Time is often taken for granted. When you first meet someone, you never know how long that person will be in your life. People think that you need to have years of experience with other people to truly click with them, but Kim, Kristiana and their service dog, Matti, they clicked right away.
For Kristiana, the process of finding a service dog first started when she was almost three years old and was diagnosed with Autism. Her mom, Kim, talked with her Early Intervention team and with her Developmental pediatrician about the benefits of an Autism service dog, and from there her research began. During this research, Kim came across CDK, Canines for Disabled Kids, and applied for a scholarship to apply towards the amount that they needed to raise in order to be able to get Kristiana a service dog. They were thrilled when they received one. Kristiana was even more excited to get a surprise package for her future dog in the mail filled with goodies including a brush, toys and more for her future dog. It was something tangible that she was able to see and touch during the long wait. CDK was so open and communicative as we were going through the process of getting her dog,” Kim stated.
“Getting Matti was a very long process, but we finally brought her home in March of 2020.” Kim said. Kristiana and her family were supposed to go to the training class in June of 2020, but the agency they went through, 4 Paws for Ability, located in Xenia, Ohio, had a dog that they felt would be a good match and so they were moved up to the class in March 2020. “For Kristiana, it was love at first sight and you could tell that they were going to be a match from the start.” Kristiana and her family went to Ohio to train with Matti. They were there with nine other families who were also getting placed with service dogs. Kim recalled, “It was a surprise for us how it felt like her training class became a family within a family.”
Kristiana and her family were very lucky to be moved up. On the last day of class, the state of Ohio shut down due to Covid-19. They made the long journey back to Massachusetts by car, and the day after they arrived home, Massachusetts also shut down. If they had waited until her class in June, they would have been waiting many extra months for the pair to be united.
“Matti did advanced training for 18 months. She is crossed trained to work meet Kristiana’s needs due to her multiple disabilities. She’s trained for Autism assistance, mobility assistance, seizure alerts and search and rescue. She is able to track Kristiana when she elopes,” Kim explained. Matti helps with many tasks including helping to keep her calm, help her to keep her balance when she is walking and on stairs, and alerts to seizures. So far, she has pre-alerted a few hours in advance to a handful of seizures and licks her hands and feet repetitively. Kim knows to keep a more watchful eye on her. Matti sleeps with her at night and has helped Kristiana to sleep through the night for the first time since she was born.
If you were to see Kristiana today, after overcoming many medical obstacles, she looks just like any other five-year-old, and it’s easy to forget that she still has a lot going on. “She’s her dad’s daughter – she has an engineering mind. She loves to take things apart, whether or not they should be!” Before Matti came along, you never knew what to expect. Maybe it would be a seizure day, maybe a meltdown day. She has helped her in many ways, but the most important is confidence. She feels stronger and able to do more independently. This is especially true when she’s interacting with people. The first thing she talks about is, “my Matti.”
In addition to all of the jobs that Matti does with Kristiana, they have bonded and become the best of friends. They wake up together and Kristiana feeds her and takes her out. Thanks to the Coronavirus, the pair do remote learning together and Matti is never far away, usually laying under her desk by her feet. When they are on a break from classes, they are running around outside, playing ball or playing dress-up together in the playroom. Kim emotionally reflects, “Kristiana’s world revolves around this dog. Without Matti, I don’t know where we would be. It changes everything. We are so grateful to all of the people who helped bring these girls together.”
- Bailey Corley
Bailey is a Professional Communication and Journalism student at University of Maine, Presque Isle (2020)