By Gay Norton Edelman
A Boy's Best Friend
Wendy Falk didn't set out to find a dog that would transform her 11-year-old's life. The Oshkosh, WI, mom just wanted her son, Jarod-diagnosed with autism at 18 months-to overcome his terror of them. "Our neighbors and my brothers have dogs," says Wendy, 37. "Jarod would have a meltdown anytime he saw one." Worse, she says, "He couldn't connect with people at all." Photo credit: Christina Hyde
A friend at the school where Wendy taught told her about a puppy he was raising for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a national organization that provides dogs who alert their deaf owners to sounds like the phone ringing, perform tasks for the physically disabled such as turning on lights, and help the developmentally disabled overcome social isolation. Wendy thought, Could a CCI dog help Jarod? "I desperately wanted him to have a friend, someone to give him unconditional love," she says.
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In the meantime, Jarod, then 9, and his two younger sisters asked their parents for a cat. They all went to the shelter, where "this huge cat wrapped himself around our ankles," says Wendy. Moose quickly became part of the family. "A week later," says Wendy, "my neighbor called and said, 'You have to come over.'" Jarod was on the floor with the neighbor's dog, gently stroking his fur. Wendy realized that taking care of Moose, combined with the cat's affection, had helped break down Jarod's fear of other animals. Maybe he was ready for a CCI dog.
In May 2011, Wendy, her mother-in-law and Jarod traveled to the CCI training center in Ohio to meet Flash, a Labrador and golden retriever mix, and learn how to work with him. The boy-dog connection was immediate.
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Two weeks later, they brought Flash home. The dog's main job is to calm Jarod, who is prone to anxiety. Upsetting changes in routine and hurt feelings can cause him to lose control. When this occurs, he says, "Flash, lap!" and the dog puts his chest and front legs over him. "I give him a hug," says Jarod, "and snuggle his cute fur. Then I feel happy." The weight, warmth and affection soothe the boy, and help him learn to quiet himself on his own.
Jarod has made strides that Wendy never dared imagine. When he and Flash are out in public, Jarod happily answers questions about his dog. And he's more spontaneously affectionate at home. Plus, the routine of Flash's daily care has built his confidence. "Flash doesn't care that Jarod is different," says Wendy. "He doesn't judge."
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Now, she says, "Rather than retreating into his own world all the time, Jarod is part of ours. He's dreaming of a life he never knew existed. He says, 'I want to be an architect. I want my own family. I want to go to college.'"
Flash and Jarod? Sure, the two are a working team. But they're also like any boy and his dog-pals romping through the living room, playing fetch in the yard, and cuddling up together on Jarod's bed at the end of the day.
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Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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