When people told me getting a puppy would be stressful, I almost laughed out loud. Really? Like parenting a little guy with autism kind of stressful? Needless to say, I took their warnings with a pinch. The hard part, admittedly, is managing both the boy and the pup together.
Even while dictated by common sense, the decision not to have more babies was a tough one. On one hand, I wanted the chance to do it all again. I also wanted a ready-made friend for my son, someone to be there for him, especially later in life. But I wasn't naive, either. I realized the emotional cost of another sibling would be crippling. And what if that child also had developmental challenges?
Our compromise—if you can call it that—was a dog. After all, pets are therapeutic. They make lovable and loyal family members. For a time we considered a service dog. However, the wait was too long, the process too onerous. Then we found the perfect sister for our son: an Olde English Bulldogge (picture the standard bulldog, only taller and healthier).
Though people tend not to think beyond Labradors and Poodles for children with special needs, they should. Far from what their name would suggest, Bullies are an incredibly affectionate and tolerant breed, if stubborn.
We welcomed Rosey into the mix just before Christmas, after much planning and research. The first few days were spent getting to know each other, forming bonds. It didn't take long.
My son loves nothing more than nuzzling her on the sofa. She calms and comforts him. For the most part he is gentle, and we are teaching him to tune in to her needs. He likes feeding her snacks and greeting her first thing in the morning. He is learning to play fetch and tug-of-war.
Of course puppy life is not without its trials. My son dislikes being licked, which is kind of unavoidable with a canine. We remind him that this is how she shows her love. Equally, her whimper—her way of communicating that she is hurt—upsets him.
The real chaos comes when he is distressed. His shrieks tend to excite her. His movements are unpredictable. In his volatile state, she should stay back. Instead she chases after him, causing him to freak out even more.
I won't lie. There have been moments when I've put them both in 'time out'. And though they annoy each other sometimes, they are developing the sibling relationship I'd hoped they would.
The other day my son read a story in which a girl's pet rabbit dies. He said: "But I don't want Rosey to die." So much for kids on the spectrum lacking empathy! I assured him that she would be with us for a long time to come...
It's true she won't be there for him forever, but for now she is teaching us all valuable lessons in love and understanding.
And they called it puppy love... Pictures of these napping 'siblings' will melt your heart.