How a puppy is helping heal my son’s broken heart

For years my husband and kids have been begging for a dog. For years I have been collecting approximately 827 reasons why we weren’t ever getting one. Stories of destroyed furniture and canine vomit were my proof that our family could not handle a dog (or maybe I couldn’t handle one).

For the past six months, I’ve been getting the doggy full-court press. My husband kept showing me pictures of adorable pups, specifically rescue dogs.

But I held firm. Who would be taking care of the dog? In spite of the boys’ insistence that they would feed it and walk it and play with it, I knew that ultimately I’d be the one with poop on her hands.

Still, I couldn’t deny the fact that a dog would be good for my two sons with ADHD, one of whom also has autism and loves dogs.

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One night, after the hundredth adorable rescue dog picture my husband shoved in my face, I challenged him to say we were interested.

And just like that, a dog was coming to our house. To live with us. Forever.

When Hannah arrived at Christmastime, a tiny, 5-pound ball of black fur, she hid under a chair most of the first day. Surprisingly, my 10-year-old, who wanted a dog the least, took to her the fastest. He coaxed her out from under the chair, picked her up and talked to her gently.

“She’s so cute, Mom. Are we going to keep her?”

How could I say no?

As the first week with our new little hound wore on, it was not my dog-loving son with autism who connected with her the most, but my 10-year-old. She barked at all the other boys, but simply wagged her tail when he came near.

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He took her for walks, he played fetch with her and he practiced the tricks she learned in puppy training. I saw a sweet and gentle side of him that I had not seen in a long time.

Although physically the biggest of my sons and often mistaken for the oldest, 10-year-old Knox is actually our third-born. He quickly followed on the heels of his twin brothers, who are a mere 19 months older than he. He took to his oldest brother Joey almost immediately, and Joey took to him. They could have been the twins. Wherever Joey went, Knox followed. Whatever idea Joey had, Knox was up for it. Every picture I have of the two of them makes me laugh from the sheer goofiness of their antics.

They were the best of friends.

But when Joey was 5 years old, he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Knox was barely 4, and he had lost his first best friend. Our house also lost laughter and a lot of happiness.

Since Joey’s death, we have put a lot of pressure and responsibility on Knox. His brother with autism and ADHD can’t always be counted on to follow through with tasks. That put Knox in the role of oldest brother to his two younger brothers, a role he wasn’t really born to play.

I know he resents it sometimes. I know he tries really hard to make everyone happy, but sometimes he just wants to be a kid. And sometimes, he tells me how much he misses Joey.

One night recently, however, he and I were cuddling in his bed with Hannah’s little furry body between us. As we petted her, he said, “Mom, I’m so glad we got a dog. I’m happier than I have been in a long time.”

His words caused a lump to rise in my throat.

“Why do you say that, Buddy?”

“I just love her so much. I’m so glad I have someone to play with and cuddle with. She makes me feel less lonely.”

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Although he didn’t specifically say he was missing Joey, I understood the meaning behind his words. The puppy only wanted love and companionship from him, just like his brother did.

All of the boys have taken to the dog now, and she is firmly part of our family. In the month that she has been with us, I have noticed something pretty great: We are all laughing more and happily playing together. I feel like it’s been a long time since we’ve done that.

I think perhaps a little puppy love has helped us all heal a bit more.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

autism photos
Image: Glenn Gameson-Burrows/Magpie ASD Awareness