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Mary’s first word was “oggie.” Not Mommy or Daddy, “oggie.” From a very early age, she zeroed in on dogs and cats. And the dogs and cats knew it. Wherever Mary went, the pets in any household found her, and she them.

If autistic kids can tolerate them and are not allergic, pets are great first friends for autistic kids. They have been instrumental our kids’ lives. Cats and dogs want to be touched (Will was adverse to touch for a long time). They communicate non-verbally, which works out well for kids who have trouble communicating verbally. I believe that one of Will’s reasons for avoiding eye contact was that processing non-verbal information (facial expression) and verbal information at the same time was difficult. A dog’s desire for a walk is very easy to understand. Will was the dog walker/runner. Both Trixie and Daisy begged Will to take them for a run.

Trixie, our black lab and whatever mix was the dog of our children’s childhoods. She had been abandoned and chained to a tree by her former owner as a puppy. Another person in the apartment house was feeding her, but when he moved away, he called the Humane Society. That is where we found her. She was  smart, loving, protective, and deeply attached; as we were to her.  I had her put to sleep at 13 years of age due to brain cancer and seizures (12 with us). Will was away at band camp with his dad. I debated whether to tell him while he was there, but his band teacher said that it would help Will to be comforted by his fellow marching band members, and it did help.  Will was heartbroken and wept for her.  His emotions were always close to the surface. When I asked Mary how she felt, she told me that it was a bad day with flat affect. Sometimes we have a hard time deciphering Mary’s feelings; but she did feel the loss, even though it was hard for her to express it.

I found “Cat” at the Humane Society, as well. Her former owners had to give her up because they had moved to another apartment that didn’t allow pets. They must have had babies, because when we looked for a cat, I took Will at six months old with me to pick her out. As we walked by the cat pens, all the other cats ran away when they saw Will. “Cat” came up to us every time. She loved all our babies until she passed away.

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(Daisy – short legs, golden coloring, herding instinct)

Then came Mistletoe and Chris (they joined us at Christmas in 2001). Then Daisy came from the Humane Society at three years of age….a golden/sheltie mix, after Trixie died in 2006. It’s hard to believe she’s been with us six years already. She misses Will. Where is her boy, she says. Then Wendy, Tiger, and Anna joined us. So we have a full house. Fortunately, we have an big, old house. They are all spoiled, and so are we.

I recommend cats and dogs for kids with autism; for any kids really. If it is possible.

How have pets helped your family?

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