When I was in early elementary school my family decided to get a therapy dog for me. The dog would help me with emotional attachment, calming, and stability. To say the least, I wasn’t thrilled by the idea. At this point I didn’t attach well emotionally to either people or pets. I liked animals, but not near me. I did not want them touching me or coming too close. I truly preferred my own isolated world, devoid of people or animals.
My mom made a big deal about the dog to get me excited. I did not even want to go and pick him out. Instead, I opted to help pick out the crate, dog toys, dog bed, and other things he would need. My sister went with my mom to pick the dog. We got a black lab mix because labs are supposed to be a great breed for training to be a therapy dog. However, the dog my family picked was very high energy. He ended up failing out of dog therapy school. He simply wasn’t the correct temperament. I was initially not thrilled by my new high-energy addition. Little did I know how much he would change my life, even if he was not an official therapy dog.
I named the dog Milo because I had just read The Phantom Tollbooth in which the main character goes by the same name. Milo was slobbery, high energy, always in my space, all the things that I didn’t like. But all the things I needed. A calmer dog would have been good for me. However, I think I was meant to have Milo. He pushed me outside my comfort zone. And showed me how to enter a different world I’m not usually willing to try. Eventually, he showed me how to attach emotionally.
Milo, although hyper, provided the calm energy I needed to reset. For me, all people give off energy. This energy drains me because I can feel it constantly even if I cannot identify what it is exactly. With Milo, he did not have any of this energy. He was just a clean slate. There were no secret nonverbal languages being spoken, even his eyes were less intense to me because they did not portray the complexity of human eyes. The emotions he had were simply those of joy. A positive light. I could feel my own negative emotions calming when I was near him. As if his light was in some way washing out the dark energy building up inside of me, giving me a breath of fresh air. I have always felt this way in nature as well.
Milo always stayed near to me, no matter how much I didn’t want him. He especially stayed near to me through all of my childhood illnesses, in which there were many. He was a loyal presence, patiently waiting for me to be ready. Slowly, but surely, I began to bond with Milo. Over time, I became completely attached.
I was so attached that I even began to stim on Milo. Rubbing his ears or rubbing my nose through his fur over and over became my go to stims. And Milo never minded. In fact, he enjoyed it and often approached me to have his ears rubbed. However, looking back there became points where I was too attached. I began to love Milo more than I cared for people.
This was one of my first emotional attachments. Now that I had experienced it, I could transfer to people and human friendships. I took the same lessons I had learned from Milo and the same feelings to use in my friendships. He taught me what emotional attachment feels like and what friendship has to offer.
I will never have another dog like Milo because Milo was no ordinary pet. Though he was never officially my therapy dog by certification that is what he became. He provided a bridge to this world for me. I truly believe animals have the ability to know our souls and give us what we need, even if we do not know what we need ourselves. I would not have the same capability to make friendships as well as I do without him or the awareness of my own emotional self. He brought me out of the cognitive and logical world in which I am most comfortable and into the realm of emotions where I was scared to venture. He guided me, at my own pace, allowing me to see what it had to offer and how to navigate it. While patterns and routines are comfortable, I now know I am fully capable of dealing with matters of the heart, despite how difficult it is for me to identify my own emotions due to the intensity I experience.
Milo showed unconditional love and patience, something we all need and was instrumental for me as an autistic child. Though I received this from my family, I did not always know how to read it. Animals are much easier to read than humans, and they are nothing but genuine. This makes the transition to reading people just a little easier. As I grew to understand this, I relied on Milo less and less and more on my human relationships.
Thank you to Milo for everything you gave me. Even though I didn’t want a dog, you became everything I needed. You became my first friend.