This post is a bit of a divergence from what the blog name suggests you’ll find. There is no craft or decorating, as you’ll see in the pictures taken in my well-lived in living room. Some thrift is shown and the wife and mom parts are evident. It’s more of a getting to know the blogger post. I hope you enjoy it, learn a bit about pet therapy. I’d love feedback on whether this kind of post is interesting to you, my special online friends, my readers.
It’s long been said that relating to animals can help people with disabilities, such as autism, learn to relate to people. In fact that is how I persuaded my NOT dog loving husband to let me bring our first dog into the house. It had to be from a pound or something (Animal Friends provided ours) so there was little cost. It had to be a standard poodle; I knew I wasn’t allergic to them, they had great temperaments, not yippy like their smaller counterparts, etc. I grew up next door to a family that bred standards and I loved them, there was just no down side I could see. I found Boo, a 12-year-old partially blind, partially deaf, arthritic standard (whose owner had to go to a nursing home) and brought him home, spayed, shots and all for all of $25. Our son with autism was very active, maybe 4 years old, running (literally) laps through our open floor plan ranch almost all day, not really paying attention to anything. Of course it wasn’t long before he tripped on poor Boo, just lying on the floor snoozing, and landed knees in Boo’s ribs. Witnessing this, I had a second of fear, but Boo, without a sound, just got up and found a safer place. It was three days before he barked in our home, though he barked plenty at the vet who kenneled him for Animal Friends so I knew he could. Hubs was instantly converted. Our son treated Boo like a really big stuffed animal (45 lbs.) and gradually moved on to more appropriate relationship.
Boo’s age and failing health made us realize this would not be a really long-term arrangement and hubs started searching for poodle puppies when we’d had him only 2-3 months. Two breeders here in CT got, in the late 80s, $800 and $1000 for pups. Way out of our league, so he went on to neighboring states. A breeder in NY state had 2 litters, close in age, with at least one pup that would not be able to be AKC registered (because of a white mark on his brown chest) and would sell him for $300. Still not cheap but so determined was hubs, he spoke with the breeders several times and we finally, on December 5th, kept both kids out of school and started the drive I thought would never end to Leatherstocking, NY. It was beautiful that day in CT; it was snowing with ice mixed in as I drove the winding roads of mountain country with Boo on a bed in the back of our Chevy wagon, 2 kids fighting in the back seat, hubs navigating and me white knuckling it to the farm. Never a winter puppy again, I swore to myself.
We were all overwhelmed by the warmth of the farm, literal and figurative, and the owners, who were amazed we made the trip in that weather. Our son wanted a brown puppy just because. The one (with the white spot) we went for was smallish and younger. The breeders took pity on me and offered an older pup for the same price even though it was perfect and AKC quality, we just all had to get along. Gimpy Boo was glad to be in the warm farmhouse and he didn’t care what a pup did to him, typical of him anyway. One pup was biggest, apparently strongest and took to us and I, especially, to him. But he was black; major issue for one with autism with a heart set otherwise. They let Dad into the room, a lean, 75 lb., 16-year-old who acted like a puppy himself, putting front paws on hubs shoulders (he’s 6′ tall). “You sure you want a dog this big?” asked I foolishly. Of course. So Prancer came home with us. A Christmas gift to the family and since I would be caretaker I at least insisted on choosing the name.
This is Angus, from poodlerescuenewengland.org, available now. Prancer was like him, but much more handsome, in our opinion :-). Please check out their website, they do awesome work.
We’ve had 4 more since, including the 3 we now own, almost always at least 2 at a time. A local family gave us Kelly, as round as she was tall, because she was anxious in their home and ate everything. Here, she lost 30 pounds and was a great addition to our family. Another, Lucy, is from Poodle Rescue of New England, and I would highly recommend looking for a rescue. She came to us after a lengthy foster situation, spayed, shots, etc. and they did a screening on us that I imagine rivals that for human adoption/fostering. It blows my mind that people give up these dogs, but they do. No denying her a window view!
Another, Apollo, a brown one finally for sonny, was a gift from our groomer/breeder out of a litter of 10. Years later our son, who was working full-time at the time, bought our youngest, Wynonna, an apricot pup, negotiating the price and everything. How much of his growth emotionally and relationally was attributable to dogs no one can say, but I can say a more empathic companion you could never find. When one of us is not up to par on any level, at least one dog picks up on it and comforts as needed.
Wynonna, the puppy, snuggles with old man Apollo on the couch. She’s really a lover.
It is possible to train these very intelligent dogs formally to be therapy dogs , just as FIDELCO trains shepherds (usually) to be guide dogs. A friend who has a multiply disabled daughter has a pup in training to help her with anxiety in public. Dogs of many breeds have been trained for everything from hearing a phone/doorbell, etc. and alerting its deaf owner, to detecting an oncoming seizure (part of my friend’s dog’s job-hopefully-when training is complete). I’ve seen nursing home patients light up when the home’s dog comes to visit them. Now the dogs for living in nursing homes don’t need the same degree of training as a more specialized dogs, but they can be just as important to the quality of life of one who needs that level of care and hence, restricted freedom. My father’s last days were in a nursing home (he had brain cancer) and he loved seeing the home’s dog. I was hospitalized once when a woman came in with 2 highly trained therapy dogs and all the patients gathered in the family lounge area vying for a turn with one of the dogs. They surely brightened my day. I was missing my dogs!
What experiences have you had with dogs? I’d love to hear from you!!