Lauren's most recent elopement was while just she and I were shopping about about a week ago. Luckily it was under 5 minutes. But until that, things had been going fairly well. I'd almost had myself convinced we didn't really need a service dog. She'd had small episodes, like running from us at the grocery store. Just today we went out to dinner and she tried to dart between tables and go...elsewhere. Rarely, if ever, does it seem like she's trying to get to a specific place. It can be kind of dangerous in a crowded restaurant with servers carrying heavy and hot plates full of food. I pulled my back today by carrying her at said restaurant. She only weighs about 40lb, but anyone that's picked her up recently knows it's kind of comparable to picking up a 40lb bag of water. She doesn't "help" at all. She asked Greg today to "hold me tighter!". She loves the sensory input of being held really close, but her low muscle tone doesn't really allow her to hold back. We're hopeful that her dog can keep her from eloping, but also provide some of that sensory input she craves.
There are just some places we can't go. Luckily we have awesome family that loves to come get Ryan so he can do fun kid things that Lauren's disability make very difficult for our family. Tomorrow his aunt is taking him to an Easter egg hunt! It's a large public event. We just can't realistically take Lauren to a place that encourages kids to run in an open environment. If there isn't a fence, Lauren doesn't know the difference between running away and just plain running. Sure, I could go and stand directly next to her and make her hold my hand. But then Ryan is once again kind of left to fend for himself. Ryan wants to go to our public library soon. It sounds so fun and I absolutely loved our local library when I was little. But again, it's a larger area with lots of shelves to hide behind. And then Ryan gets no attention, once again. We like to say that Lauren is a two-adult child. Really, if she's the only kid she's fine with one adult. But if there are any other kids, she needs somebody just specifically for her. Because we all know how quickly she can disappear.
The practice of tethering is really controversial in the service animal world. And I get it, I really do. There are concern of injury to the dog and/or the child. We will always, 110% of the time, be working in a triad team with Lauren and Monte. This means an adult (me) holds his leash. And there's a separate "leash" connecting Lauren to Monte. She's not strong enough to drag/injure him. He can never just "take off" and drag her. We will always work as a triad. And the hope is that in time, with bonding, Monte will block her from running and alert us if she tries. But until then, we will be working as a tethered triad team. Giving Lauren the extra space to safely explore her environment has the potential to be life changing for her. Most 5 year olds are not required to be physically touching a parent at all times. But Lauren needs that reminder in order to not elope. And if she does elope from the house, or at a mall, or park, or somewhere else she may not be physically connected to Monte? He's trained in search and rescue. He has been working specifically with her scent. Specifically to find Lauren.
The feeling of your child being missing is something that can't be explained unless you've been there. Lauren's "big" elopement, where she was gone for over an hour and the police found her, I didn't even find out until after the fact. (I was out of town). And still, finding out this happened made me feel like my heart stopped beating. What if she gets hurt, or worse? What if she's kidnapped? She's so trusting of adults that it terrifies me. Parenting any kid is hard. Parenting a kid with a disability can be doubly hard...and exponentially rewarding. I view Monte as another tool in our toolbox to help us keep Lauren safe.