Max’s Bea: “An angel sent from Heaven”
Service dog assists boy with rare syndrome
For 9-year-old Max, his service dog, Bea, is a security blanket, friend maker, and the coolest sidekick any kid could have. For Max’s parents, Brenna and Kirk, Bea is a godsend from Freedom Service Dogs (FSD) who helps keep their son calm and safe in the world.
Max was born with Greig Syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disorder that affects a person’s physical appearance and commonly results in global developmental delays. After his parents applied to FSD for a third-party service dog to assist Max, the gregarious boy was matched with Bea, a gentle goldendoodle who came to FSD as a puppy from a private donor. The family, including Max’s sister, Dea, took part in our Disco’s Dogs program, which provides service dogs to the families of children with autism and other developmental disabilities, and Max graduated with Bea in December 2017.
Bea is trained to lie on Max’s lap, providing weighted therapy (pressure) that helps calm him. She accompanies the young boy to his many medical appointments, where he can hold onto and pet her, which makes him feel better. Since Bea came into their lives, Max has developed seizures, so Brenna is working with their FSD trainer to teach Bea to go for help if Max is having a seizure.
Says Brenna, “Bea enhances Max’s life in so many ways. She is his friend, companion, confidant, sleeping buddy, partner in crime, bad-dream eater, and conversation starter. He is so proud to share Bea as HIS dog, and he adores the social aspect that Bea bring to his life. She allows Max to talk without speaking. He meets people wherever he goes because he likes to show off Bea. I tell everyone she is an angel sent from Heaven!”
Brenna says Bea has also enriched the lives of her entire family. “She has made our life with Max easier and more complete. She gives us purpose, love, and energy, and she forces me to exercise. Bea has also opened us up to an entire family within the Freedom Service Dog organization. We have made dear, long-lasting friendships with the families in our training program, as well as the people at FSD who have such a gift and passion for what they do. It is so easy and fulfilling to be a part of this community.”
Brenna says she is in awe of Bea’s ability to grow and learn in order to meet the growing needs and demands of Max as he matures. Nevertheless, she has words of caution for families considering getting a service dog for a special-needs child. “Sometimes Bea feels like an additional child—although the most well behaved of my children by far!—and one more being to consider, care for, pack for, and plan for.”
“A service dog is still a dog, and they are not robots or perfect,” she adds. “You need to understand that each dog, no matter how well trained, comes with their own traits and behaviors. They do require work, and some parents and families with children of special needs might not need the extra burden of caring for an animal. This is a full-time partnership that should be taken very seriously.”
Even with the responsibilities that come with a service dog, Brenna and her family have recently started to foster dogs for FSD on weekends. “The dogs are so well behaved and trained that it’s quite easy,” she says. “It’s also a way for Bea to have a weekend play date. You can see the happiness it brings to the dog to be in a home where they are loved and cared for by a family. And I also feel like FSD has done so much for our family that it’s a win-win for us to give back to them in this small way.”