Austen & Murdoch

Murdoch: Mending a broken world

Service dog soothes girl with autism

Eleven-year-old Austen is a bright and creative young girl who loves art, anime, and Murdoch, the FSD service dog who helps with her autism-related differences. As part of Autism Awareness Month, we want to share how “Mur” has changed Austen’s life. “Sometimes the world, it kind of seems to me like it’s broken into pieces, and it’s really stressful when that happens,” she says. “Mur can release all that stress. He can do anything.”

When Austen’s family applied for a service dog to help with her autism, Austen took it upon herself to learn everything she could about dogs in general and service dogs in particular. In 2018, FSD matched Austen with Murdoch, a gentle, goofy goldendoodle who came to FSD as an owner surrender. Then Austen and her mother, Jenny, participated in our Disco’s Dogs program, which provides specially trained service dogs for families of children age 5 and older who are on the autism spectrum or have other developmental disabilities. Austen and Jenny worked with Laura McGaughey, one of our professional trainers, to train Murdoch in tasks that help Austen feel calmer in crowds, increase her comfort level in stressful situations, enhance her social interactions, and assist with managing what she calls her “big feelings.”

After more than six months together, Austen says having a service dog has made her more responsible, more independent, and happier overall. “We walk together on the trails by our house, I feed my doodle, snuggle him, and tell him he’s a good boy. Murdoch is my best friend furever. He spreads Mur glitter wherever he goes so everyone in Mur’s presence feels happy. I love coming home from school and seeing his furry face poking out the door. He warms up my heart with his happiness.”

Jenny says that having Murdoch as an autism service dog for Austen and a new member of their family has been overwhelmingly positive. “Murdoch has been able to be all of the things we hoped he would be for Austen. He is an unfailing buddy and a companion for her in all kinds of places, such as restaurants, concerts, school events, and trips. She happily does all kinds of things for him, and we are so glad that taking care of him is helping her practice skills for independence in a wonderfully motivating way. He also opens up all kinds of social opportunities, and Austen always speaks with confidence about Murdoch whenever she is asked about him.”

Austen wants other kids with autism to know that having a service dog requires patience and dedication. “Comfort in working with your dog, and the fact that you have your very own pooch, can take some time to settle in,” she says. “I felt uncomfortable at first with Mur, but now we are a flawless team.”

Mom Jenny also admits that training Murdoch had its ups and downs, and that it took some time for each family member to work through what their role with him would be. “While it is a commitment for sure to care for him, the benefits far outweigh the challenges,” she says. “We couldn’t be happier with our choice to bring Murdoch into our lives.”

Austen, Murdoch, and Jenny will be attending an upcoming Disco’s Dogs class to teach participating kids how to make fleece dog tugs. Learn more about our Disco’s Dogs program.

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