is still very determined to take over Josh's care down the road.  If Zach has his own family, taking on the care of a little boy will be far easier on everyone than if Josh is a fully matured man.  I just can't see any reasons to argue that letting it happen would be a good thing, aside from religion and laws of nature and those aren't a factor here. I can see many reasons why it will not be a good thing.  I'm sure you are all thinking I'm crazy and maybe terrible, though I hope not.  Put yourselves in my shoes for a minute.  Think about if this was your child, think about what it all means, think about the future. I understand there would be a big difference if he were not as profoundly affected as he is and I would not be of the same mind set in that case.

This is only something I think about, something Josh's father and I have talked about a bit, though not extensively. I know of one case in recent memory where a severely disabled, bed-ridden little girl underwent a surgical procedure and hormone treatment to keep her from going though puberty to make it easier for her parents to continue to care for her at home. Girls come with maturity complications of their own.  I completely understood why her parents had this done but this case garnered a great deal of negative attention in the media and sparked medical-ethics debates all over the country.  Which is why I have only been thinking about it as opposed to actively exploring it.  I'm not sure I have the fortitude to deal with everything that would likely result in the event we were to truly pursue this as an option.  Honestly I don't even know if it's really possible or if we'd even be able to find medical personnel who'd be willing to even talk to us about it.  The media was very hard on all the Dr's involved in that little girl's case.

I have spent most of Joshua's life convincing myself that he is so delayed in everything, so small already, that he just simply won't go through puberty.  I realize this is some serious denial and many who read this might just be thinking, "hey, suck it up like everyone else who has a disabled child, it's tough, but that's just something you have to deal with."  Maybe.  But I know in my heart he will be better off if he doesn't go through it.  Life is hard enough for him as it is without adding the confusion, stress, frustration and possibly aggression, that physical and sexual maturity will bring. 

Well, this is about as real as it gets, this is something I haven't talked about with anyone except Bruce and a little bit with my mom. It's something I think about, it's something I know we will have to deal with and work through, though part of me still quietly hopes that my happy delusion of it just not happening will hold true.

Post Script: I had to stop writing this to go to Josh's IEP meeting, where we discussed his goals for middle school.  The teacher he will have next year was there.  She told me toward the end of the meeting that I was going to be surprised at how much he was likely to mature over the next couple of years.  I burst in to tears.

Happy Monday

Hope everyone had a good weekend! I was treated to a very lovely Mother's Day yesterday, complete with homemade waffles and my very own copy of Higglety Pigglety Pop, thank you Zach, Bruce and Josh!

And here is the link to my Momversation post:


Paws and Effect: The Service Dog Story, Part 3

The final chapter.  Well, sort-of.

I'll be honest.  After Josh and I returned home from Ohio I really wasn't sure I wanted to continue working with 4 Paws, given what had happened.  Having had a brief go of it with a dog for Josh though, I was as convinced as ever that it was a good idea.  I figured we could probably get back on the NSD list if I talked to them, but, we'd be back at the bottom and I couldn't see waiting yet another 2 years.  There was also the tracking piece.  NSD does not train the dogs for tracking as 4 Paws will and at the time, I had some concerns about Josh wandering off so I still felt that would be a good thing.  With reluctance I resolved to keep going with 4 Paws.  It was hard though, not going to lie, I was still so angry and so hurt about what had happened.

I was in e-mail contact with the director and she informed me that the intern that had been the one talking about Josh with the other families and staff had been terminated.  Apparently she was not well liked by them anyway and her indiscretion just solidified their decision a little sooner.  Small victory. 

This time around, instead of finding out with not much notice when we would be looking at heading to training, she told me that they had a dog in mind already for Josh and figured that dog would be ready by August (it was April at this point).  So, we agreed to come back and were set for their August class.  She reminded me that they would be moving in to their new facility before then so things would be better for the kids, easier for the families. 

So now I had several months to plan.  I also had the experiences of the first trip out there to draw from so this time I would do some things differently.  Many things, actually.  Maybe everything.  For starters, I would not be going alone with Josh.  Both my mom and Zach would be coming with us.  Josh really likes my mom and I knew Zach would be a big help with whatever might be needed of him.  I also knew that if there was ANY way to avoid it, I would not be staying at that Holiday Inn again.  Especially with 4 of us going this time.  I searched and found a Residence Inn that had kitchens, 2 bedroom/2 bathroom suites, guest laundry facilities, and, an indoor pool.  PERFECT.  It was not in Xenia though, so I had to get it approved by 4 Paws.  Their rule was that it had to be within a certain drive-time/distance of the training facility.  It looked to me like it wouldn't be too long of a drive, maybe 20 minutes or so.  The director approved it, but we were warned that being late to training sessions would not be tolerated so we had to use judgement about whether we would have enough time to go back on lunch breaks, etc. 

Just the change in where we were going to be staying for almost 2 weeks made such a big difference in my outlook on the whole thing.  I knew it would be easier, more comfortable.  I could cook the things for Josh that I knew he would eat.  We'd have enough space for all of us, Josh could be in one room watching his DVD's while Zach could be in another watching whatever he wanted on tvZach and my mom would share one bedroom, while Josh and I had the other.  This way Josh could be up at night without bothering them too much.  There would be plenty of room to practice with the dog.  And of course, there was the pool.  Josh loves water.  LOVES IT.  He cannot swim but loves to just be in it.  So I knew having the pool to use in our down time would be a great thing.  Then I found out that my friend from the first training class was going back in August as well.  They had taken their dog home but decided that he was not a good fit for them and so they were coming back.  She had actually requested to come back for the session that I would be in, so that was another plus.  She arranged to stay at the Residence Inn as well. 

Goes without saying that we did not fly with Northwest.  This time I went with Frontier.  We were booked from Seattle to Indianapolis via Denver, had a minivan rented, and would drive from there to Xenia, OH.  Was about a 3 hour drive.  I didn't care, it was relatively inexpensive compared to flying in to Cincinnati or Dayton and it wasn't Northwest. I also did not do anything as far as telling them that I had a disabled child with me though I did mention there would be a service dog coming back. I did not want to have to go through the hassle about bulkhead seating again.  I would deal with Josh in the airports myself, I had Mom and Zach to manage bags this time, plus, I knew that my mom coming with us was going to make Josh intrigued so I didn't anticipate too much trouble this time.  Besides, after what we went through last time, I knew I could handle just about anything.

The other thing I decided to do differently was not to change the dog's name.  Yes, they can learn new names.  But when there is so much else for us and the dogs to learn and get used to with each other, it really seemed like that was only serving to make the whole process slower, more difficult for the dogs and potentially frustrating for the families.  So we (our family) agreed that no matter what, the dog's name was the dog's name and we would just go with it so that would be one less thing to have to work on when we started training.

I was letting myself get excited again.  More so when I found out that my friend from our first class would be there with us too. 

August was getting closer but I didn't have too much time to anticipate - we were moving, so there was much to do on the home front.  In fact, we were to leave for training a little less than 2 weeks after getting in to the new house.

At some point during all the insanity of the move we got the e-mail, the one introducing us to the new dog. 

His name was "Buddy".  This is the picture we got of him in that e-mail. Buddy

The story was that he had been taken in by a family down south somewhere, and they believed very strongly that he would make a good service dog so they drove him all the way to 4 Paws in Ohio.

He has one brown eye and the other is half blue and half brown.  They had no idea what kind of dog he was, just that he was unique and had a wonderful temperament.

I'll admit I was a bit taken aback when I got the picture.  When you think about service dogs, the usual labs, retrievers and shepherds come to mind.  Buddy was definitely unique, I didn't really know what to make of him.  But Josh is also pretty unique, so, who am I to judge?


So, the time came and we were off.  Again.  Much more prepared this time, armed with experience and help.  Flights were no problem,  we arrived in Indianapolis and then drove to Ohio. 

Training this time around was like night and day.  The new facility was certainly a big factor.  There was so much more room, it was much more comfortable, the kids had more room to move around in relative safety and there was the back yard.  A huge, fenced area where we could take the dogs out for breaks but also had a play set for the kids.  It had a swing.  Thank goodness for small miracles.  My mom took Josh out to the swing and spent most her time there with him.  He was happy.  He would hang out inside with us too sometimes, but there was always the ability to just take him out to do what he likes best while I was working with Buddy inside.  There were other siblings there so Zach made a new friend or two when he wasn't helping my mom or watching me work with Buddy.  He actually got to participate sometimes - the trainer would have him and some of the other siblings walk around the dogs as "distractions" while we had them "sitting" or in a "down".  Zach loved it.  Most lunch breaks we spent in Xenia, there were a few places we could eat and it gave me a chance to practice taking Buddy in to places like that.  On days when we had a longer break we would just go back to the hotel.  The evenings were spent mostly with me taking Zach and Josh to the pool, while my mom was either bonding with Buddy or doing laundry (seriously, she offered, I certainly didn't ask her to do it!).  It was nice, the dog got to rest after working all day and the boys got to play in the pool, something they both love doing.  I had to be in the pool with my hands on Josh the whole time but it's fun to see him happy so it was never a problem. 

The tracking went much better this time as well.  Josh would go with my mom and sometimes Zach as opposed to someone that was a stranger to him.  So I was able to learn to handle Buddy and that was important since Buddy is basically a rocket with legs.  I kid you not, this dog can MOVE.  Had everyone wondering if he had some Greyhound in him, given his deep, barrel chest and his speed.  And boy did he love tracking, this dog has a nose on him that could find you in another country I think.  Most of the dogs needed a trail of hot-dog pieces to get used to tracking their children.  Buddy did that once, then did not need them again.  He really LIKED the hot dogs mind you , but he didn't need them.  This was Buddy's world.  So I learned quickly how to work with him, learn his signals, manage the track, and not get myself pulled off my feet or dragged by him.  He always found Josh.  I got better and better at managing him and reading him. 

Everything was going well.  His obedience was a little less solid than his tracking skills but nothing truly worrisome.  The hardest thing really when it came to the 3 of us as a team (Josh being tethered to him) was that he just moved too fast.  Keeping this dog to a more casual pace was going to be the biggest challenge, he wants to have the nitro firing at all times.  Other than that, it was just a world of difference from our first time out. 

On our last tracking training session, the trainer took us to a wooded area and instead of telling people where to take the kids to hide, he just sent them off in to the woods so that we would be working a completely blind track, none of us knowing where they went.  So it was a simulation of what it would really be like if heaven forbid your child ever did become lost or wander/run away and you needed to find them.  For this track, we had Zach go out and hide with an adult from another family.  Josh was not in a great mood that day and since it was a blind track, we all knew it was going to take longer and it was unlikely that Josh would handle being in the woods/bush for any length of time.  The trainer said that was fine, most of this training was for the people, not the dogs, since the dogs already knew what to do.  It was for us to really get a feel for how to handle them through any type of terrain and know what to do with whatever signals they were giving us.  There is a lot to know about tracking, it is not simply a matter of following the dog.  You have to watch, sometimes they lose the scent, you have to know how to help them find it again.  You need to understand the difference between the dog being on the child's scent vs the dog getting distracted momentarily by some animal that had also been there.  They need water regularly so you have to watch the time.  More than I can tell you here, just know that there is a lot that goes in to it so this was really a big test for those of us handling the dogs. 

Zach and the person who took him out to hide did a good job, meaning they were well hidden.  Buddy went for it and never gave up.  We were running through bushes, trees, mud, you name it.  I was sweaty, out of breath, and looked like I'd just been voted off Survivor on Day 28.  We even had to come back out to where the cars were, give Buddy a drink, and then went back in again.  The deep, barrel chested dogs have a much bigger lung capacity than dogs who aren't built like that so the trainer said that most of the other dogs would have stopped before this point, just wouldn't have it in them to keep going.  Buddy did though and he knew Buddy was good (one of their best trackers ever, they told me) so we kept going.  We eventually found them.  Poor Zach, sitting out so quiet in the bushes for so long, what a trooper!  It took us over an hour. Might have been an hour and a half, I can't remember.  All I know is we made 4 Paws history, longest successful blind track they've ever done.  Apparently the trainer still tells classes the story.  They gave me a bonus break that day and let me go back to the hotel and shower before coming back that afternoon.

We completed training with a test in a large shopping mall.  Met the trainer there at the set time, had Josh tethered to Buddy, and I had to walk with them through the mall, around the Food Court, in to different stores, etc.  Josh has never, ever, been a fan of malls.  In fact, it had been years since I had even been in one, I just stopped going since it would always be a nightmare.  Yet Josh was great, walking around without having me hanging on to him, but tethered to Buddy.  It was just as I had imagined it would be.  We passed the test.  Went to the class graduation ceremony back at the center, and got ready to leave. 

Now came the hard part.  Doing everything with a service dog.  The dogs have special vests/harnesses that they wear so it's obvious, but it's still something that gets a lot of attention and not everyone is always as understanding as you would think.  When we went to dinner that night before we drove to Indianapolis, the hostess who sat us made us wait while she went to talk to I assume the manager, and then sat us way in the back of the restaurant at a tiny table that wasn't really big enough for 4 people but it was not in their main restaurant area.  Pretty sure they were trying to keep us away from as many of the other customers as possible. Buddy tucks himself under the table as he is supposed to so most people won't even know we have a dog with us until we leave or unless they happen to see us come in.  They had us sitting at this tiny round table that was free standing, almost like a little bistro table, as opposed to a booth, so it was really hard for Buddy to manage sitting under this, but he did a good job despite the awkwardness of it.

The flying home presented a lot of stress on my end with him.  Had to make sure he went to the bathroom as close to airport time as possible, didn't eat or drink much before the flights, and just hoped like hell he wouldn't have an accident somewhere.  We were told in training that this happens sometimes, so we were to be prepared for it.  I had clean-up supplies if I needed them, just really didn't want to have to deal with that, it was hard enough making sure Josh was not going to lose it while en-route.  Security turned out to be an interesting and ultimately humorous experience with him.  So Josh, Buddy and I are a team, all attached by the dog's harness, Josh's tether, and the lead I hold.  My mom and Zach do their thing and walk through the metal detector.  We're up.  The security team is just looking at me, scratching their heads.  They ask if I can un-attach everything and if we can come through one at a time.  I tell them I'll try, but that Josh is autistic and not likely to do that well without me managing him.  They want me to do it anyway.  So, I get us separated, and do my best to send Josh through, then I walk through with Buddy.  Of course alarm bells are going off everywhere, the harness has several metal attachment rings on it.  We take off the harness completely.  They want to "wand" Josh.  He is supposed to stand still with his arms out so they can do this.  I start helping and they tell me I can't touch him.  I start laughing and say, "well, good luck with that".  Maybe not a great idea to laugh at airport security but really, watching them try to get Josh to stand still was a joke and I had explained that it wasn't going to work.  They did what they could and kind of gave up on Josh.  It was my turn, so I stood still like a good little passenger and got properly wanded.  Too bad that isn't as fun as it sounds.  *ahem*  So then it was Buddy's turn, yes, they wanted to wand Buddy.  They even switched from the female agent to a male one for him, which made me bust out laughing again, I mean, guys, it's a DOG, he doesn't care!  He'll be happy if one of you gets his happy spot going, don't worry about your sensitivity training with this one.  The agent got down to Buddy's level and sat there for a minute, wand at the ready.  I was trying not to giggle too much watching him try to wave the wand around Buddy's tail.  He looked at me, then the other agents and just said, forget it, pretty sure the dog doesn't have any weapons on him.  Indeed.  So we got our selves  put back together and made our way to the gate. 

Buddy was terrific on the plane.  Little nervous on take off mostly because of the noise, but he settled down quickly, I gave him lots of treats, and he curled up at Josh's feet for the rest of the flight.  Since Josh is small, and Buddy is not a large dog (I swear he can curl up in to the tiniest ball, it's pretty impressive) he fit with no problem at all  and we weren't even in the bulkhead.  Most of the fight attendents were surprised to see him when we got off the plane, said they had no idea he was even there.

So we were home once again, this time with our dog.  Buddy.  The story that the director told me when we got there was that he had been a Katrina refugee, his original family had been displaced by the hurricane and were not able to keep him where they ended up, so another family took him in.  They were the ones who brought him to Ohio.  My mother and I are convinced he is a Catahoula Leopard Dog, a breed indigenous to Louisiana.  Who knows.  Our journey with Buddy has not been perfect - there have been a lot of really great things and some not so great things that have happened with him over the last 4 years.  I will be putting up pics of him in the photo gallery.  I will end this story here.  I can talk more about Buddy, but will leave that to future posts.  These were more about what it took and what we went through to get him.

What is this, 8 pages long? Seems like it should be, takes me half the day to write these things :)