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'Parenthood' Goes to the Dogs

Sept. 20, 2012 | Beth Arky

When I settle in for my weekly fix of Parenthood, I'm always prepared for an emotional roller-coaster ride. But this episode was particularly wild. As an over-the-top dog lover, I knew I was in for it as soon as I saw Kristina cooing over puppy websites on her laptop. When husband Adam registered his skeptical but admittedly legitimate concerns—"I love dogs but I also know what a royal pain in the ass having a puppy can be"—she responded readily that "research shows that this dog would be good for Max," their Aspie son. "They're compatible with kids on the autism spectrum." 

Max and a puppyI know I feel happy around furry friends who are always excited to see me, provide unconditional love, and—this is key, now that I'm a mom—don't talk back. And Kristina's right, there are studies saying pets, and dogs in particular, help those on the autism spectrum in a wide range of ways, from improving socialization skills to providing comfort and decreasing anxiety. Learning to bond with a cat or dog may, for example, help an autistic child interact with people. A child or teen like Max, accompanied by a dog, is bound to draw other kids, and potential friends, while the pet provides a natural topic of conversation.

Jean Winegardner, who blogs at Stimeyland, doesn't need to see statistics to be convinced. "I think animals can be a really great, low-pressure way for people on the spectrum to connect with another creature," says the mother of three boys, including autistic son Jack, 9. "I've watched my son bond strongly with his pets, especially our late cat, Izzy." Winegardner, who wrote recently about coming out about her own autism, says, "I know that I have always felt a kinship with animals as well. They can be both family and friend without all of the complicated social interaction."

There were some twists and turns along the way, but by the end of the episode Max and his formerly leery father had adopted an adorable black and white puppy. I'm sure I wasn't the only viewer thrilled to see the often remote-looking boy so overjoyed by his new pet. But based on the jolting finale—no spoiler here, other than to say I could have passed on this particular cliff-hanger—Max isn't the only Braverman who will be seeking comfort from an always-loving friend.

Stay tuned for an upcoming piece by Beth Arky exploring how companion, service, and therapy animals can help children with psychiatric and learning disorders. 

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northstar1 · Oct 01 2012 Report

As a fan of this cutting edge show, I confess to being disappointed with the writing of the ‘Left Field’ episode. We seemed to be left with the notion that Max was to get a pup from rescue or a pet store, both of which would be terrible choices for Christina and Adam to make for their son with autism. Autism assistance dogs are affordable, and as most quality organizations are structured to be nonprofits, autism assistance dogs are bred carefully, and this is not for some elitist notion of beauty, but for soundness and temperament. Children with autism are at greater risk of a dog bite from a rescue dog due to their unpredictable behavior and vocalizations/movements. The Bravermans should take more care here with their vulnerable son. Kind regards, Patty Patty Dobbs Gross Executive Director North Star Foundation We help children find their way.

wantapeanut · Sep 20 2012 Report

Our dog is 9, and we've had her since she was a puppy. We got her before my husband and I were even married, so we figured by the time we had kids, she would be an easy mellow dog. Not so much. She has major anxiety, is on medication, and is very high-strung. Having therapists come in and out of the house all the time is hard for her, she barks when they arrive and leave, which then sets my son off. It is a vicious cycle. But we don't feel like we can give the dog away, because of all her issues (she has also had a toe amputated and is currently recovering from a mast cell tumor removal). She is gentle with my son (so far) but he is not gentle with the dog and I do fear one or both of them will get hurt. So, although I am still a dog lover, wanted to never be without one, it would be better for our family if we didn't have ours right now.

bailey@rush · Sep 20 2012 Report

@blogginglily - you're right that a pet is one more family member with needs to be met! And there's no denying we've had some disastrous puppy-training episodes ourselves. But still I'm with Beth on this one. The right pet can be a soothing presence and can actually help teach empathy. Really important, though: has to be the right pet. Not all animals interact well with children. Particularly kids whose behavior may be unpredictable at times. We consulted a dog trainer about breeds that were most reliable and - hard as it was! - passed on lots of cute puppies before we found one who was exceptionally calm and good-natured. We did have some issues with Daniel being too rough on the puppy initially but as the dog grew that resolved itself.

blogginglily · Sep 20 2012 Report

My daughter's a dog lover. . . but dogs aren't Lily lovers. I've nearly caved several times to siren's song of pet ownership despite my own allergies. . . BUT. . . It's another creature to take care of. Clean up after. Train. And Lily is not gentle. Before my in-laws' dog passed away it had reached the point where it would either cower in fear or simply run away at Lily's approach. Lily would kick him. Not with any force. . .just. . . a little swipe with her foot. And she's not really gentle in any other areas either. So then that became another "behavior" to address with ABA. . . Not for us, dog ownership, I think.

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