Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXLIII: Pets

When Alice was born, we had 3 pets: a dog and two cats. The pets were all up in years at that point and it was very interesting to see geriatric pets figuring out a newborn. They all did well.

After they passed on, we held off on replacing them because parenting a child with special needs, and then her brother was challenging enough. For the past 6 years we’ve had a couple of fish tanks set up and they’ve been a nice backdrop to our house, but E really wanted to get another dog. They problem is that dogs tend to be very high energy and Alice is not. That’s quite an impedance mismatch in our lives, so we sat on it for a while.

With the pandemic, we decided that this would actually be a good time to manage the responsibilities of a new pet, so E did a ton of research on dog breeds to find one that would be good for us. There is a lot to be said for rescue dogs and under different circumstances, we would have been quite happy to explore them, but we felt that the trends that are present in various breeds would work well for us. We selected the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

We did a fair amount of pre-talk to set expectations with Alice and to prepare her for the realities. I was also a little nervous because it’s been a very long time since I was involved in raising a pup.

This is Melody. She is a very tiny pup with an incredibly sweet disposition. She’s a little shy and a little clingy, but I think that works for us. Alice likes her a lot and enjoys having Melody in her lap.

Puppy sitting in the lap of a young woman with Down syndrome who is decorating a sidewalk with chalk

Alice talks to her a lot and enjoys the time that she spends with her. Generally speaking, Alice is also pretty good about listening to adults with regards to guidance for training her. When Melody gets nippy (as puppies do), Alice is clear about how that’s not OK and offers her something else to chew on instead. Perfect.

And like all things special needs, there are surprises along the way.

A young woman with Down syndrome signs 'r' for a puppy sleeping in front of an iPad

This is Alice sharing her school work with Melody. See Alice’s left hand? She’s signing ‘R’. She was spelling out “F-I-E-L-D T-R-I-P” that’s on her iPad to share that with Melody. Today, she was trying to teach Melody how to spell ‘monkey’. I tried to explain to Alice that dogs can’t sign, but Alice had none of it and kept it up for 20 minutes. It doesn’t hurt, so fine.

Myself, I’m positive about the experience – I’ve had a few nice solid belly laughs from her which more than offset the extra responsibilities of taking care of and training a new pup.

The face of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy in the grass between twos hair legs.

It doesn’t hurt that she’s adorable. I mean: Look. At. That. Face.

What does this hold for the future? I don’t know, but everyone is enjoying this so far.

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy staring out a doorway.