Zach had a history of running away. Zach isn't a roaming dog, but a roaming child with autism. 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 there, knowing Zach likely won't want to run off, and if he does, the dog won't let him get 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."
"This (book) tops them all when it comes to goose bumps," says Allen.
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."
"Animals and the Kids Who Love Them" is filled with similar 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 impact Lille had had until she bumped into the girl's mother many years later. "You don't know what those visits meant to my daughter," the mom said, grabbing Babikan's arm.
"We received stories like this from all over the country," says Linda. "It (the book) was inspired by the American Humane Association, which protects animals and children. We put the concept together and today we have a book."
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 llama, a rabbit, 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 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. She visited 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 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, the child 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 has just completed "Good Dog!", an ebook filled with over 100 common and some not-so-common questions. The book is available on all major eReader devices and platforms. The basic book is $2.99. An enhanced version with videos will be available soon at iTunes. For details, check the "Good Dog!"Facebook page. A second ebook, "Good Cat!", will be available later this month for $2.99.)