Friday 27 April 2018

What our dog did for our family

Autistic Anthony walking our dog

It's coming up to my birthday next week. I'll be one year short of 40 years old in a few days. It's fair to say I've not looked forward to my birthday for the last few years. It's nothing to do with being nearly four decades old though. A few years ago, on my birthday, our dog suddenly became sick. I took him to the vet that night, and a few days later, he died.

Every year since, as my birthday approaches, I feel sad. As a beagle he was just as likely to run onto the road as our autistic sons. David mourned Smithy before the rest of the family. He'd hung around the back door crying for a while the day after we took him to the vet. Anthony was overwhelmed with grief. Not something most people would associated with an autistic boy.

But the truth is the kids had never known life without Smithy. He's had a lasting impact on our family. We got Smithy from a rescue organisation shortly after getting married. I'd taken a lower paid job close to home so I could be back during lunch breaks so we could look after our family pet. 

Anthony arrived less than eight months later. He was greeted by Smithy the same way our dog greeted all the kids on arrival - with an all consuming sniff. As if his doggy body was inhaling their essence into his own.

Like me, Anthony will sometimes still miss him. And whether he or David realise, they both learned a lot from our four legged family member. This year, I feel just about OK enough to share a few of the practical things Smithy did for our boys.

Rough and tumble

Anthony has a great need to get sensory feedback and feeling of being pulled, squashed and pushed make him feel balanced. Sometimes we’d find him buried under our dog on the sofa others he’d play tug of war or be jumped over.

Smithy would encourage him and David out into the garden and help him move about and practice those gross motor skills.


One of the first words Anthony over-generalised was 'Smithy'.

 Smithy may not have been able to talk (obviously) but this let Anthony consider how else he was communicating. He learned what it meant when Smithy stood by the back door, looked sad or knew when he wanted to play.

Anthony would ask Smithy questions and figure out the answer through Smithy’s responses. This was all great for Anthony interpreting communication from others and something he could develop without the fear of getting it wrong with his peers.

David, has always communicated on a very basic level, but he and Smithy got on well and could communicate with each other when they wanted affection or their own space.


Maybe one of the first things Anthony did that was responsible was to hold Smithy's dog lead when we were out for a walk.  Anthony has pretty poor motor skills, so he had to concentrate on holding the lead and being careful when walking Smithy.  It was a really good way for him to take control and grow up.

David too learned how to behave around a pet.  How to be gentle and careful and that's growth too.

Emotional well-being

Maybe the best one of them all. Anthony really loved Smithy. There was absolutely no doubt about it. And he felt loved in return. Both David and Anthony would be delighted if somehow Smithy managed to sneak into their bedroom after lights out.  We'd find them all curled up on Anthony's bed together.

Anthony learned how to express his emotions and how to connect with another living being, by connecting with Smithy.   And when Smithy passed on, Anthony dealt with the loss with emotions and bravery in a way would never thought possible.

Man’s best friend?  More like ‘Boys' best friend’ really.


  1. Hugs to you. It's so difficult to say goodbye to anyone in the family :( x

  2. Aw that’s so sad, hugs all round. animals are more than pets, they are family. x

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