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 Goldens were born. A “Chance” was born. Soon after, I got a call from Stacey setting up a date for the first assessment of these puppies, so we packed into the van and off we went. We were 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 did not 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 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, I watched several more incredible moments. Our first 'ahha' moment was when Stacey took us to our first public access training in Walmart! We had not taken Owen to 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!
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 to 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 is difficult at times to keep my cool and Chance will alert when I am 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 could not have made my dream come true without the help from Stacey Payne!