We recently adopted a dog. A Parson Terrier. We call her ‘Miss Bronte’ and she joins us with Mr Lockwood our cat, in making our house a home, and our world complete.
Considering this adoption, we wondered if it would be right. Maybe it would cause concern and anxiety to our son, as attention would need to be shared and as anyone who has a dog will know, there are times when you just must attend to a dog’s needs, particularly a puppy. As our son has peripheral blindness, we needed to choose a dog that was big (or tall) enough to be seen by him, but not too big that it would dominate and perhaps be difficult for us to manage as well as a wheelchair when we are out, even with obedience training.
The Labrador was our first choice and probably will always remain so. We did have one until his passing many years ago, and our son was more mobile than he is today. The temperament of the Labrador is just superb, quiet and gentle, protective and playful and oh, those eyes! Less mobile today, we needed to find a dog that was smaller and more easily handled, while having the energy and spirit to entertain and excite as it played. The Parson Terrier was ideal and importantly, this particular dog was cat-friendly.
Maybe it could be considered a little strange to adopt a dog with a young adult son with disabilities, but as our son’s anxiety and depression created a fear of leaving the house and a total dependency on ourselves as parent carers, we were looking for an intervention to help us encourage him outdoors and to understand about relationships and working with those relationships. We have studied numerous writings on Autism and understand why relationships with people can be difficult, but relationships and acceptance of animals seem to happen so easily.
If you ask officially, you will be told that there is no evidence that an animal offers any successful intervention or support to a person with Autism, or for that matter, anyone else who needs support. This is based on a lack of clinically provable evidence! We look at the evidence before us and our son has begun to willingly go outdoors again, understanding that ‘Bronte’ needs to be exercised and he has very quickly accepted a routine of when we are going, which a three local wheel-walks we will take – each one ‘strictly’ in turn, but that doesn’t matter – and checking we have Dog Coat, Lead, Harness, Poo-bags, and our own coats and walking shoes with his wheel-chair. We can now say that in the short 6 weeks we have had Bronte, we have been outdoors probably as many times as in the whole of the previous 6 months and more at ease.
The relationship between our son and Bronte is developing nicely, and increasingly they can be found sitting together calmly. There is no need for socially correct behaviour here and so no anxiousness on doing it right or having to talk or listen, just a gentle hand stroking and a warm tongue licking in return. Another relationship gain is in the number of people who will now come up to our son and talk, even in his wheelchair when previously they would walk past and not even look. As if by magic, the conversation is never difficult and everyone seems to accept his level of response or not, without question or hurt.
You will also be told. An animal is used for encouraging independence and safety, communication, social skills and inclusion. All this may be true, I’m not sure, but we have seen evidence that both our cats and our dog have had a dramatic effect on our son.
It’s not just cats and dogs, but also horses and dolphins are cited as having benefits for those interacting with them.
Remember, a dog (or cat) is for life and a big responsibility