“That was our unreal moment. When I was like, oh my god, our dog just potty-trained our son.”
Those are the words of Angela Rathwell. Her son, Jackson, now eight years old, was diagnosed with autism when he was three. Their family grew by one dog when Ramsay joined them, freshly graduated from Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Sociey, when Jackson was seven.
“When we heard there was such a thing as an autism service dog, I started doing research. It seemed to fit with Jackson’s safety issues, and who knew what else success it could bring. Even peace of mind in the future. One day I won’t be here, but Jackson will hopefully have a buddy, so he’ll never be alone,” Rathwell said.
Jackson continues to have some issues with verbal communication. When he was little, he wouldn’t hold his mother’s hand to cross the street. So Angela held one end of a leash and Jackson held the other and that was how they crossed the street together safely.
By the time he was seven, Jackson still wasn’t potty-trained. Angela says that was the big win for their family.
“Ramsay goes to the bathroom on command. The moment we got Ramsay, I could see Jackson tilt his head and watch him go. So I gave Jackson the leash, and said, you can tell your dog to go to the bathroom. That was very empowering for him,” Rathwell said.
After years of home therapy and potty training specialists, Jackson came up to his mother at the dinner table after seeing Ramsay use his backyard toilet and asked if he could use his toilet. Angela “grabbed a glass of wine, sat on the floor—and a little tinkle happened. I thought, oh, you’re kidding me. That was it, he was potty-trained, and he never looked back.”
Rathwell says that Ramsay helps the public understand that Jackson has specific needs. Where before, people might wonder why a six year old boy was drinking from a bottle, now they see the dog in a vest there with him and it’s a signal that there’s something invisible going on.
“For me, as a parent, those looks, those judgments, they don’t exist anymore. It’s almost an immediate soft, compassionate public now towards you. And it’s not something just the parent feels, I’m sure Jackson feels it too,” Rathwell said.
Rathwell emphasized that Dogs with Wings has been a true blessing for them.
“It took many people to really love these dogs with their whole heart, to pour love and patience into these puppies, it’s an incredible sacrifice. We want to share our success stories so the puppy raisers and adult raisers can see that it did make a difference in someone’s life. It’s really huge.”