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How My Dog Helps Me Care for My Daughter With Disabilities

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I’ve noticed that families who have a child with a disability are more likely to have a dog than families who do not have a child with a disability. In the UK as a whole, 26 percent of households have a dog, and in the USA it’s 42 percent. In my close knit group of 10 mums of kids with disabilities, six of the families (including us) have a dog and a seventh will likely get one in the next few years. That’s a 60 percent prevalence rate rising to 70 percent when Dan and Helen finally cave to the inevitable. But why is this?

Dogs and humans have evolved together over tens of thousands of years; it’s the most enduring “best friendship” in history. I believe we instinctively know that dogs are good for us and our instinct is correct. Just Google “dogs and mental health” and you will be inundated with science explaining what dog people have known since forever: dogs have a hugely beneficial impact on your physical, mental and emotional health. In families dealing with the pressures of caring for a child with a disability or serious illness, the presence of a dog can give your resilience a huge boost.

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Out of the 7 billion people on the planet, the person who I spend the most time with is my daughter, Eve. She spends half the night sleeping next to my bed and the rest of the night sleeping in it and as close to me as she can. However, running a close second in the constant companion stakes is, Scout, our dog. This may explain why I’ve started sniffing my friends’ bottoms when I see them. Anyway, I digress.

The reality of life with a child like Eve can involve experiences that nothing prepares you for and decisions that my husband and I never dreamed we’d have to make. I’m not complaining — Eve is worth it a million times over and in any case, the wonderful happy times far outweigh the scary ones. I love my life and wouldn’t swap with anyone. But sometimes I do feel battered with worry and bruised by some of our experiences. The past year has been particularly difficult as Eve’s epilepsy has significantly worsened and another aspect of her condition that we hoped we’d escape has reared its ugly head.

When you’re in a tight spot, you need a friend, and a dog is the most loyal friend you can get. Scout is always on my side, is a great listener and knows how to keep a secret. She’s a very comforting presence to have around and seems to know when I need her to get up on the sofa for a cuddle or lie reassuringly at my feet.

Scout’s inherent dogginess is also a great antidote to worry and stress. Dogs are in love with life and it’s infectious. (I could say exactly the same about Eve, but she gets quite enough attention and this piece is about her furry sister!) Scout teaches me the importance of living in the moment, of running for the sheer fun of it, and of taking time out to sniff the air and enjoy the view. And if you’re lucky enough to make a new friend, go right ahead and sniff their bottom because life is short and none of us are promised a tomorrow.

Scout also makes me laugh every single day. Whether it’s giving herself a mud bath, chasing a squirrel or having a mad moment where she throws herself down on the grass and writhes around on her back, her enduring silliness and boundless joy reminds me that life is good and life is for living.

Walking is great for your overall wellbeing, and thanks to Scout I have to walk twice a day. Our longer walks in the morning when Eve is at school recharge my batteries and give me some vital headspace — just me, my dog and beautiful countryside. Then we do
a shorter walk in the afternoon with Eve in the pushchair; I absolutely adore walking with my two girls.

Of course dogs love to play as well as to walk, and immersing yourself in playing with your dog can be pure mindfulness. Even if I’m just throwing a tennis ball for her in the garden, it’s impossible to think about anything other than Scout’s expectant, tongue-lolling grin or subsequent boisterous pursuit of said tennis ball.

Scout is fantastic with Eve and will lie down next to her when Eve is playing or watching TV, or when she’s having her dinner… although I suspect there’s an ulterior motive going on there! For the most part, Eve is pretty relaxed about Scout and usually ignores her in the house. However, she absolutely loves taking Scout for a walk, especially when Scout has run off somewhere and I’m calling her back. When Scout appears out of the woods and bounds back to us, Eve kicks her legs excitedly and makes lots of happy sounds. She also loves it when Scout gets in the stream near our house. Eve loves swimming and I suspect she realizes that Scout is doing the same thing.

But there’s a serious side to Scout, too. She definitely knows when Eve is having a seizure; maybe she can hear something in my tone of voice when I’m calling an ambulance or smell the fear that no doubt emanates from me. Whatever it is, she knows to stay quiet and lying down when the people in green uniforms arrive. Eve’s seizures almost always occur first thing in the morning, before one of us has been down to feed Scout. Nonetheless, she waits patiently, knowing her breakfast is of secondary importance to the needs of her littlest human.

Scout also knows when I’m upset. She can obviously smell my tears because even if she’s in a different room she’ll come running in with a worried look in her deep brown eyes, shove her face in mine, and try to sit on me to make me feel better. It works.

As Rudyard Kipling wrote, “…the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” However she does it, Scout makes me feel strong, steadfast and better able to cope with what lies around the corner. And therefore, she makes me a better mummy to Eve. As far as I’m concerned, having a dog is non-negotiable; I will never be without one. Should probably curb the bottom sniffing though.

This story originally appeared on Rollin’ With Mama.

Originally published: May 30, 2018
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