If you’ve ever read my personal blog, you may know that, along with three children, I have four dogs. We didn’t plan on having four. It sort of happened by accident. They are all dogs that someone else had mistreated or didn’t want, collected over the past decade from three different states and at separate times. They are all different sizes, different breeds, different ages, and different temperaments. Rosie, our oldest, was easy to train. Lola was difficult, but once she got it, she has been very obedient. Chloe is 70 pounds of big goofball, and Sydney, the youngest and the smallest, is stubborn as nails. She reminds me a lot of Tim. She likes affection, but only on her terms, when she is ready for it. If you discipline her in a manner she feels is unfair, even if it’s not, she gets sneaky and destructive. She can spend days wanting to be near you, then just as many treating you as if you don’t exist. Strange people and places give her amazing levels of anxiety. But above all of this, she is the cutest little bundle of hair you’ve ever seen, and, what’s worse, she knows it.
Sydney. Cute and she knows it.
Common wisdom says when you are choosing a puppy you should put it on its back. If the puppy stays on its back and doesn’t fight to turn itself over onto its feet, it is more likely to be friendly and easy to train. Sydney hated being on her back, even for a second. She hates it to this day. Every once in a while I try to cradle her in my arms on her back while rubbing her belly, and she fights and struggles relentlessly until I set her free. She will allow no one to put her into this submissive position. No one – except Tim.
Tim has been in residential treatment for over two years. But even so, Sydney can go weeks, sometimes months at a time without seeing him, and the minute he walks in to the house she runs to him. She begs him to pick her up, and she flips right on to her back so he can rub her belly, lulling her to sleep. And it’s not just her initial greeting. Any time he wants, on demand, he can summon Sydney to his lap, flip her, and cradle her face up like an infant. Over Christmas weekend he got her to voluntarily climb into his lap and she slept, on her back, in his arms, four times. For a teenager that has a difficult time communicating with anyone, and a dog that chooses to rarely interact with anyone, they are amazingly attuned to each other. Friends and family have commented on how amazing it is Tim can train her, and what a kind and gentle soul he must have to have her trust.
Those comments make me realize that Tim’s difficulties communicating with peers and adults has as much to do with the peer/adult as it does with him. He can convey comfort and affection to Sydney without saying a word. She sees through his seemingly flat emotions – a symptom of the Schizophrenia – and hears the soft inflection in his voice as he calls her. She notices his upturned hands, making himself vulnerable to her, rather than dominating by snatching her off the floor. He moves towards her slowly and when he cradles her, he makes her a nest, rather than forcing her into position. Sydney sees the real Tim, not the constant-hoodie-wearing, unemotional, uncommunicative teenager with a mental illness that most people see. When Tim eventually comes home from residential – or even if he moves to a supported housing situation after he turns 18 – I think Sydney may have to accompany him as his therapy dog. Because from Sydney, he receives no-pressure, unconditional love. And through Sydney, the world begins to see the real Tim.
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