It’s been a year since Tiberius joined our family. It was on the recommendation of a grief counselor for the kids that we moved from “dog” as a theoretical concept into “okay, let’s do this.” I knew I wanted a big dog—well…to be honest—I wanted the biggest dog. It was tiny bit harder for Jon to see the benefits of a dog who potentially outweighed half the family, but he came around. Okay fine, he’s still working on it.
But how can anyone deny this?
That’s what this now-168 pound dog has brought to our family. All the drool, the splintered chair legs, the dog hair on the sofa, the church shoes lost to his puppy teeth…none of it matters compared to the growth we’ve seen in Bean. It could be attributed to a million things, but the truth is, his tremendous personal and emotional growth can be mapped directly onto the entrance of Tiberius.
Dogs don’t understand a child who is averse to touch. A dog is going to show you his love, and it will not be reserved. Part of why we opted to do the whole puppy thing instead of getting a rescue animal is because I believed the messy nature of a dog’s love would be hard for Bean. The touching, the panting, the drool, the need for petting, the getting in your space; all a challenge to a kid with autism. It seemed like bringing a small puppy in and allowing them to grow together gave us the best chance for a win. It was the right call. By the time Ty was as big as Bean, they had a solid, established relationship, and the bond was strong and mutual.
Millions of pages of ink have been spilled over the love of dogs. I could wax poetical about their selflessness, their near-empathic love, their devotion, their loyalty. Dogs are special. Anyone who had ever loved a dog knows this. What I didn’t anticipate or expect was the change in my child from that love.
In the last year, Bean has grown and changed in leaps and bursts. It’s in small things, like being willing to wear different clothes, but it’s in large things like managing his emotions and speaking clearly about his preferences and feelings. He’s broadened his food options to include fresh fruits and even tried some vegetables. He’s taken up a new instrument, and he practices with Ty, who accompanies with great baying. He has embraced new experiences under his own steam, including swimming in the ocean (sand and waves), trying a sport at school (where other people touched him), eating lunch in the lunch room (where there are lots of smells and noises), reading new books, and getting eye glasses.
We seldom have emotional meltdowns anymore, and on those rare occasions, he removes himself to a quiet spot, and will tell me clearly and definitively how he feels and what he needs. The other day, in a situation at a party where once things would have been very hard, he looked at me and said “I’m not melting down mom, I’m just mad.” That’s huge. That’s huge for a typical kid. It left me stunned— and terribly proud of him.
Can I pin this on the dog? There’s no way to tell for sure. But in the year after a summer holding devastating heartbreak, I never imagined so much healing and growth. I’m more than happy to lay some of it at the feet of this big, drooling, loyal, ball of dumb love.