April is both National Autism Awareness Month and Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month. You may wonder what these two things have in common. You may be surprised by the answer.
At Heartland Small Animal Rescue, we often rescue animals from situations where they are being mistreated, abused and neglected. Also, at Heartland, we adopt these same dogs to families that have special needs children and many that have autism. The result is quite amazing!
I will tell you the story of my own son and the first dog he accepted into our family. Davyn has autism, a sensory disorder, an immune disorder and a long list of other health issues. He had a fear of all dogs, big and small. He was terrified of their unpredictable movements, hated their wet tongues and the fact that they smelled like dogs. We had to walk cautiously in our neighborhood, changing sides of the street to avoid every dog. Saying Davyn didn’t like dogs was a huge understatement. However, the rest of our family loves animals. My husband and I did not want our son to fear dogs and knew if we could find the right dog, he would love them like we did.
My daughter and I were the first to meet Buster at the adoption event. He was a senior dog, calm and sweet but rather large. He had been abandoned by his family and found as a stray. When the shelter called his family to reclaim him, they would not. They left this dog of 11 years scared and alone at the shelter. I was immediately drawn to him but was very skeptical that Davyn would even consider letting a big dog come into our house. We brought Davyn to the adoption event to meet Buster and to my surprise, he said he could come home with us.
The friendship that has developed between my son and Buster is nothing short of a miracle to us. Buster is truly Davyn’s best friend. For a child that is mostly home bound and has few friends outside of his family; this is a big deal. Buster is his comfort during storms and lies by him when he is sick.
Buster has done more than just befriend my son, though. He has taught Davyn not to fear dogs. We foster all kinds of dogs now, big and small. He accepts each into our family with love and affection. Children with autism often struggle to understand people’s emotions and often can seem oblivious to sadness and pain. Davyn has taken a particular interest in learning each foster dog’s story. He asks about what they have gone through and has showed true compassion for the first time. He pets them when they are nervous and scared in their first days in our home. He tells them they will be okay. He is excited when they are adopted. The strides Davyn has made simply by interacting with these abused, neglected and scared animals is remarkable.
So, you see, Autism Awareness Month and Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month go hand in hand in our family. Our child with autism has made it possible for us to save animals and the rewards we have received in return are priceless.
Please visit our website at www.heartlandsmallanimalrescue.org to learn more about fostering and adopting.