Autism Dog Ryder Wears His Joy On The Outside
Meet our latest SuperDog nominee Ryder, his owner Ruth Gregory nominated him in the category of carer. This autism assistance dog is a true hero.
Sometimes miracles come with four paws, a loving heart and a wagging tail.
My name is Ruth Gregory. I am 25 years old and live in Plymouth with my Assistance Dog “Ryder”. This is the story of how my remarkable dog helped me to live a life I never thought I could.
I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 17. For the first time, I was able to understand the reason for my feelings of isolation, my struggles when trying to socialise and my sensitivity to sensory stimuli. In the years immediately preceding and following my diagnosis, I was gravely ill. The symptoms of the unknown illness that would later be diagnosed as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome caused a great deal of pain, especially when eating. I developed food aversions and my weight plummeted.
Whilst hospital stays saved my life, the ordeal of tube feeding and being in an unpredictable and unfamiliar environment caused sensory overload and extreme anxiety. At home, my meltdowns were occurring every day. I was unable to leave the house without my mum and I was completely mute for a period of months. I saw my dreams for the future crumble as I had to drop out of school just before my final A-Level exams.
I vividly remember praying in my hospital bed after being told that I may not live to see the coming Christmas. I asked for a special friend to help me through the most difficult times of my life.
Two years later, that prayer was answered.
Desperate for help to relieve the anxiety that triggered my severe daily meltdowns, my mum contacted Autism Dogs CIC. In December 2016, I was introduced to a bouncy young Springador called Ryder. He was the most beautiful dog I’d ever seen.
His big ears flopped down like folded napkins and his tail wagged so much that his whole body seemed to wiggle along with it. My sad heart met the most joyous and enthusiastic soul. I cannot adequately describe how special this moment was because this was the first time I had smiled in years!
Before delivering him to me, the incredible team at Autism Dogs CIC trained Ryder to perform bespoke tasks such as reminding me to take my medication by responding to an alarm. He was taught to alert to anxiety and provide deep pressure therapy to combat the meltdowns that caused me to cry and hit my head in distress.
The impact was immediate. On our first day as a working team, Ryder gave me the confidence to eat lunch in a cafe. A month later, we moved into a flat of our own. I was sleeping through the night for the first time as he provided sensory regulation and Deep Pressure Therapy as I slept.
Read More: Amazing Assistance Dogs: our SuperDog Awards hero's in the carer category.
Ryder helped me to see the world in a new way. It wasn’t so scary when he was there to help and support me, and this gave me the confidence I needed to access the community.
When my health deteriorated, Ryder quickly learned new skills to help me. He began to fetch water and medication and even learned practical tasks like removing my socks and taking clothes out of the washing machine when I was too weak or in too much pain to do it myself. After waking from major surgery, I found Ryder waiting to hold my hand as a physical sign of his loyalty and love.
Ryder has repeatedly proven himself to go far above and beyond the call of duty. He has alerted me to a break-in and barked for help when he’s found me unconscious on the floor. He even retrieved a phone and laid beside me when I called for help when I had a concussion after hitting my head on the side of the bathroom sink. He did all of this despite having no official training to do so! He never leaves my side.
If I am crying, he is there to lick my tears away. If I am happy, he jumps with joy. If I am in an ambulance, he is there. He has even gone into a CT scan machine with me before it was turned on to help bring me out of a panic attack. No matter how I am reacting, I can trust Ryder to face every situation with steadiness, helping me to feel safe and calm. He was a source of light in some of my darkest days, whether providing practical assistance or making me laugh with his many antics when off-duty and covered in sand!
In truth, Ryder saved my life.
In fact, he has done much more than that. He has given me a better life than the one I thought I had lost. Now I am happier, healthier, and more secure. With his support, I could eat to regain my strength, live a life without meltdowns and even develop my skills in painting, make new friends and become actively involved with the work of Autism Dogs CIC.
Part of my role as autism ambassador also involves spreading information about the amazing benefits of autism Assistance Dogs and it fills me with such happiness to see more and more autistic children and adults finding hope, growing in confidence and achieving things they never thought they could.
Read More: How Pets as Therapy changes lives.
I speak and write about the ways an assistance dog can reduce anxiety, alleviate meltdowns, prevent self-harm, provide the confidence needed to access the community, workplace or education. Most important of all, seeing Ryder’s love, loyalty, skill and dedication to his job has helped others to find a friendship just as wonderful as ours.
We say that Ryder wears his joy on the outside and I feel so blessed that he has chosen to share that joy with me. My wonderful friend and hero has demonstrated that the love of a dog can help to heal even the deepest pain and bring hope into the most hopeless situations. He is beside me for every achievement, whether big or small, and every step is possible because of him.
Read More: 10 Amazing Assistance Dogs: nominated for SuperDog Awards