Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pets help- and so do moths, butterflies, worms, lizards and slaters.

 I have been reading recently about pets as therapy, and looking in to a program fairly close to us that provides Assistance Dogs to Autistic children.
Assistance Dogs are trained to be sensitive to the signs of an impending meltdown and will act to divert the child, they provide companionship and sensory therapy, and they are trained to find the child if they do a "runner".  The cost of the training is immense though, and even though organisations work to keep the cost of the dog down it is still many thousands of dollars more than most people can afford.

We do not have an Assistance Dog, but we  have 2 pet dogs. Charley is an almost 2 year old German Shepherd. Hugo is a 5 month old Boxer. They are both lovely dogs in their own ways.

L is very fond of Charley, and they can be found hanging out together out the back after school, or sitting together in the family room of an evening, with L patting Charley or just resting his and on Charley's side.

G and Hugo have taken a strong liking to each other. Hugo is young yet, and needs more training to contain his excitement, but he is exceptionally gentle and tolerant with G. He lets her pull him around the yard by his collar and sit next to him and hug him tight around the neck with much enthusiasm. He takes it all in his puppy stride and although he sometimes looks a bit forlorn about it all, he keeps coming back to her to check in and sit by her side while she plays.

We have 2 cats as well- Apollo and Artemis.  They are indoor cats. Apollo in particular likes to have attention. Artemis will usually be found quietly somewhere by herself. Interestingly it is Artemis who will tolerate G's attempts at affection and I watched with fascination one day as G and Artemis were snuggled up on the lounge together and Artemis let G feel her whiskers for ages without showing any sign of annoyance. I don't know how they understand that she is a bit different form the other kids, but I know for a fact that Artemis wouldn't have let anyone else in the family do that.

G also has a strong affinity for little creatures- moths, butterflies, worms, lizards, slaters..... you name it, she loves it! She often "finds" worms in the yard that she will hold and carry around until I tell her it is time to put the worm back so it can go home. She is so gentle with them, and even has rescued worms she finds on the footpath so no one can step on them or so a bird won't get them. She likes to follow after butterflies and moths to see where they are going. She recently spent a large chunk of time attempting to catch a garden lizard who seemed just as curious about her as she was about it.

What I notice is that G is just so calm and focussed around animals. There is something about them that grounds her somehow. I am working hard to teach her about how animals communicate- how when a cat flicks its tail that means it is cranky and how if you flap your hands up high a dog will think you want to play and will jump up on you to get to your hands. There is so much to learn. I hope that by encouraging her to be more observant and aware of animals needs she will also gain more of an ability to do that with people too.

In the meantime, I am grateful for our pets and the therapy they provide for our kids. They are so accepting and tolerant and patient, beyond what I can be some days! They seem to be always ready to make you feel special, and everyone of us needs more of that!

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