The Lead with Love Story
My name is Jenna and I am the founder and president of LEAD with Love Inc. I am a single mother raising three kids ages 10, 6, and 5, working full time, running to therapies, carpooling to activities, cooking, cleaning, laundry washing, the list is neverending... I know you know the story all too well. My son Easton was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, as he was nonverbal and displaying violent fits of rage. Of course, none of us parents ever want to believe that something could be wrong with the perfect bundle of joy we brought into this world—but the fact of the matter is that it's actually been a gift in the most crazy of ways. Now those of you with children with disabilities will relate to the term “warrior”. We not only wake up every day to support our family and care for them but we are the voice of someone who can’t speak for themselves, an advocate in a school system that makes things difficult for us, the comfort to a child who lacks the ability to calm themselves, the brunt of jokes and finger pointing in public as judgement is placed on a situation people know nothing about.
As a mama warrior there is nothing in this world that I wouldn’t do for any of my children. So many recommendations and appointments and therapy sessions all geared towards the one child who needed it most and rightfully so. But as all this time and energy and individualized attention went into Easton I felt so torn as I found myself unable to give my other kids the attention they deserved as well. So I started searching for answers; something to help me. This is when I started researching service dogs. We have a resident American bulldog, no special training but basic commands and being a sweetheart and I saw how Easton interacted with her; seeking her out when upset, sleeping with her, etc. While doing this research, I kept seeing recurring themes: complicated application processes, an extremely long wait list, and a sky high price tag. I knew there had to be a better way.
I made so many phone calls and email inquiries, trying to get as much information as I could on each program and what we were getting ourselves into with each one. Lots of groups were not accepting applications. Those that were accepting them had wait lists of 1-4 years. Most groups required the entire donation of $17-25k be made before even getting on the waiting list. Now I am not sure what mother of a disabled child has that much time to wait but I surely wasn’t one of them. So I left the non-profit realm and started looking at other ways to purchase a service dog for Easton. I kept seeing what I felt were flaws in all the training programs; the family spent a maximum of four weeks out of two years being trained with their dog and learning commands and how to work with them. As a dog owner and previous trainer myself that made no sense to me... how could a strong bond develop? How was that nearly enough time to train the handlers and families?
I reached out to Vera Symonds of Trademark Kennels. I have known her and her family most of my life, as our family shepherds came from them. After talking with her, I fell in love with her training methods and curriculum. Everything made so much sense and was so user friendly.
Our pup Cap came home with us at 8 weeks old and spent stretches of 4-6 weeks with us and then back to her for more training. Throughout those stents, we would have one on one lessons, constant emails, printed out homework, etc. Easton’s main needs involved his elopement, prevention of stimming behaviors and violent outbursts, and his sensory processing issues in public places. Cap has been trained in search and rescue so no matter what the situation, I know that once given Easton’s scent to track, Cap will help me bring him home safely. He has been taught touch and press with his paws and nose along with three body parts. When given the command, Cap can help break the stimming behavior by pressing or touching Easton and interrupting Easton’s mental focus and directing his attention elsewhere. In public, they are tethered together by a hands free leash offering him both safety and a sense of comfort. The total was still a lot but I was able to pay by each session which made it more feasible for me and my family. At this moment, Cap is 10 months old and almost completely done and certified with his training. He has changed my life and the thought of it brings me to tears as looking back I don’t know how I ever did it without him. Our lives are challenging enough and a tool this helpful should be made easier to obtain while being closely regulated. That’s why Vera and I are here: we want to help you with a dog that will change all of your lives the way Cap has changed mine.