Some thoughts on pets

A friend who is the mother of a young autistic boy has posted a picture of her son meeting the family’s new pet, a golden retriever puppy. She writes that her son “demonstrates the appropriate way to greet a new pet: by smelling it, of course.”

My response was;

I’ve always enjoyed the smells of (some) animals. Not fish, though. Anything that smells fishy (including seaweed) literally turns my stomach. Skunks, though, yum! Dogs and cats — nothing like getting my face into their fur! I love the way horses smell — it’s one of the joys of horseback riding. I think many autistics have a special connection with animals, and pets can be comforting and true friends.

Many, many years before I was diagnosed, I had a friend say to me, “You’re the only person I know who asks a dog a question and then waits for an answer!” I told that to another friend, who added, “You’re the only person I know who would understand the answer!”


Pets are important to many people, of course, not just to autistics. Still, I think they may play a special role for those of us who have had trouble feeling accepted by our human peers. Pets seem to give unconditional love, and that is rare for us to find.

I think I will reread the story “Happiness is a Warm Puppy” and give some thought to the special role that pets have played (and continue to play) in my life. I have many other things to write about first, but I’ll circle back here at some point and expand on these thoughts.

As I write this, my cat Tigger (my father used to read us the Winnie the Pooh stories, and they were my absolute favorites!) came into my office and jumped up on my desk, as if to say, why did you leave the bed so early?


A later addition:

A friend of my friend wrote, “My son has been know to try to ‘bite’ our puppy back as well. Literal thinking, I guess… 🙂

and I responded, “Interesting. Biting back has nothing to do with literal thinking, in my mind. It is an instinctive behavior that animals have to establish boundaries and dominance. I see it all the time in my horses and cats.

It might just be imitative behavior, searching for affection, trying to be like the other. My cats like to nibble on my fingers for some reason, so I let them, as long as they don’t hurt me. If they bite too hard I yell “ouch” and they stop, and apologize. Again, it’s simply a matter of setting boundaries.

I don’t know if you ever read “The Horse Whisperer” but that book describes what I knew intuitively. The best way to get a horse (or any other animal, including humans) to do what you want is to become friends. We all have an urge to please others, and, as they say, you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. (No one ever explained to me why you would want to attract flies — now, *that’s* literal thinking!)

So, the biting could be a lot of things, but I don’t know how it could be “literal” if there are no words involved!“

1 comment

    • Lissa on November 15, 2011 at 6:07 PM
    • Reply

    If he didn’t have autism, Jobs surely has Aspbergers syndrome. But apparently there is no such diagnosis anymore per the APA.

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