Maybe you looked at the title of this article and thought, “thank you, Captain Obvious.”
I guess I can’t blame you … pets ARE wonderful! Duh. This happens to be “Pets Are Wonderful” month, in case you didn’t know. So, apparently someone, somewhere thinks we need to increase awareness.
This is also Autism Awareness Month. It is kind of funny that these two observances fall under the “April is (fill in the blank) Month” umbrella. If it weren’t for autism awareness efforts, I might not have one of my beloved pets, Daisy, in my life.
About ten years ago, I travelled to Xenia, Ohio for a news story I was doing about a Michigan family that was picking up a service animal for their youngest son, who has autism. By “picking up a service animal” I mean they were spending two weeks in training, so they could communicate with their new family member, a golden retriever named Kenai.
At the 4 Paws for Ability facility, there were families from across the country doing the same thing. It was amazing. I guess I never thought about the complexity of it all.
Service animals for kids with autism have huge job descriptions. They are trained to calm children when they are in some sort of distress. These dogs also learn how to track a child with autism, should the child wander off – or “elope.” Once these incredible animals learn the ropes, they then help train the humans with whom they will live.
During my visit at 4 Paws, I noticed one dog that always seemed to be in her crate. I never saw her interacting with a family. Each time I passed, she smiled at me eagerly, as if she were trying to tell me something.
I finally asked someone why she was not training with a family. The sad truth? After completing her initial obedience with an inmate in the Ohio prison system, 4 Paws staff discovered this sweet Golden Retriever had severe hip issues. Service animals are very expensive, so it is critical that dogs placed with families are in excellent health.
So, that’s what this golden girl was trying to tell me. She watched as I spoke with the staff about her. She stood up, beaming, when I asked to take her for a walk. As we strolled the grounds, I asked this sweet girl if she would like to come home with me. She leapt up, but a paw on each of my shoulders and said “yes!” (And, no, I do not think the dog actually spoke to me, in case you were worried.)
We call her Daisy. She was just under a year old when I brought her home in my news van. She will be ten soon. Of all the humans on this planet, this sweet girl chose me. When I am home, she never leaves my side. She waits up for me, sleeps next to me, and knows when I’m in “a mood,” any mood.
As for Kenai, she still lives with her boy, Braeden, and his family. Only, now, Braeden is a young man – a thriving young man, thanks in part to one simple truth: pets are wonderful. And that is something worth celebrating every month of the year.