We recently checked in with Tama’s family about how Harley is doing in their home. Harley and Tama were featured in our Spring 2019 Canine Listener, less than a year after becoming one of our active Autism Assistance Dog Teams. Back then, Kelli, Tama’s mom, described the friendship between Harley and Tama as one of the “best outcomes of getting Harley.” It’s wonderful to see how their friendship has continued to blossom over the last four years.
Q: How has life changed for Tama and your family since Harley has been with you for over 4 years now?
Kelli: Harley, Tama’s service dog, is a physical manifestation of peace and calm. His chill demeaner helps the rest of us feel calm too. Harley’s ‘job’ is to help Tama feel less anxious, and he does. What we never expected is that he is a calming influence on all of us. Who doesn’t love to come home to a sweet dog who is always happy to see you. And, if we’re stressed, we can sit by and pet Harley. He’s always happy to be there for any of us.
Q: Are there any specific moments where Harley surprised you over the years?
Right away, Harley knew that Tama was his person. Of course, he responds to my husband and me, but he knows that he’s here for Tama. We go on lots of walks and whenever Tama has the leash, Harley knows he’s on duty. He doesn’t try to stop every 2 seconds to smell. He stays right with Tama and keeps an eye on the adults to be sure everything is copesetic. Harley is extremely intuitive and knows how to care for his boy.
Q: What is the bond like between Tama and Harley these days?
Whenever Tama calls Harley, Harley goes right to him. Anytime Tama sits and wants Harley’s head in his lap, Harley knows. And, when Tama crouches down and says, “kisses,” Harley knows to lick his face. These are really calming, settling activities for Tama. We believe a big part of this stress reduction is getting positive attention from his ‘friend.’
Q: What is Tama’s favorite thing about Harley? What about for you?
Tama doesn’t have much expressive language, but based on observations, I’d say his favorite thing is that Harley is always there and consistent for him. He can call Harley and know he’ll come. Harley is extremely consistent in his behavior and Tama appreciates and counts on that.
Q: What are some of Harley’s favorite things to do in his downtime?
Harley loves to go for walks in the neighborhood. Every so often he’ll get to be off the leash briefly and he enjoys running and playing with us, but that only lasts a few minutes. Otherwise, Harley likes to relax on the beanbag or his bed near his boy and his family.
Q: Is there anything you wish more people knew about Autism Assistance dogs?
For Tama and our entire family, Harley is so much more than the ‘tricks’ he performs. The real benefit is his friendship and consistency. We know that their friendship affects Tama well beyond the time Harley is with him.
Harley boosts Tama’s self-confidence and self-worth, by being a consistent comrade who never expects anything and loves him just the way he is.
We know that school and basic social norms can be extremely taxing on kids with Autism. It can be exhausting to pay attention and follow expectations at school for an entire day. When Tama comes home from school, he knows that Harley will always be home, happy to see him no matter how the day has gone.
Autism Assistance Dogs are specially trained to enhance the safety and well-being of children and families living with Autism by providing a minimum of three tasks to assist with keeping children grounded and focused while presenting a social bridge for relationships and friendships. Learn more about Autism Assistance Dogs and apply to receive a dog: dogsforbetterlives.org/autism-dogs