Lifestyle & Human Interest

Mom Cried When Son with Autism Met His New Service Dog: 'It's Worth Every Fight'


Dogs have hidden talents that many people don’t even realize are possible. Their natural abilities have led them to become proficient in tracking specific kinds of animals or contraband items, detecting impending health conditions and helping reduce overall stress in people’s daily lives.

Many dogs receive specific training from talented individuals who prepare the pups for lives as service animals — something most dogs are only too happy to participate in (though some do flunk out of the more rigorous jobs).

One group called 4 Paws For Abilities trains promising dogs to assist people with a range of conditions.

The first step of their mission is to “enrich the lives of children with disabilities by the training and placement of quality, task trained service dogs to provide increased independence for the children and assistance to their families.”

Next, they vow to “enrich the lives of veterans from recent conflicts who have lost the use of their limbs or their hearing while in active combat.”

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Finally, they try to “educate the public to accept the use of service dogs in public places.”

The first and third goals were definitely met and exceeded in October 2016 when they introduced one of their dogs, Tornado, to a little boy named Kai. According to Inside Edition, mother Shanna Niehaus had been waiting a long time for a day like this.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about autism,” she told Inside Edition. “Many kids on the spectrum don’t have many friends and it’s believed that these kids can’t have that connection, but that’s not the case. Kai has been searching for a really long time for that connection but he has a hard time sustaining that with people … He’s always shown better communication with dogs and any parent draws on a child’s strength.”

The family lives in Japan, but they traveled to Ohio for a meet and greet with a 4 Paws For Abilities dog, and to see how the dog and boy would get along. One look at the photo, and it’s clear to see that the two hit it off brilliantly. The photo and Niehaus’ account made the rounds on social media, warming hearts across the world.

“See this moment?” Niehaus began in a post shared by 4 Paws For Ability. “I’ve never experienced a moment like this.”

“This picture was taken near the end of the day after my autistic five year old was finally able to sit down with his new Service Dog Tornado. He flew across the entire ocean, stopped in multiple states, and uprooted his entire routine to travel the globe for this.

“He was so overwhelmed through the day that he had to leave to take a break for a couple hours before he could come back. This boy is the strongest child I have ever met; he has faced countless rude and ignorant adults and children who do not understand him, who have hurt him, and who have not valued him because he is different.”

“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.”

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“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.”

“I have cried so many times for this boy, but this is the very first time I have cried for a reason like this.”

“It’s new, it’s painful, it’s wonderful, and it’s grateful,” she continued. “I will always stand behind this boy (probably still crying) but I am grateful that he will have Tornado to stand beside him. The 4 Paws magic is real.”

“The wait is long, but this moment right here makes it worth every moment of waiting. 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. Some how because of this — because of Tornado — I know everything will be okay.”

While Niehaus originally balked at posting the photo because of what she called her “ugly cry” face, she decided the message was too important to share and made the leap to express her joy and encourage other parents — and it’s a good thing she did, because she’s touched many hearts with her decision.

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