My husband never wanted a dog. My children wanted one desperately. I was allergic, so we just assumed we would never EVER get a dog. So you can imagine what happened next…
My middle son has serious anxiety and panic issues and we had noticed that he calmed ALL the way down when he could sit with a dog. His school at the time had a service dog, and he would angle for extra Tavish time. He was so calm and happy with dogs. The idea that he needed a service dog took root. His doctor supported the idea (she had a dog she brought with her to the office), his therapists, his teachers…everyone.
I am horribly allergic to dogs–dog hair, fur, dander, saliva, the mere energetic essence of dogginess.
And yet, here I am holding my dog Daisy next to my face. My sister sent me a text message after she saw the picture: “Uh, why are you holding a DOG next to your face?”
Because she’s MAGIC! I didn’t believe it was really possible, but here we are. Daisy is a cavachon, a mix of bichon and King Charles cavalier spaniel. Two of my friends have cavachons and recommended the mix as allergy friendly. I was prepared to take allergy medicine for the next 15 years if it meant getting my son the companion dog he clearly needed.
Then something wonderful happened…after about a month or so, my little bit of sniffles when I washed Daisy DISAPPEARED. I could take a nap on the couch with her basically sitting on my head…and NO SYMPTOMS. And very little shedding.
Daisy has become the entire family’s therapy dog. Kid 2 likes to snuggle with her during story time before bed. I’ve found Kid 1 asleep on his bed in the middle of the day with Daisy’s head on his chest. He also take her with him for trips to the beach and “clear your head” drives. I crave my walks with her twice a day and find her warmth and 15 lbs of weight leaning against me to be incredibly calming. My husband and I discovered we can thrust her into the arms of a cranky kid and 3 seconds later, the child is magically transformed to a bundle of love…who is suddenly better able to communicate exactly WHY he’s so cranky. Like I said, MAGIC.
So, why get a dog if you have a special needs kiddo?
- Many kids can form a connection with a dog before they can form a connection with a peer.
- Companionship–and a very adoring creature to talk to. I’m amazed by the creative conversations my kids have with the dog.
- Safety–from barking to let you know something is out of the ordinary, to having the child become more aware of physical safety in order to protect the dog.
- A dog’s mere presence can be very calming.
- Petting a dog is a sensory positive experience for a lot of kids.
- An opportunity for care taking and responsibility. Being successful with basic pet care can be a self esteem booster.
- Learning positive pet discipline also works with the kids (shhhhh!)
- Being the alpha in a relationship can also boost a kid’s self esteem.
- It gives kids (and adults) something approachable and appropriate to talk about.
- A companion dog can act as an anchor for someone with anxiety or chronic illness.
Many moons ago I attended a writing conference and author Amy Tan showed up…with her companion dog. At the time I rolled my eyes, but years later I learned she had debilitating Lyme disease and her dog helped her cope with the waves of anxiety that she would experience.
- Exchanging looks with a dog raises oxytocin and is less difficult for many people than locking eyes with another person.
- I also found having a dog reduced my fear of other dogs (hey, having been bitten by
a German Shepherd at age 4…I had legit reasons), especially since we got Daisy as a puppy.
- Helps both kids and adults with PTSD manage daily living.
- Dogs are easier than kids. There I said it. Don’t hate me. Adding Daisy to the family mix was so much easier than I ever could have dreamed. All upside as far as I can tell.
There are several different breeds of low-allergen dogs. Now, the common disclaimer is that no breed is 100% allergen free. But here are some dogs that friends of mine have had excellent luck with:
Cavachon, Bichon Frise, Shih Tzu, poodles, labradoodles, Golden doodles, Yorkshire terriers, Wheaton terrier, terrier mix, Maltese/maltipoo.
Because we were looking for a specific hybrid, we went through a breeder. However, if you don’t have allergies as a top concern, please consider a rescue dog. Many excellent and loving pets are available at an affordable price and, honestly, skipping the potty training and furniture chewing phase has its allure. My friend Thalia got her dog through a prison training program and says he’s the perfect dog, best dog she’s ever known. Good with kids and her chickens!
Therapy dogs can be trained to identify seizures, low blood sugar, break falls, keep kids out of the street or bodies of water, pull wheelchairs in a bind, plus offer nonjudgemental, unconditional love.
For more information about service dogs:
I’m not saying cats aren’t wonderful…I’m just saying I think dogs bring something special to families with special kids.