Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shiba: 1, autism: 0

As you may know, I currently have the good fortune of having two young people with autism in my life. They're awesome. Which is not to say autism is awesome, because it sucks for them. But for me, these two are way more fun than the average two nine-year-old kids.

One of them has apparently infinite energy and determination, but significant impairment in language, and not much obedience to authority. This makes most people think he's "difficult".


Today I decided to take this little dude (we'll call him "Mr. T") and Tinky-Winky for a walk. I had tried to borrow a bigger dog, thinking the kid would have more energy than Her Majesty, but apparently, I don't know anyone who wants their dog walked. Whatever. So Tinky-Winky, Mr. T and I set off for a walk along the Kiwanis Trail. I let her off the leash, as we haven't had a good off-leash in some time. And Mr. T, obviously, was not on a leash to begin with.


Initially, Her Majesty was full of energy and ran off in all directions, and I kept having to call her and call her. Mr. T, on the other hand, stayed close to me. From time to time he chased the dog, or I chased him, and she chased one or the other of us. A good time was had by all. When we got to the ice crossing, however, Mr. T decided to go across. Her Majesty followed him enthusiastically. I tried to recall them, individually and severally, and they would have none of it. Then they took off together into the deep snow where I can't follow them. For a dog who doesn't like little kids and a kid who is allegedly scared of dogs, they hit it off extremely well. I guess Her Majesty found a kindred spirit.

After this part, I was still hoping to get things under control, when Mr. T decided to walk all the way to the store on the Reserve, and Her Majesty decided first that she wanted to go home, then that she'd rather go with the kid. Argh! The Reserve is full of lose dogs, we're gonna get our clocks cleaned!

Luckily, Tinky-Winky being after all 12 years old and out of walking shape because it's winter, I was able to catch up with her and leash up. Now the thing is, the leash always makes her walk slower, and meanwhile, Mr. T was still making for the store.


So I had to carry Her Majesty a few times as she got more and more tired. And the kid started slowing down as well, so I asked him a few times "go back?" and he said very firmly "no go back."


Finally we got to the store, he picked a snack, I paid for it, and we started on the long way home. 4 km. Great... He sat down a few times to rest, but didn't complain. Luckily I had my cell phone with me, so I figured when he gave up walking, I'd call a cab, rather than try to carry a 70-lb kid home. But, he kept moving. We got to the river and I figured we'd walk back along the track that's been cleared for the upcoming dog races, but no, Mr. T evidently had a clear mental image of how he came, and he was retracing his steps in the opposite direction, without hesitation. And strangely, even though he was behind me and Tinky-Winky was ahead of me, she started to veer to the right the same time he did. By then I was following a snowmachine track and couldn't deviate from it, because I'm too heavy, whereas the kid was walking fairly easily on top of the snow. We got quite a ways apart, but when he got to a good spot to sit down, he did so, and waited calmly for me.

So we kept on walking and walking and walking. The dog was dragging along and I had to carry her from time to time. The kid was starting to lean on me and sit down more and more often, but still didn't complain. Of course he doesn't talk very much, but when he isn't happy, he makes it very clear. But no, he just kept on walking and walking. We were only about 500 m (about 0.3 miles) from the car when he finally spelled "T-I-R-E-D" in the snow with his finger.


On the one hand, it's cool that he was able to identify how he felt physically, he decided to communicate that to me, and he did so effectively, because those are three things that are separately difficult for autists, let alone doing all three at ones. It's also very cool that he walked 7.5 km before he got tired enough to say something. So I told him yes, me too, I'm tired, but we're almost at the car now. So he got up again and kept on going, and recognising that indeed we were close to the car, he actually started running again.

So the moral is two-fold. Or... no, at least four-fold. First of all, this is exactly the right kid for me. Too bad he's already spoken for. Second, we really need a bigger dog, because Tinky-Winky is clearly too old to keep up with Mr. T.

Third and most important, it's actually easier to walk a kid with autism than a shiba. Seriously. The kid listened to me more and didn't have to be carried. He didn't run madly off in all directions, pee on everything, eat garbage off the ground, or snarl menacingly at other dogs. Except for his unlimited endurance, he's much easier to walk than my shiba, who is actually rather easy, for a shiba.

And thus to the fourth moral of this story: if you can't handle an autistic kid, don't get a shiba. You may think you're the new Dog Whisperer or that you're even smarter than the actual Dog Whisperer, but if you can't handle autism, a shiba is way beyond you.