A few months ago, in a moment of lunacy, I caved. I finally agreed to something I’d been adamantly against for years. I would never do it. It wouldn’t happen. Even though I told my oldest son when he was 5 that it would happen when he was 10, I knew in my heart that it wasn’t likely. Now he is 18. And it finally happened.
We got a dog.
Why is this a big deal? Simple: I’ve never had a dog, I am sort of afraid of dogs, I am anal about cleanliness and keeping a neat house, and dog hair freaks me out! Plus they are smelly. And they jump all over you, particularly when they are aware that you are not fond of them! PLUS I feel like I have enough messy creatures to pick up after in our house! I think those are reasons enough, don’t you?
Well… back in May, when my husband sent me a sneakily crafted email that included a photo of a greyhound, I began to question my staunch refusal to add a dog to our family. When I listed the pros and cons, I realized that the words “stress relief” and “therapy” and “lifelong devotion” far outweighed the words “dog hair” and “smelly.” When I reach the end of my life and look back, would I regret never allowing my children and husband their lifelong wish just because of a little dog hair? And what about Peter? I’ve read so much about the deep connection that often forms between kids with autism and animals. Could I deprive him of that connection?
So I changed my mind. In June, we adopted a retired racing greyhound named Athena. Official registered name: Crazy Athena. A.K.A. SuperDog. A.K.A. Mellowest Dog in the World.
Athena is four years old. She retired from her life at the race track at age 3 and then was fostered by an amazing local program called the “Greyhound Prison Foster Program.” The Greyhound Pets of America-South Carolina chapter teamed up with the S.C. Department of Corrections to develop a program in which female inmates act as handlers for the retired greyhounds. The dogs are trained to live in a family home and must be taught basics like climbing stairs, socialization with children and other animals, and to obey commands such as “sit,” “down,” “wait,” and “stay.” Click here for more information.
We’ve had Athena for seven weeks, and we have all adapted remarkably well. Our older boys are in love with her, and my husband’s stress level drops as soon as she greets him at the door. She is honestly the quietest, laziest creature I’ve ever seen! Apart from several bouts of frantic activity per day (outside, thankfully), she basically sits and sleeps all day long. She eats little, does not have a smell, sheds very little, and only barks for the doorbell and the toaster oven. When she does bark, it’s only once.
I am amazed at how well she tolerates our family’s craziness. She seems unaffected by Peter’s noises and loud toys, and she observes our comings and goings with lazy interest. She gets excited when someone comes home, especially Daddy who takes her on her evening walks. In short, she is so mellow I barely notice she is there!
So how is Peter doing with this new addition to the family? Well, Peter has been afraid of dogs for several years. We’ve decided that it’s their unpredictability that makes him fearful. In his experience, dogs bark unexpectedly and loudly. He does not like unexpected sounds. When Athena first arrived, he avoided her. Took a wide berth around her and generally avoided the living room where she normally rests. Just this past week, though, we’ve noticed Peter watching Athena from the corner of his eye, sitting closer to her, and even reaching out to touch her with ONE finger. Last night, his Dad took Peter along on the daily doggie walk. Peter sat in his stroller and, I’m told, kept reaching out to touch Athena with a finger.
This is progress! In the world of autism, ONE FINGER is progress! I predict that it won’t be long before he and Crazy Athena are best buddies.
So… we have a dog. I am surviving. I secretly think she is cute and wise beyond our imaginings. Those eyes of hers make me think she really lives up to her name: Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. I sneak her doggie treats and bites of chicken when nobody is looking.
I still vacuum the floor every day. Old habits die hard. Doggie hair, even a small amount, is the bane of my existence. But it’s totally worth it.