Kainoa Niehaus is a 5-year-old boy with autism who experiences social interactions on a daily basis. He wouldn't let his mother, Shana, hug him or dress him. But he looked like a whole different boy the day he encountered the Tornado.
Kainoa and her mother traveled to Ohio from Japan to meet her service dog, Tornado the Golden Retriever. After two years of waiting for a dog to be available, the time has finally come. And it was emotionally draining for my mom.
“I don't know why, but people always ask us why we sometimes put assistance dogs with children. Let me help you figure out, who is a mom who knows firsthand:
“See this moment?
I’ve never experienced a moment like this.
“I thought about not sharing it for the embarrassment of my ugly cry face, but I decided it’s too important not to share.
This picture was taken near the end of the day after my autistic five-year-old was finally able to sit down with his new Service Dog Tornado. He flew across the entire ocean, stopped in multiple states, and uprooted his entire routine to travel the globe for this. He was so overwhelmed through the day that he had to leave to take a break for a couple of hours before he could come back. This boy is the strongest child I have ever met; he has faced countless rude and ignorant adults and children who do not understand him, who have hurt him, and who have not valued him because he is different. This picture captures the face of a mother who saw her child, who she can’t hug, wash, dress, snuggle and touch freely lay on the new Service dog of his own free will, with a purposeful unspoken attachment. This is the face of a mom who has seen her son experience countless failed social interactions on the playground in an attempt to have a friend. Any friend. Any kind of connection. She has sat with her son while he has cried at night for months because he has no consistent connections outside of the family no matter how hard he tries and no matter what he works hard on in his Autism therapies. It doesn’t transfer to the natural occurring world for him. And now she is sitting behind her son silently watching this moment, with the air sucked from her lungs, and no words to say.
Holding her mouth and silently crying because she doesn’t want to distract him from the moment and break him away from a pure, honest, and truly fulfilling moment for her son-of his own free will. This is truly magic. Words cannot explain it.
“I have cried so many times for this boy, but this is the very first time I have cried for a reason like this.
“It’s new, it’s painful, it’s wonderful, and it’s grateful. I will always stand behind this boy (probably still crying 😂) but I am grateful that he will have Tornado to stand beside him. The 4 Paws magic is real. The wait is long, but this moment right here makes it worth every moment of waiting. It’s worth every fight for services for my son, every diagnosis, every new provider, every dollar spent, every paper filled out, every school meeting, every shed tear, every step forward, every step back, and every wonder of the unknown future. Somehow because of this- because of Tornado- I know everything will be okay. 🐾”
What an incredible difference service dogs can make in the lives of so many people. Congratulations to Kainoa and Tornado on their new special friendship.