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Canine to Five: Big Brother With Paws 9/5/2006

"Canine to Five: Big Brother With Paws" Published in:
The World's Children and Their Companion Animals, Developmental and Educational Significance of the Child/Pet Bond
Written by Dana M. Monroe - Vice President/Chief Operating Officer Indiana Region

Billy hobbles out of bed and down the hall to the bathroom. Behind him follows his golden retriever, Molly, who stretches out her paws against the carpet, then lets out a morning yowl. The sound of the dog is meaningless to Billy, who is now pacing erratically in front of the bathroom sink, chanting the word "bathroom." Over and over, Billy swings from one end of the bathroom to the other with frantic and anxious expression on his face, his arms flailing next to him in a repetitive motion, like hummingbirds flying near his head. Molly, a beautifully nearly white-haired dog, watches Billy for a moment, prances into the master bedroom, and begins nudging Billy's mother to wake up. She awakes and follows Molly down the hallway to the bathroom. Billy's mother finds him feverishly pacing and crying; she now understands that Billy has forgotten what he is supposed to do in the bathroom and he needs guidance to complete his task. Luckily, Molly recognizes when Billy needs help. The story of Billy Robertson and his dog Molly proves that animals can bring very special experiences to our lives.
Molly became part of the Robertson family on Billy's first birthday. Billy's father brought her home for him in hopes that the dog would bring Billy out of the shell that he seemed to be hiding in. Billy's parents, Linda and Buck Robertson, had begun noticing that Billy didn't seem to be developing like other children in the neighborhood, although their pediatrician insisted that Billy would catch up in due time. It seemed that Billy didn’t interact with anyone and he cried inconsolably throughout the day. In a desperate attempt to soothe
Billy, Buck decided to buy a puppy for his son, and that is how the relationship between Billy and Molly began.
Molly was a playful pup, bouncing and yelping and frolicking all over the house. She would desperately try to jump into Billy's play area, but he never really acknowledged that she was there. Of course, that didn't stop her, and she persisted in becoming a part of whatever he was involved in, even though Billy continued to ignore her. On Billy's third birthday, Buck and Linda decided to seek outside help for Billy and, through a doctor's evaluation. They discovered that Billy had a developmental disorder called autism. It took several years, but the family adjusted to the different needs of their son, and Billy became a unique and interesting young child with a very supportive family. Molly still tried to be with him, although Billy didn't seem to care if she was in the room or not. At one point, Buck felt that Molly seemed to be depressed because Billy refused to interact with her; despite the rejection, she still tried to nuzzle with him on the floor or lick his face while he was playing with his toys. Molly always dropped her ball in front of Billy in hopes that he would throw it to her, but Billy never did.
It wasn't until Billy was about 6 years old that Buck and Linda started noticing the very special relationship Molly and Billy shared. It wasn't the typical boy-dog interaction, yet they did have a unique connection.  Unfortunately, Billy's disorder caused him to be isolated from his peer group, as he engaged in many strange behaviors and had no formal way of communicating with others except for in small vocabulary or screeching when he was angry. These behaviors seemed to scare others, but not Molly. She never seemed to care that Billy would bang his head and scream as loud as he could; she would sit close by and wait patiently until he finished. It was as if Molly understood that Billy needed to do these things, and she accepted him as he was. Buck and Linda started noticing that Molly would consistently alert them if Billy had run too far down the street by scratching her nails on the top of their feet. If Molly dug deep into her claws, Linda knew that Billy was in danger in the neighborhood. Molly was usually right, and she was rewarded for her watchful eye with a bacon skip.
Little by little, in every aspect of Billy's life, the family began to realize how much Molly protected Billy. They saw Molly follow Billy around the cul-dee-sac when he was riding his bike, or watched her wait beside him for the school bus. Molly was like his shadow, and she kept him in view no matter where they were. The strangest part of the relationship, the Robertsons admit, is that Billy has never acknowledged Molly. He has never reached out to pet her long coat, never smiles when she comes running toward him, and has never engaged in any play with Molly. The Robertsons believe that Billy has never even made eye contact with Molly; nevertheless, they are sure that he knows she is there. They have watched Billy move over on the side walk so that Molly can walk beside him; although he never calls her or watches her, this simple gesture lets everyone know that he knows she is with him.  Billy never slams a door in the house, and he always takes an unusual amount of time entering and leaving through a door.  After careful evaluation, the Robertsons have deduced that Billy is holding the door open for Molly.  He never looks down, he never checks to see if she has made it through; he just takes extra time with the door.  Most people wouldn’t acknowledge these behaviors as anything but coincidence, but the Robertsons consider them testimony to the power of pets.  Billy rarely engages with anyone, humans or animals, but their golden retriever somehow has been able to establish her own relation ship with him.  The Robertsons have nicknamed Molly “Canine to Five” because it seems like she is always on the job watching her friend Billy.  Her unconditional love towards Billy demonstrates on a daily basis that the ability to nurture is not just a human trait.

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