Josh and Justine

I work as an Educational Assistant and was working with a student named Josh (not his real name) who had a service dog to keep him safe. He has autism and when he would become overwhelmed or distressed his “fight or flight” response would cause him to bolt out the nearest door and run. To prevent this from happening he was tethered to a beautiful Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab Cross Service dog. The dog had been trained by and belongs to National Service Dogs but lives with Josh’s family. NSD is an organization that trains dogs for kids who have autism. A trainer came to our school to train a few of us to be dog handlers. They showed us how to tether the dog on the bus so Josh is safe going home after school.

Out of the blue, Josh’s mother wrote a small note in his communication book saying they had decided Josh would no longer be tethered, not even on the bus. Since it was my job to put them on the bus, I was very concerned for Josh’s safety and any repercussions that might happen if I didn’t tether him and something happened. I went to several different people including my department head, the principal and the union to try to convince them that this was not safe. I had an awful feeling that something bad would happen to him if we did not tether him. Everyone assured me that everything was fine and that nothing was going to happen and if something did happen, I would not be held accountable. This was not making me feel better…only worse.

I felt very uneasy that everyone was dismissing me and my strong feeling of foreboding. I almost called it intuition but I felt that would be even more ridiculous. No one seemed to be taking me seriously. They just kept shutting the door in my face. I just felt so strongly that I had to find someone who would believe me but I was starting to wonder if something was wrong with ME!

I tried to really make my department head understand how worried I was by asking him how he would feel if someone forced him to put his kids in the car without seatbelts. I remember saying,

“All want is for this child to get home safely to his mother! Why is no one listening to me?”

The following week, my 29 year old daughter, Justine was killed in a car accident. She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. What I had really wanted is for my own child to be delivered safely to me. There was nothing I could do to make that happen but I just knew I had to do everything in my power to protect that child. It was just not the right child. 

18 thoughts on “Josh and Justine

  1. Cathy you did the right thing to speak up for that little boy. If something had happened to him, at least you would have felt you had done your best. It’s hard when you’re not the sort of person that people take notice of.
    I doubt there was anything you could have said or done to make sure Justine put her safety belt on that day, even if you had interpreted your feelings in that way.


  2. My heart goes out to you as I can’t even begin to imagine how you felt. It’s amazing how our intuition works and alerts us of impending danger. I love the way you went to bat for the young man and held strong in your convictions to ensure it was indeed the right decision for his well being. Peace and blessings to you.


  3. Oh Cathy. I think this story you have told today is a very real example of how important it is for you to have this blog and it have a wide readership. It is the stories of events in lives like yours which can have others pause for just a moment and look deeply into their own lives. Considering what is important and how fragile and impermanent our most important times and people are.

    Also…I am so sorry your voice was not heard for your student. I am such a promoter of service dogs for autistic children and adults.

    Thank you for so candidly sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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