autism service dog

Dear Izzy

Dear Izzy,

BluePath Izzy

It is the anniversary of the night before you arrived; January 9, 2018. Like any expectant puppy parent, I was excited, nervous and anxious. I had been down this road before. I couldn’t wait for your puppy breath to hit me in the face or to cuddle with you as you would sleep on my lap. I also knew I may be seeing my last good night’s sleep for a while, but I didn’t care. You were arriving. You had been born in NC, transported lovingly by numerous volunteers and I was being handed your care for the next year. You were born for special work, but in that moment, your work was just about puppyhood and I was ready.

As I expected, you came into my life and stole my heart. I took you with me when I could, when I knew it would be appropriate and I knew you could learn and grow from our outing. Oh, the smiles you brought and connections you made. From our trips just around the neighborhood, slowly but surely, we would stop, greet, meet and tell your story. You were Izzy, a pup born for a very specific reason, but for right now, puppyhood was your most important work.

My mom loved your visits. You had no idea, but as a stroke victim, you filled up her otherwise quiet days. She was so proud to introduce you. We both were proud as you demonstrated sit, down, come, and later heel and would even give paw. You were the best entertainment to both her and others in the long-term care unit.

You quickly grew into your “puppy in training” jacket and you wore it so proudly. Like a little kid who quickly changes behavior when donning dress clothes for a fancy occasion, you seemed to recognize the importance of that jacket and every adventure we took. From visits to the local coffee shop where we practiced patience and settle, to entering and exiting each door, to the mall where we worked to avoid the gum or crumb you would encounter here and there on the floor, you consistently rose to the challenge. “Those eyes,” I would often hear remarked.  As you worked, you would check in, always waiting for a reward for your effort, but also connecting with me as your handler.

Though we did our work every day, the play we have had brings some of the sweetest memories. You quickly showed us your love of water and I took advantage of my love for it too. Our first time loading into a kayak, I wasn’t sure about a lab’s ability to stay in a boat, but you settled down and enjoyed that paddle as much as I did. When given the chance, you took advantage of wading and swimming. The long summer days and our proximity to a lake brought us both a lot of joy, not to mention all of those “firsts” I watched you experience as you played in the sand, surf and found every stick you could unearth.

Over the last year, you have become my buddy. In the mornings when I stretch or do a little yoga, you are my sidekick, rolling onto your back and ready for a belly rub while my intent was to reach for my toes.  You have become my fitness trainer, always ready to go out for our 2-3-mile walk, no matter the weather or day of the week.

As you get ready for your next adventure, I reflect on how much you have learned. And, of course, how much I have learned and experienced because of you.

You are now ready with all your basic household skills and so many life experiences too.  The sounds, smells, people, places we’ve traveled, car rides...what a joyful puppyhood it has been. And on the eve of the anniversary of your arrival, I’m reminded that our time together, your puppyhood, is ending soon too.

Izzy, you are ready to explore your potential, to work one on one with a professional trainer who will explore your ability to change another life, to give independence where there perhaps was little.  Thanks for allowing me to be part your journey.

All the best.



BluePath Izzy

November 2018 Graduation: Excerpts from Caroline's Speech

Caroline Sandler 2.jpg

To every puppy raiser, ever, the selfless act of raising a puppy for another person is one of pure and innocent kindness. Lyons’ raisers are here today. And we thank you; you represent all raisers. Your hands, your voice, your love, your grit, your determination, your tears and your laughter are now captured forever in the heart of the dog you so lovingly raised.  Thank you.

To all of our supporters, BluePath would still be in the infant stage without you. You are a critical and radiant component to our journey forward. Thank you for taking that leap of faith with us, so quickly and so confidently, that we find ourselves, less than two years old, graduating our first class. Your words of encouragement have been especially important. They are the fuel to our fire as we forge forward entering realms we have never tackled before. Thank you. 

Board members, you continue to push us and never let us limit ourselves. When we reach the stars, you will be there to tell us to go higher. Thank you.

Guide Dog Foundation, you called to say you have an adult dog whose temperament might be a better fit for our work than for theirs. Two weeks later, Sonny joined our path. A month later, you call again, and another adult dog, the beautiful Lyons, joins us as well. Thank you for valuing our mission and choosing to partner with us.

To our fosters. In the last year, 10 families have taken on the role of fostering dogs in their homes. The Trick family is here today, and they are fostering their second BluePath dog. You represent our local community that has stepped up in an incredible way. Thank you. 

To the families who have received these beautiful dogs. The road isn’t going to be easy, but then again, it never was. Sonny and Lyons have a big role in helping you move forward. Part of their job is easy - to bring more laughter. To bring your family together. Create joy. But the other part of the job is much more difficult. To provide safety so that your children may be better equipped to take more steps out in the world. To help your kids feel included in the world around them so that your family can better enjoy a soccer game, a restaurant, or a long, leisurely hike. Sonny and Lyons are ready.  Sonny and Lyons will step in, and they will say, “hey, we got this.”  And in time, you will realize that they do.

To Haedyn and Zayna, you are two young kids who do not understand how unsafe you can be. Sonny and Lyons are here for you. They will dig deep and level the playing field for you. Together, with your dogs, the world will become safer and with safety comes opportunity, independence, and friendship. The dogs will share your anxiety, your fears, and probably some of your chicken nuggets. But they won’t leave you and they won’t judge you.

Families, we are with you today. We are with you tomorrow. We are with you in the days and weeks and years ahead. When you signed on for a BluePath dog, you don’t just leave here with a dog, your family just got infinitely bigger and infinitely stronger and your hardships and your accomplishments will be shared by so many more shoulders.

Today is a historic occasion and I am overwhelmingly honored to be here. BluePath has no limits - of that I am sure.

Thank you.