For ten years, Joey lived in his own apartment in Maryland. While he valued his independence, it turns out that living alone wasn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Joey didn’t want anyone to know how hard it was for him. He had acquired four dogs, and reports that “I was taking good care of the dogs, but I wasn’t taking good care of myself.”

When it was clear that the situation wasn’t working any more, Joey moved to a staffed apartment with a roommate and his service dog Sassy Rose. Joey remains focused on independence: “this is my and my roommate’s apartment. The staff are here to assist if we need it. We’re supposed to do everything as much as we can ourselves.”

Sassy helps Joey cope with some of the challenges that come with autism. Sensory issues, trouble walking long distances, and seizure episodes can make life difficult. Joey worked with a trainer for two and a half years to teach Sassy to go for help when needed and to do simple tasks like picking up things that fall to the floor. With Sassy, he’s confident in himself: “I have autism, but I am not autism.” 

Sassy is getting older and nearing retirement from her work responsibilities, although she will stay with Joey. Joey’s team worried that if he got a second dog, even a service dog, he would lose focus on the work he needed to do for himself. With some help he set a goal to work on self-care and participating in day services, so he could build new habits before getting another dog.

Joey has really turned things around. He enjoys his home, saying “I like my yard. I like my house. . . I always wanted my own yard where I could I mess around in the flower garden. I go outside and weed. I feel like I have a purpose.”  Participating at Day Options was hard at first, but “now I love it. I help call bingo at the special needs ministry. I do my hours working and then Day Options meets up with me.” Self-care is still a challenge, but if it means he’ll be ready for another dog, “it’s worth it.” 

Joey began hearing from everyone around him that he was doing an amazing job on his goal. He decided it was time to discuss getting another dog.  He was thrilled and a little surprised when the whole team agreed that the moment was right for him to find a new dog.

When he reached out to a breeder he knew, she set aside a Shih Tzu puppy Joey named Basil Mae. Basil is already housetrained and knows the basic commands.

Joey is proud of his new life and has no plans to return to living alone. “I want to thank Aspire for everything they’ve done. . . I look forward to a lifetime full of more goals!”


Joey Steps Up, With a Little Help From His Friends