Wednesday, 26 February 2014

#LeonardTheDog - Family Pet Therapy for Special Needs Children

I know what you're thinking, cute isn't he?!... but I can also hear you saying...

'A puppy, an SEN pre-teen and a toddler?? Are they mad??'

Wellllll, actually we are madder than whatever you have in your head and may as well be hatters, we have a pre-teen, a toddler, 2 cats, a tortoise and... YEP... now a puppy.

There is reason behind the madness and there always has been good reason behind our pet madness.

Meet the Baihoff Pets
Dave (age 7)
We got Dave the cat (rescued him in fact) to help Kyd (aged 5) with his speech and social ability and he is the quietest but the grumpiest out of the lot... Dave has been a rock in his (and my) life and he did his job, Kyd really came on with him there to help him. He also liked to be worn as a hat by Hoff when in bed... He was named by Kyd after Dave Grohl, the Foo Fighters front man and Kyd's favourite rock star.
Syd (age 5)
We got Syd the cat about 18mths later to keep Dave the cat company and because he needed a home and was very poorly and he is as crazy as Kyd so he fitted in well. The loudest most annoying cat of the two but he really is a cuddly monkey who thinks he's a parrot and sits on your shoulder... Syd was named after the Sloth from Ice Age.
Bruce (age 7mths)
Hoff bought me Bruce the tortoise as my wedding present last July and he came to live with us at the end of August. Yep, he bought me a tortoise and yep, Kyd named him Bruce... yep Bruce. Bruce was the size of an old 50p piece and he is doing and growing really well. He wasn't allowed to hibernate this winter as he was too little but we've bonded in the process.... Bruce was named because whilst pregnant Kyd wanted to name Rocky, Bruce. We agreed that the next pet would take on the name... a short while ago the penny dropped and I realised that he was called Bruce after Bruce Wayne aka Batman.
Leonard (age 9wks)
NOW... we have Leonard, named by Kyd after the character on The Big Bang Theory after negotions were had to get him to back down from Howard (the boy is obsessed). Leonard is the final piece of the Baihoff pet jigsaw, a chocolate brown Pointer/Weimaraner puppy, with amazing ears, who has an important job to play in our family...

Kyd's Best Friend.

For the special needs child, the dog can serve in a therapeutic manner by serving as a social facilitator; as a symbolic vehicle for the expression of emotionally laden topics; as a focus of attention and as agents of de-arousal; as an object of attachment; as a source of social support; and as a living instrument for learning new skills, ways of thinking and behaving.
–Can Animals Help Humans Heal?  University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine,
July 2004
Over the past 11 years I have looked into all sorts of therapy, pet therapy was always one that I believed in and after we got Dave the cat, I knew as he got older it would help more than ever if he had a dog, I'm sure Dave the cat would argue with me on that point.
Pets encourage children with special needs to practice rehabilitation and healthy activities, such as walking or running with the animal or even throwing objects for the animal to retrieve. Just playing with their dog daily can be more exercise than most children get living life without a pet and for me that was more than enough to encourage us to get Leonard.
For special needs children and their parents, fine motor skills are at upmost importance and these are developed by petting, grooming, or feeding their animal and the child is more likely to interact whether giving the animal verbal and physical commands or talking about their pets, past and present. All of these activities can help develop cognitive skills and communication and make a major difference in the child's comfort, progress and even recovery from medical conditions and surgery.
For me Kyd's independence is everything. As long as he can get on in life like me and you, I don't care if he can do algebra or can recite his times tables. I know that Kyd can go into a shop and buy what he needs by himself without me helping (although I'm stood at the door) THAT, makes me proud. I know that Kyd is happy to sit in a crowd of 20k football fans and be happy and part of that group without panicking and any need of my support THAT makes me proud. I know that Kyd will grow up to be as independent, if not more so, than Rocky despite his disability because he is a stubborn little bugger who strives on proving people wrong and getting perfection out of whatever he does, THAT makes me proud... It is the social aspects and friendships as he grows that worry me and research shows that a pet can open up confidence and doors in the world that you'd never have found without having them... THAT is what Leonard is here for, THAT is his job.
Weight Gain & Health
When a child with Down Syndrome hits puberty their metabolism has a habit, more often than not, of breaking and they gain weight, thick and fast. A good diet and regular exercise can help but their metabolism will fight them every step of the way. Often, habits gained in childhood can have a huge effect at this time and so gaining healthy habits before puberty can really help with what happens at  the next stage... easier said than done though.
The problem is, when they gain weight they put pressure on their health and their health is often ropey as it is. They are prone to diabetes, heart disease and all those other lovelies that we hear about so regularly in health articles and news.
If I can do anything to prevent this from happening, even if it is a slight help and even if that means getting a dog and training him at the same time as training a toddler.... I WILL!
Leonards Future...
Leonard the dog starts his puppy training classes next week. We have a specialist coming in to help us train him as best we can and Kyd will be involved in ALL of the training. Rocky however, will be taught by us how to behave around the dog and how to train him too as he is too young for the classes... although I reckon he could do with a few classes himself.
Leonard will have a great home here with us. He is already a much loved part of the family... even when we are cleaning up his poo.
Welcome to the family Leonard.
We Love You Already...


  1. Love that pup! Can I borrow him? Looking forward to seeing the relationship between them grow!

  2. Aw welcome to the family, he is so cute. He looks as though he has made an impact already

  3. Pets can make such a difference in everyone's life. Heart-warming post.

  4. Leonard is the most adorable pup ever! What a lovely new addition to your family.

    Ps what's with Dave's scary eyes??!

  5. Leonard is such a great name for a dog. I always wanted to call a dog Dave so you get ten out of ten for having a cat called Dave.

    As for having a Bruce. I find it a bit disturbing when I see you tweet pics of Bruce as I instantly think of my Bruce, not yours!!

    I love that Leonard is going to be such a huge part of your family.

  6. I never had any pets as a child and I think I would have loved having a dog as now I am quite nervous around animals as I am just not used to them. Leonard is so lucky to have found such a warm and loving family to become a part of. You are such an awesome mum x

  7. Awwww your puppy is so ADORABLE!!! Agree that pets are so good for kids! My adore our cats. Want a puppy now!!!

  8. What a wonderful post, amazingly cute dog, and what an awesome mum you continue to be *Salutes*

  9. Coombe Mill (Fiona)27 February 2014 at 21:03

    He looks like he is already a firm family friend.

  10. Ohhhhh, he's just gorgeous! Lovely post, made me feel all warm inside :) Wishing you many happy doggy days! xx

  11. Oh he's adorable Alice! My kids want a dog when we move.A big responsibility but as a pass dog owner they are such a great joy to have.I want to come and visit you just to pet him now.

  12. Such a fantastic post. I keep toying with the idea for Kyle, but I've not had pets and worried that I wont be able to look after it properly.


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