Dog therapy.

So we almost brought home a cute machine. Or at least, we almost brought home a therapeutic friend, I should say.

We popped in to the local shelter. Don’t ask me why I thought this was a good idea, of course it wasn’t. And don’t you give me those eyes – yes, I know there is no such thing as “popping in” to your local animal shelter. Especially with Bean and Bear accompanying the hub and I.

Still, we had been talking about getting a dog FOR YEARS! Pups had literally been begging us for a dog since long before Bean was a glimmer in our minds. And Bean started in on the begging soon after she could speak.

But we have a cat.

“An old cat” Bean used to say.

“A mean cat” Bean used to say.

Yes, both true.

Yet, even with these two facts in hand, Bean had still somehow formed a bond with our old bitch of a cat. It didn’t happen right away, but it happened. It happened through some tireless persistent on Bean’s part. It happened. And we never thought it would happen. it happened and it was a beautiful thing.

But, it can be said that the relationship between mean-cat and Bean was perhaps a relationship based solely on need and not so much on love. Bean began to feed mean-cat, therefore mean-cat knew she had to be kind to her. And Bean had finally given up on us getting a dog, therefore she set her eyes on mean-cat, and poured herself into caring for her – no matter how hard mean-cat resisted.

Still, it can’t be denied that Bean is a dog person and has always loved dogs. It can also be said that Bean is perhaps a bit of a dog whisperer, often having dogs that would have nothing to do with anybody else give her kisses and play with her.

From an early age she learned to respect dogs and their owners simply because she knew she would likely get a chance to pet the dog if she did so. She always asks permission to the owner before touching the dog, she always gets down to the dogs level and puts out the back of her hand before touching the dog. Over the years I have had to teach her not to “hug” dogs. I remind her that dogs rarely like being hugged because it can feel scary to them, that they don’t have arms to hug back.

So she is careful, she is respectful, she is kind.

And I won’t lie when I tell you that there is a calm that comes over her when she is with a dog. Not only a calm, but a focus. She is happier with dogs, and kinder. She will remove herself from games with peers to pet a dog, she will spend our entire time at the park offering (and often getting to) walk the owners dog, play with the owners dog, pet and cuddle the owners dog.

It used to be quite scary, actually. Because we could never be sure that she wouldn’t run off or disappear if she saw a dog. She never thought to tell us she wanted to go see a dog, even with years of reminding her and even scolding her on how important it is to ask our permission before running up to an owner and dog…she still falters. So I guess it still is a bit scary.

And of course I’m aware that pets, sometimes (and often) specifically dogs are fantastic therapeutic tools for children with ASD. But I’m also aware of the added cost. The added responsibility. The added poop!

As we quietly and relatively easily put the kids to bed tonight I thought to myself “how would this work if an 8 week puppy were downstairs at the moment?” I imagined dog whimpers and howling cries. I imagined the added irritant that we might come down to a chewed shoe or a pile of poop and pee.

I listened to the cold hard hail outside Bean’s window as I lay beside her, yes she still needs this, and reminded myself that hail does not stop the need for a dog’s walk. I thought about where we might put mean-cat’s food bowls, and if that would make her feel displaced or unloved. I thought about the least possible *overall* yearly cost of a medium to big dog: $1500.00!

So we decided against it. Not because we don’t think we could make it work, but because making it work is work. Because Bean is already dealing with so many challenges, and us along with her, that we just felt “if getting a dog doesn’t do everything we hope it would do for Bean, and also for the other usual suspects (Bear, Pups and T), then it is too big a risk for us to take on”.

And then I remembered that I had a dog growing up. And I remembered that she was lovely. I remembered that she calmed me, and helped me to be happier. Especially in some pretty dysfunctional times in my life. And she calmed my father. And she loved us both unconditionally, and through that she taught me empathy and love and caring.

When I think of that, remember her lying with her head in my lap. Remember walking her, alone (Independence people!) and having her home every afternoon to greet me…well then I’m not so sure that getting a dog for therapeutic reasons isn’t just a great idea! A “worth the risk” idea.

Luckily, or maybe unluckily, the shelter was closing when we were there so their till had been turned off and we were told to wait till tomorrow morning at 10am to adopt one of the female German Shepard/husky/Rottweiler mixed breeds. Perfect! Time to reconsider! Time to picture it and possible money troubles.

So now I am left with a choice…go back to the SPCA tomorrow at 10am and bring home a new friend…or don’t.

And it’s as simple as that.

…or is it?

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