To date, the Service Assistance dog world has been restricted, and somewhat narrow. Unless you fall into the parameters of the very specific programs offered by each various Assistance school, you are out of luck. IF you do fall within the parameters of the school, take a place in line. From the personal research we have done, we’ve found that the majority of these schools are simply overwhelmed with the tremendous need, and numbers of potential recipients for their dogs. They have chosen a definitive direction, and cannot continually deviate for each clients needs from their program, without expanding their schools serviceability. They are also limited by the quality of the dogs they can find, the quality of the trainers they can develop, and the financial constraints they must work with.
There are an indescribable number of people in America alone who are suffering with disabling and debilitating circumstances in their lives. Many have dogs they cannot train, control, or enjoy. Others need dogs in order to be able to be socially functional. Some need dogs to insure the quality of their lives, and for normal living. I have received mail from disabled people, from across the United States, who just don’t know what to do. They have serious needs for dogs, but can’t find anyone to help. Most of them do not fit into the narrow parameters of the standard programs developed. Some people need dogs to open doors, retrieve items dropped or needed, or to help them be independently mobile. Others need a dog to help them handle the stresses of life. While developing our program, I found the needs so great that they were literally overwhelming.
For years I have been successful in behavioral training, by evaluating the behaviors in the dogs brought to me, and finding what wasn’t there that kept the dogs from being normal, and successful in training. I learned how to create behaviors for these dogs that would supply those needed aspects to their personalities. The dogs, many were uncontrollably aggressive, neurotic , etc., were incapable of responding in a normal or correct fashion, until I fixed them. In the process of doing so, I have learned how to condition my dogs so as to raise their maturity levels, help them establish strong emotional control, create strong abilities in them to concentrate and focus, develop strong sensitivity to their handler, raise their levels of consciousness, and become perceptive on multi-dimensional levels.
As my interests in developing a service assistance dog program grew, and I grappled with the answers for the multiple concerns presented to me by individuals with disabilities, I suddenly realized that through my endeavors to help dogs over the past 30 years, I actually had developed the answer. I could invert the focus of my dog behavior program to create K-9s whose behaviorswere designed to counter the actual disabilities troubling my clients. After review, my decision was to create a dog that could make up for the inabilities in their handlers. I decided to create a type of dog that came custom trained, with built-in behaviors to match the needs and disabilities of the people who needed them. I decided to call them “dogwish” dogs.
Setting to work, I started looking for people with disabilities, and found they weren’t hard to find. What I also found was that these were people that were experiencing physical and mental debilitating circumstances in their lives that were uncontrollable, and overwhelming. Meeting these people changed the entire focus of my own life. The results of the dog training I have done for these people is unbelievably rewarding. NOTHING can compare to the joy, love, and happiness I have created in their lives through my “dogwish” dogs.
The results from the dogs I have trained for FAMILIES with developmentally disabled people is nothing less than astounding!! The dogs have changed their quality of life in every area, and the psychological balance in every home. The joy, peace, happiness, function ability, and overall well being in each home environment, let alone the dynamics of the relationship with each family member, and of course, the specific disabled member, have been more thanrewarding. What I’ve found is that, I may not be a world-class expert of the behaviors I am dealing with, but my dogs are, in a dimension untouched by all the doctors, in all the Universities, Hospitals, and Schools around. My dogs facilitate independence; they sponsor and promote health and welfare. The dogs enrich the lives of each handler in their own ways. By learning to communicate, direct, and function with the dog, the disabled person learns confidence, self-esteem, what it means to have a real friend, and to have the security to grow, expand, and overcome.
For many disabled people, the experience is overwhelming. Many of them see themselves as war victims, having been put on the front line, attacked, overwhelmed, and traumatized by having to survive life day by day. Their lives have been dwelt a shattering, traumatic blow, from which they will never recover. They now have no life. They only exist. To these people, a trained “dog wish” dog makes all the difference.
WHAT IS A “DOGWISH” DOG?
A “dogwish” dog is an Angel. A “dogwish” dog is a miracle. A “dogwish” dog may be the first real friend their handler ever had, or, that friend that has been needed for so long. A “dogwish” is the answer; they’re love-in-motion.
A dogwish dog gives without asking for anything in return, except the chance to give more. A dogwish dog will love their handler unconditionally, just AS they are. A dogwish dog will help their handler relax, be content, be happy, and enjoy life. A dogwish dog is there to ease the stress of living, and give an incredible feeling of peace, and goodness, and belonging. A dogwish dog provides a sense of confidence, whether at home, or in the midst of thousands of people.
A dogwish dog is a highly trained K-9 commando. They are meticulously conditioned to be the ultimate companion. They are federally and state post certified as Service Assistance and Guide Dog K-9s. Their training takes from 6 to 12 months depending upon the needs and desires of each client. The dogs are trained to accomplish long term goals with numerous types of clients, suffering from physical and mental disabilities.
WYATT AND THE LACHENMYERS
It was June 4th, 1991. Scott Lachenmyer, at age 34, seemed to be like every other guy. He had a good life, a promising financially successful career as the General Manager for Glenn Thomas Dodge in Long Beach. Scott had a wonderful wife, Anita, age 38, who was over achieving in her job as a “Title 9”, Bilingual, Special Education Instructor with the Ocean View School District, where she worked in a unique capacity with disabled children, who did not have proper language skills.
Anita had gone to Sacramento, lobbied, and obtained a special “Title 9” grant, for non-speaking Hispanics, with disabilities like A.D.D. and A.D.H.D. At that time they called them slow learners, or “title 9 kids”. At that time they didn’t have the ability to evaluate and qualify disabilities such as Autism. The “Lantermann Act”, which was empowered in 1968, was being used for blind and deaf children, primarily kids who were obviously disabled. Other children were just considered, “different”. Anita wanted to start a program for these children, who were developmentally disabled, and also non-english speaking, which meant they were simply ignored. Their parents were USA citizens who paid taxes, but because of their language differences, their children were not being given a chance of being helped.
The Lachenmyers’ had two sons, Nathan, age 2 years 7 months, Mathew was 11 months, and Anita was 7 months (30 weeks) pregnant. They had a great home in Orange County, California, and the sun seemed to be shining on them from all directions. It was approximately 7:15 in the morning, and the Lachenmyers were getting ready for the day. Anita was brushing her teeth, stopped, and said, “Oh God, I’m dizzy.” It was her third pregnancy, and she had gone through the gauntlet, throwing up, dizzy, but never a headache. “Scott,” she distressed, “help me!” As Scott turned the corner, rushing to her side, he could see the right side of her body change color, and go numb, as she slid down the wall, unconscious, and dead. The Firemen were there quickly, and were a great help for everyone, but Scott, who saw his father die the same way, knew what was happening. The immediate life-support saved their unborn baby, and kept her brain alive for the next 24 hours, while they did blood-flow tests. Anita was then pronounced legally dead.
Scott’s life instantly and forever changed. After a couple of months of vacillating, Scott retired from work, and spent full time raising the boys. He couldn’t afford, and lost his home. The first big change though, came as another life-changing blow. The youngest son, Jason, was taken from his dead mother prematurely, and weighed only 2 pounds. He required intensive care at the hospital, but was healthy, survived, and started a normallife. However, Scott’s second son, Mathew, showed behavior that alarmed him. At fourteen months he was non-responsive, would sit in the closet, facing the wall, and seemed to live in his own world. Scott knew that something was terribly wrong.
At first, Doctors thought he was deaf. At House Ear Institute Mathew flunked four separate hearing tests. The Institute had hearing aids made for Mathew, and for the next year he was forced to wear them. It was Horrible for everyone. After a year of hell, Mathew passed the next hearing test at House Institute perfectly, without help of any kind. Scott’s physicians couldn’t tell him anything. He didn’t know what was wrong. Mathew was a mess, biting, screaming, running, causing trauma for himself and the whole family. Scott, beside himself, took his son to UCLA, where they diagnosed him with Severe Autism, and Epilepsy. Scott left Mathew with the Doctors at UCLA for a period of time, at a cost of $127,000.00 a month. It was he only thing, outside of institutionalizing his son, that he could do. The Doctors at UCLA literally saved their relationship. After this, Scott took Mathew back home and started seeing Doctors at US Irvine, where they have gone for treatments ever since.
Mathew became a classic case study for Autism, and for the next 7 years the Lachenmyers survived on a day to day basis. Scott, early on, found a house-keeper, who has stayed with him ever since, and is there, working for him, with Mathew, Jason, and his oldest, Nathan, daily. He also found a new wife, Kim, who is devoted to the boys, and a wonderful mother for them. Mathew takes around the clock, 24-hour care. He does not speak, sign, respond, use the toilet, dress himself, etc. When I met them he was still having severe seizures. He needs medication to regulate his behavior, sleep, and stay normal, which isn’t normal.
The day I met the Lachenmyer’s, I instantly knew that what I had to offer them would change their lives, forever. Scott was a nervous wreck. Every time that Mathew moved, Scott jumped, from the years of being overwhelmed with trying to keep up with his son. Mathew is the picture of perfect health. His physical abilities are admirable. He is strong, coordinated, and big. Mentally, he is more than capable; self focused, resilient, and committed. Scott suffers from serious back surgery trauma and pain, which cuts off the flow of blood to his legs, and causes swelling and horrible pain as well. Mathew keeps him going. I realized that trying to talk with Scott was fruitless, before I even left for their home, so I brought a beautiful assistance trained dog for them to experience.
The result was more than I expected. We walked into the backyard, where the family was waiting. Instantly Matt, who had been swinging on the redwood swing/tree house/gym set, over on the side of the yard, came over, screaming, grabbed the dogs leash, and ran off with her to his play-yard. At first Matt wanted her to swing with him, which didn’t work, and then he decided to run back and forth across the yard. Matt was thrilled, so excited, and literally loved the dog. Scott tried to stop and control Matt’s nutty behavior. As soon as he did Matt stuck his hand in his mouth and started biting his hand, which focused our attention. Then he would take off with the dog again, running, screaming, and having fun. I grabbed Scott, and told him, several times, to just relax and let them go. Scott was truly over concerned, trying to control his son, protect the loving, 80 pound, long-haired, gentle German Shepherd Dog, and make sure everybody was safe and secure. Finally he sat down, watching them intently. He couldn’t take his eyes off the team. His wife just sat as the patio table and loved it. “She won’t hurt Matt will she?” “No”, I responded, “she’s a trained assistance dog. She knows how to work withMatt.” “She won’t let him hurt her, will she”, Kim asked? “No, I explained,” she’s bred from the world’s best competition Police and Schutzhund dogs, and is genetically bred to understand and respond to Matt correctly.” Zena was wonderful. She instantly knew what it was all about. She ran, sat, played, and just stayed with Matt. When Scott tried to give her a break from the boy she refused. We all just sat and watched them all night, play and havefun. Finally, three and 1⁄2 hours later I had to excuse us, and we left. Scott and Kim came with me to the front door, thanked me for a wonderful evening, and asked me whatcame next. “Think about tonight, and when you are ready for your own dog, “call me,” I stated.
It took 2 days for the Lachenmyers to call me. “Do you have a dog for us,” Scott asked? “Yes,” I replied, “I have the perfect dog for you.” I’m sure Scott thought it was a sales ploy. Families with children like Mathew are used to being the targets of every advertising group around. For example, a couple of years ago, for the low cost of thousands of dollars, a group came out with the idea of allowing those families who could afford it, to bring their children to a special camp where they could go in the water and touch dolphins. The experience was supposed to be life changing. Their pocket books were never the same. The story goes on and on. Realizing that families who live with members inflicted with developmental disabilities have to work intensely, to survive each day, each hour, each experience, people go out of their way to use them as scapegoats for every hope them can invent, that might make things a littleeasier. Scott has fought with so many elements over the years, because of his commitment to keep and care properly for Mathew, that he had become a professional skeptic. “Do you really think it will work,” asked Scott. “Scott, I guarantee it will work, for the life of the dog I’m selling you,” I responded. There was silence on the phone, and then Scott took my directions, and made the appointment to come up and see the dog I wanted to place with them.
It was a major decision. As much as Scott wanted to come, and liked what he had seen, he was scared of the possibilities of pain and disappointment he had been forced to face over and over, and over, for several years now. As Scott had told me, “when you have an Austistic child you don’t experience any of the joys that people with normal children experience. They don’t grow up, they don’t progress, they don’t respond. They require intense work, love, and attention, and there IS no return. You love them because they need and deserve your love. It is a lifestyle that tears you apart, and there’s no end. The alternative, is to put Mathew into an institution where whoever is going to care him, doing whatever, wherever. Usually, the results were less than acceptable, at best, and often horrifying. However, that doesn’t stop the State of California from weekly and monthly trying to get Scott to sign his son over for State care in an institution. The State has a consistent line of new employees assigned to Scott, to review and critique his expenses, and his care of Mathew. They keep the pressure on him, never letting up, hoping he will sign Mathew over, so that the State can stop sending the checks, and start collecting them. Each new State employee has to initiate new reports, new actions, and seek for new progress with Mathew. It is an ongoing, endless ritual that Scott endures for Mathew’s sake, in order to keep his son happy, and safe, with his family, in his home.
Scott didn’t know, and wasn’t ready to appreciate that fact that, based on our conversations, and my visit with them, which was truly wonderful, I decided to give him the best young dog I had. He was a young male Shepherd pup, actually the only son of Zena, the female I had taken with me to see them, which is why I took her along for the visit. Wyatt had everything! He had a drive for retrieve work, bite work, and play, which, as a world-class competition trainer of the best Police dogs, amazed me. His ability to perceive, receive, understand, and respond to a situation was remarkable. He was full of life, on one hand, but capable of focusing, and responding correctly on the other. At only 8 moths of age Wyatt was a superior dog. I had lost his grand father 4 years before. When he left, Vader took a lot of me with him, and I hadn’t been able to replace him. At six months of age Wyatt could take bites on a hard Police sleeve, loved to retrieve, could track basic tracks, and did sound obedience work. Wyatt was the one–in-a-million, that I had waited for and hoped to use to replace Vader; but Scott needed him more than I did. However, I had a great breeding program, and was hoping to produce more just like him, which I have.
The family came out on Saturday as planned. Mathew was upset, because he the ride was long, and he had expected something else, that didn’t happen. Mathew was angry, and didn’t care to see the dogs, or be at our kennel. Therefore, Nathan, Scott’s older son, took Mathew back to their Van, while I showed them my dogs. Nathan is more thangood hearted. The experiences he has been through have made him patient and mature beyond his years, and I admire Nathan for his goodness to Mathew, who delights in causing him trouble.
First, I brought out some of my other shepherds and then I introduced them Wyatt. The difference in looks, overall appeal, and behavior, were immediately obvious. It was actually love at first sight, between Wyatt and Kim. Scott still had some reservations, and it took a couple of days and a heartfelt conversation with Kim before he was sure this was the rightthing. Afterwards, as he called and told me, he was positive it was the right thing, because Kim let him know that if Wyatt went, she was going with him.
The training took another three months, even though Wyatt had already received quite a lot. I was training three service dogs at that time, and Wyatt progressed further, faster, and more naturally any of them. However, he was still young, and I had concerns andreservations. Finally, I started taking Wyatt to the Lachenmeyers’, and teaching them how to handle him.
The way I train dogs may be a little different, but it works better than anything I have seen. First, I train the dog. When I say that, I mean that the dog comes completely trained, a product, ready to work, and to do their job. I allow the client to handle the dog naturally at first, and then, after a while, I show them one-thing-at-a-time, to help them handle the dog easier, and better. That process can continue for some time. When I brought Wyatt over the Lachenmyer’s had no idea he was going to stay. We went out into the backyard, and I showed Scott how to handle the dog. I had Scott work Wyatt, and then rest, and watch while I worked the dog again. Then his oldest and youngest sons came home, and we introduced Wyatt to them, and let them work him. By this time Scott was becoming more and more amazed at the behavior of this young dog. Then Mathew came home. Instantly Mathew came out, grabbed the harness, and off they went. It was the first time they had ever seen each other. Instantly Wyatt changed becoming more sensitive, more focused, more attentive, and softer overall. It was miraculous. It was also obvious that Wyatt intuitively understood exactly what was going on. Wyatt worked with Mathew totally different than he did with anyone else. I actually got Scott to stop, relax, give up, have a drink, and let them be. They didn’t stop fortwo hours. Then Kim came home. She watched Mathew and Wyatt, and then took the harness and worked the dog herself.
Around 8 o’clock I stopped them. “OK”, I said, “we need to stop.” “Do you need to go home,” Kim asked? “No, I said,” we need to go to the store for dog food and necessary items.” Everybody just stood and looked at me. The silence was precious. “If I’m going to leave Wyatt, you’ll need them,” I explained. It was one of the most wonderful moments I have ever experienced in training. Everybody was crying, laughing, hugging, and excited. Kim came up and gave me the biggest kiss I’d ever received, from a client. We went to the store, Kim, the kids, Wyatt, and me. They took Wyatt into the huge grocery store, and he wasperfect. They took Wyatt into the big Pet Store, and he was perfect. Then we drove to the park, where Wyatt would become the county mascot for Little League Baseball Teams, and we walked Wyatt while kids ran by screaming, other dogs ran by and walked by, kids and adults drove by on bikes and motorcycles, yelling and screaming, and sat by the baseball diamond, where Wyatt is now famous, and he was perfect. Mathew handled him, at least half the time. It was amazing.
Now, here is what is truly amazing. Wyatt is Mathew’s first real friend. He goes where Mathew lives, and is content to be there with Mathew. They play together, eat together, sleep together, and love each other. Even more, when Wyatt comes back to be with the family, Mathew comes too. Mathew is more relaxed, peaceful, content, and happy since Wyatt came to live with him. Mathew has only experienced one, small seizure, since Wyatt became hisdog. Mathew, who didn’t speak, sign, use the toilet, dress himself, or respond to commands, has greatly improved. He now signs, makes intelligent sounds, give consistent intelligent commands to Wyatt, helps with the toilet, and is dressing himself. Mathew takes commands, responding most of the time without the need for additional medication, and obeys (instead of taking time outs away from Wyatt). The family can now watch television, allow Mathew to play on his own, outside, or in his room, with minor supervision. They can take Mathew to the store, restaurants, the park, shopping, or where ever, as long as Wyatt is there.
However, even more than that, Scott, who never really had a dog before, is enjoying a relationship with Wyatt he never dreamed possible. Scott says the dog has given him a joy in living he never before experienced. Kim says the same thing. Nathan, who was scared of dogs, loves to work Wyatt, and feels like he now has somebody in the home who is there for him, too. In fact, the house keeper loves Wyatt. Wyatt has added so much to the home, they are already planning for an addition. They want me to breed Wyatt as soon as possible, so they can have a Wyatt daughter in the home.
The Lachenmeyer’s are more than clients, they are family to me. I have come love them all. They are wonderful dog owners, and have made me proud of my decision to give them Wyatt. The biggest problem we have is that they spoil the dog rotten, and why not! Mathew and Wyatt have changed the lives of a lot of people, and are going to change the lives of a lot more before we’re done. I would like to thank Scott and Kim Lachenmeyer, and their very special house-maid, Gladys for being so wonderful, and loving, and committed, and willing to try the impossible, because it worked!