by Kylie Zarro, BluePath Intern
In 2018, BluePath partnered with the New York Rangers to train an autism service dog named Ranger. Under the guidance of his puppy raiser, Saxon Eastman, Ranger spent his days training at Madison Square Garden and with the Rangers team learning the skills he would need one day.
As Ranger progressed in his training, it was decided that he would be better suited as a companion dog for my brother Dan. Below are some stories from Ranger’s first year with our family; I look forward to sharing more moments in the months ahead.
Ranger joined our family on June 15th 2019. He did not have very much time to settle into his new home in Ossining, NY before we packed him up and moved him into a sleep away camp in upstate New York for the whole summer. Knowing that Ranger spent the first 17 months of his life living and working in the city, our family was nervous not knowing how he would adjust to his new wooded environment. It was going to be a big change for him.
Ranger pleasantly surprised us with how quickly he adapted. No longer did he hear the bustling city sounds. He began to accustom himself to the sounds of 300 campers laughing, singing and playing all around him, as well as a new introduction to snakes, crickets and sticks…lots and lots of sticks!
Throughout the summer, Ranger provided comfort to all the counselors who were far from home and missed their own dogs. He loved attention and making people feel good. He was overjoyed when swarms of children gathered around him to play and learn more about him. Ranger had quickly become a family dog to everyone with his affectionate personality and zest for playing fetch.
Summer quickly faded to fall in Ranger’s new life as a companion dog. His partner Danny put in long hours at school. Ranger’s new assignment was to help Danny unwind and the pair began the routine of taking walks after school. Ranger’s mom called these adventures “walk and talks”.
For the first time in his life, Danny showed an interest in walking the family dog. Ranger’s gentle ways and skillful ability to walk calmly on a leash, allowed for Danny to take the lead. While holding on tight to Ranger and walking through the neighborhood, Danny was able to feel the stress of his day in high school melt away and he began communicating better with his family. On these “walk and talks” Danny would share his day, his worries and his successes as well.
Ranger had a way of soothing Danny and a relationship of trust began to build between the two of them.
As Halloween drew closer, our family had a fun time deciding what costume to buy for Ranger. After a unit on ocean fish in Marine Biology, Danny decided to dress Ranger as a great white shark. When the costume arrived and we slipped it on Ranger, he eagerly posed for photos. All his training experiences of wearing his Ranger’s Service Dog vest came in handy. He wore his costume with pride and Danny and Ranger made an impressive showing for Halloween.
Ranger’s first holiday season with our family was very memorable. Our house was filled with twenty five relatives for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ranger stayed calm and settled quickly at the foot of the person who gave the best belly rubs. It was heartwarming to watch Ranger make his way from person to person offering comfort and providing laughter.
Winter passed and spring came. Ranger and Dan began many new adventures. The two of them discovered a new favorite hiking spot, complete with wooded trails and a lake. They made a good pair yet again, as Danny loved to throw sticks into the lake and Ranger was enthralled with swimming out far in the lake and returning with the sticks Danny threw. Finding new trails to explore each day became a great comfort to Danny as his routine was taken away and his world was turned upside down with the new limitations of a quarantine.
Having a sense of routine is very important for a person with autism. Learning from home without the security of knowing when he could return to the activities that gave him comfort was very disconcerting for Danny. Ranger stepped in and provided Danny with the security he needed. He could walk for hours in the woods, fetch sticks and balls without fatigue and settle by Danny’s side when he needed to decompress.
The Ranger pup turned companion dog became a companion dog for the whole family. Whether he makes us laugh with his endless antics, surprises us with his love of anything tossable and retrievable or just sits by your side allowing you to rub his fluffy scruff for hours, this dog is one who just makes you feel good. Autism brings with it a high level of stress and worry about your loved one, but with Ranger by our side our lives are filled with more laughter and joy and that is a beautiful thing.