Many of you already know and love our sweet 5 year old son Finn, who was diagnosed with Autism as a young toddler.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, effecting each individual differently, and providing a unique set of gifts and challenges for every person. For Finn, autism makes the task of controlling his body an incredibly difficult one. In addition to being completely nonverbal, Finn is very impulsive and prone to wander.
Finn is our oldest child, so in many ways he is our "normal". We are used to locking doors and maintaining constant vigilance. We do not go out in public before designating who will be in charge of Finn's safety. Unlike some children with autism who are "runners" and can suddenly bolt, Finn is a true wanderer. He tends to get distracted by subtle things and will quietly slip away from situations unnoticed and without warning.
We always have our guard up, but have still had plenty of close calls. He has slipped out of his babysitter's house and run into the street in mere seconds, wriggled from my grasp countless times at Target, the list goes on and on. But all pale in comparison to what happened on Father's Day 2016.
We had just returned from a family road trip to Green Bay, Wisconsin. We were exhausted, but looking forward to celebrating Father's Day at a family barbecue at Billy's sister's house. Her sprawling farm has a plethora of appealing sensory escapes, so we are always extra careful with Finn when we are there.
On this particular day, we were all relaxing in the family room, snacking and catching up. Finn was laying on the couch with Cole and four or five of their older cousins, and there were plenty of adults spattered about the room talking and watching golf. Nell was getting fussy, so Billy went to get her pack and play out of the car so we could lay her down.
Finn was flopping on the couch as per usual, and inevitably one of his long legs knocked a glass into a bowl of guacamole. I told him I'd be right back and carried the glass into the kitchen with Nell to wipe it off- completely out of view of the family room. I was still wiping off the glass in the kitchen and talking with Mumpeg as Billy came walking in from outside carrying the pack and play. Probably two minutes had passed since he first left. Instead of heading upstairs to set up the bed, for some reason Billy walked back into the family room. When we talked about it afterward he didn't know why. It doesn't really make sense why he would carry the pack and play in there, but thank goodness he did, because he went in and Finn was gone. Cousins still snacking on the couch, grown ups still talking just as we had left them, but no Finn.
Billy happened to glance over into the dining room and noticed Finn's green applesauce pouch laying on the ground. One of the french doors that led out to the patio was slightly ajar. He looked out, and about a football field away, on the far border of the property, he spotted a flash of red- Finn's bright coral shorts. He was on the far side of the property's very large pond, and he had just taken a step into the water. Billy dropped the pack and play and started running.
If it wasn't for the bright coral colored shorts Finn had on that day, Billy wouldn't have seen him at all. It was a hot day and Finn was shirtless and had only socks on his feet. Besides the shorts, every other part of him blended into the sunlit background.
The pond was mucky, and the mud clung to Finn's feet and caused him to lose his balance and fall forward. By the time Billy got to him he was completely immersed and struggling to keep his face out of the water.
I was not aware of any of this. Moments had passed since Billy walked past me in the kitchen. The next thing I saw were two pairs of muddy feet walking past the sunken kitchen's window. I didn't quite process it at first- (Finn was supposed to be on the couch, Billy was supposed to be setting up the pack and play!), and then I felt a heavy sick feeling in my stomach and knew that something had gone horribly wrong.
I raced to meet them at the back door and Billy immediately burst into tears. I've never seen him like that and hope I never will again. He was shaken to the core. Finn had mud up to his ears and stood still and emotionless at his side. I will never forget the feel of his skin, cold and slimy, as I peeled off those blessed shorts. I put dry clothes on him with trembling hands, and he let me hold him. I just sat in my car in the driveway and held him. My little boy, who never stops moving, was still. I knew he was terrified.
￼ We truly believe it was divine intervention that led Billy to find Finn so quickly that day. If he had paused for a moment in the kitchen and asked me which bedroom to set the pack and play up in, if he had gone right upstairs, if he had done anything but walk directly back into the family room, he would have missed him. He would have been gone. The fact that Finn could slip away so secretively, in a room full of watchful people that love him, in the home of our family, not a public place, and that we were mere moments from utter devastation, really changed us. It is a day that will remain with us for a long time.
I know that many parents have scary incidents involving their child and water. Hopefully these events are isolated. I would like to make it clear that, although this near catostrophic event is not the norm, Finn's wandering IS. Without a person 100% dedicated to watching Finn and keeping him safe at all times, even in our home, he WILL wander. He WILL try to unlock doors. He WILL become distracted, lose track of himself and what he was doing, and float away into a dangerous situation. It has happened time and time again, and will continue to happen, because of the nature of Finn's autism. But this time, this one time, was the day when we really knew we had to take more drastic measures.
We moved out of our historical house on a busy street and into a quiet neighborhood with a fenced in back yard, with fewer doors to the outside, and no pool. We finally received a wonderful support person to help Finn at home after school and in the community on the weekdays. We took every step we possibly could to insure his safety. But we knew there was still one more we had to take.
We realized that Finn truly required a service dog specifically trained to keep him safe and prevent him from wandering. There are many reasons why an autism service dog will help Finn reach his goals, increase his independence, and add to his quality of life, but the main reason is that we truly believe a service dog is a medical necessity to keep Finn safe.
We did a lot of research in order to fully understand the commitment and make sure we were completely ready.
The process is a long one, and rightfully so, as it is a big decision that is not to be taken lightly. I submitted a lengthy application, including videos of our family, our house, our neighborhood, schedules of what our days look like, and referrals and recommendations from teachers, doctors, and therapists that know Finn. Recently and excitingly we completed our final phone interview.
I am thrilled to announce that Finn has been approved for a specially trained Autism Service Dog through the Autism Service Dogs of America!
We know a service dog will really help draw Finn into our community and foster a warm and welcoming attititude toward him. In addition to the safety aspects, we know that a service dog will create a special bond with Finn. It is so hard for him to make and maintain the meaningful relationships we know he craves, so we are excited for this for him. We have a long road ahead of us, but the future is looking bright!
It's amazing, but ASDA is already training Finn's dog! While we won't know who Finn's specific dog is until closer to the end of training, we were informed that he or she will most likely be part of the "S" class. The puppies are ten weeks old and already in training. They include english cream golden retrievers, golden doodles, and a black lab. Sully, Sage, Swift, Scout, and Sawyer.
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(I mean are they cute or what!)
I thought I'd show you all a bunch of cute puppy pictures before I hit you with the doozy- We are required to raise a minimum of $13,500 as a contribution toward the cost of training and raising Finn's service dog. It's important that we reach this goal soon so that Finn's dog is reserved for him and can start training specifically to meet Finn's unique needs. Our fundraiser goal does not include the cost of travel to and accommodations in Oregon for a week of training with Finn's dog so I can become an ADA compliant service dog handler, or the cost of travel to and accommodations in Pennsylvania for a trainer to come work with us in-home after Finn has his dog.
The process of training a dog takes about 18 months, so we have a long wait ahead (those puppies have to grow up!). During that time our family will be saving to pay for the extra costs involved that I mentioned above.
Here's where we need your help! We are asking for your tax deductible donations and help raising money to reach the BIG $13,500 number we need to pay for Finn's autism service dog. Right now it sounds like an impossible task, but we know we can do it!!!
If you can find it in your hearts and in your budgets to make a donation towards our campaign, we will be forever grateful!!! If you have a business, are an artist, or have a service to offer or item to r a f f l e, and you would be willing to work creatively with us in organizing a benefit for 4 Paws for Finn, please reach out to me directly. We look forward to collaborating in unique ways to raise money for these precious and life changing paws! If you don't think you can do anything, we promise you can! Simply share our campaign on social media. The more people we reach the better chance we have of meeting our goal.
Finally, thank you for being a part of our village, for cheering us on, and most importantly, for helping to create an inclusive community and future for Finn and children like him. Here's to always finding the ABILITY in disability!
We love you!
-The Murphy Family-
Billy, Meg, Finn, Cole & Nell
￼ *If you would like to follow the "S" class puppies and their progress, check out Autism Service Dogs of America on Facebook and Instagram! Finn is already thrilled and loves to look at puppy pictures, and I'm sure you will too! I will also post regular pictures and updates here on our page!*
- Chris Stoner
- Kara Savory
- Donna Smith
- Mandy Isaac
Organizer and beneficiary
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