By Steve Dale
Zach had a history of running away. Zach isn't a roaming dog, but instead he’s a child with autism who likes to roam. His mom, Julie Yanez, of Minneapolis, MN, tells the story of how an assistance dog named Midas changed Zach's life, as well as the life of her entire family. The family can relax when Midas is at Zach’s side, knowing Zach likely won't want to run off, and if he does, his dog is trained to prevent him from getting far.
Yanez recalls how even going out to dinner as a family was impossible until Midas came along because Zach wouldn't sit still and would create a "scene" in the restaurant. Now, the dog serves as Zach's "emotional anchor" and "built-in sensory regulator," Yanez writes in "Animals and the Kids Who Love Them," a collection of inspiring stories compiled by Allen and Linda Anderson (New World Library, Novato, CA, 2011; $14.99).
The Andersons, a married couple, have authored a long list of inspirational books, including "Angel Dogs with a Mission," "Angel Animals: Book of Inspiration" and "Dogs and the Women Who Love Them."
Linda adds, "In her story (about Zach and Midas), Julie wrote what it was like to lose her child to autism, like a candle snuffer dropped on him and shut out his bright light. It wasn't until a dog, Midas, entered his life that the candle was lit again. I don't know that people realize the impact these animals can have."
“When we were in your radio studio talking about the book ‘Dogs and the Women Who Love Them,’ you gave us the idea to directly connect children and kids in this unique way,” Allen adds. "This (book) tops them all when it comes to goose bumps."
"Animals and the Kids Who Love Them" is filled with touching sagas, including one from Barbara Babikan, of Sugar Loaf, NY.
Babikan enrolled her Shetland Sheepdog, Lille, in Angel on a Leash, an organization overseeing animal-assisted therapy programs. One of many clients who petted Lille happened to be a little girl in the hospital for surgery on her leg. Lille and the girl seemed to bond. After the visit, Barbara left with her dog, assuming she'd never see the girl again.
About a year later, at the same hospital, Babikan encountered the same child's mom. Nearly in tears, she explained that her daughter had endured another surgery and had been asking for Lille. What a reunion it was. Babikan still had no idea of the Lilie’s impact on this little girl, until she bumped into her mother many years later. "You don't know what those visits meant to my daughter," the mom said, holding Babikan's arm.
While most of the stories in the Anderson's book feature dogs and cats, a wide assortment of other unlikely animals who made a difference in a child's life are also featured, including a rabbit, a llama, and a turkey who might have been dinner. Instead, the bird, named Chloe, landed at the Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita, CA.
The mission of the Gentle Barn – featured on TV’s Ellen (with Ellen DeGeneres) - is to rescue, rehabilitate and give sanctuary to abused animals, and to help kids who themselves have been abused and/or have a disability.
Julia was born to sing. She warbled and twirled like a ballerina from the time she could walk, though she was blind from birth. An earthquake rocked Julia's world when she was 6 years old, so profoundly that the child was traumatized. Julia stopped talking and began to act out violently.
It was advised that she visit the Gentle Barn, where she seemed to bond with a chicken named Bonnie, stroking the bird for hours, and being gentle. Julia treated the hen like a precious china doll.
Periodically, the Gentle Barn would sometimes take animals to fairs, where there was live music. As one such event, a country band began to play, and people began to dance. The dance floor began to part and it was clear that something unusual was happening, as people moved from the center of the floor to reveal a single dancer: Chloe the turkey, moving in time to the music.
Learning this bird was a music lover, the staff at the Gentle Barn began to play music for Chloe. The turkey always responded the same way, and soon Ellie Laks, founder of the Gentle Barn, began to sing to the turkey with Julia at their side. One day, Julia began to hum along.
Laks thought Julia might again find her voice through the bird. It worked, and soon Julia was singing to the turkey (who loved it), and began to talk again. What's more, her violent tendencies vanished.
"I do think animals and children can have a special connection," says Allen. "Explaining that connection is challenging, but understanding the connection as you read is heartfelt."
©Steve Dale,Tribune Media Services
Tags: Allen and Linda Anderson, American Humane Association, Angel Dogs, Angel Dogs with a Mission, Angel on a Leash, animal assisted therapy, Animals and the Kids Who Love Them, assistance dogs, autism assistance dog, Barbara Babikan, Dogs and the Women Who Love them, Julie Yanez, Robin Ganzert, Steve Dale, Steve Dale archives, turkey