Kaiyla O'Hara & Mel
Kaiyla is a vibrant, energetic, happy 10 year old girl, diagnosed with Autism and Intellectual Disability. The obstacles she faces because of this can be challenging, emotional, frustrating and cause everyday tasks to be difficult. Every day she follows a schedule using visual boards and cues, yet still requires assistance with tasks many of us take for granted. Personal hygiene, getting dressed, toileting, transitioning from one task or place to another, these are all extremely hard for Kaiyla, who strives for independence but gets frustrated and anxious when she needs help.
On March 10, 2014 Kaiyla was matched with Assistance Dog Mel. On April 22, we completed training and Mel was officially Kaiyla's new life-long best friend.
After our first few days home with Mel, it was so obvious what she had been missing for the last 10 years. The constant hand wringing caused by anxiety subsided and was replaced with lots of pats and fingers running through Mel's fur. The screams she use to let out to calm herself and drown out surrounding noises at busy places or the grocery store, were replaced with commands "Mel Sit, Mel Down, Mel Let's go". There are no more stares or comments from strangers about her seemingly odd behaviors, they see Mel, his vest, and know Kaiyla does things a little differently than others. Kaiyla spends more time chatting and engaging with peers because let's face it, who wouldn't want to meet a handsome dog and his proud new owner? Mel brings her peace when she is uneasy. Mel loves her when she is at her worst and he loves her when she is at her best. Mel walks her to the bus every morning and greets her excitedly every afternoon. Mel loves to play "go get it" and eagerly but patiently waits for her to throw his favorite Frisbee. Mel knows when Kaiyla needs a gentle nuzzle or kiss and knows when she needs that deep pressure of him lying across her lap. The feeling is mutual though. Kaiyla no longer focuses on tasks she can't do, because with Mel, she CAN do so much. She feeds him, grooms him, helps him brush his teeth, walks him, takes him to the vet and reads him a story every night. Kaiyla's speech has improved and she now tackles everyday tasks with a more can-do approach, as she is reminded that Mel needs her help, so it's ok for mom or dad to help her if she needs it. We see a more confident girl everyday and we have Mel to thank for that.
It has been a rollercoaster of a ride these last 10 years. Kaiyla has made it through countless surgeries for medical issues (unrelated to her diagnosis), switching schools and even getting a little brother. We don't know what the future holds for our beautiful girl, but we don't worry as much anymore, because now that she has been blessed with Mel, anything is possible. We can not thank those of you who have already donated monetarily, sent prayers, notes or donated to our silent auctions or fundraising events enough. We can not thank those of you who are considering donating enough. Both myself and Joe could not be more grateful to be a part of the NEADS family, Mel and all who spent their days or weekends raising and training him to be the perfect match for Kaiyla.
Please feel free to follow our journey or send personal notes to Kaiyla on our facebook page, K9 for Kaiyla