Troubled boy shows remarkable progress with ‘help’ from his beloved puppy

January 9, 2014

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Troubled boy shows remarkable progress with ‘help’ from his beloved puppy Our dedicated, hardworking staff members at Four Oaks are the key to helping children become successful. And sometimes, they experience moments that make them realize just how important their work is to children. Michelle Meidlinger, Behavioral Health Intervention Services (BHIS) provider in Iowa City, recently experienced one of these humbling, “aha” moments with a very special boy, Eddie*, and his black lab puppy.

Eddie came to Four Oaks about one year ago with a history of severe emotional, physical, and sexual trauma. When Michelle began working with him, she ran into various behavioral issues related to a lack of trust and self-esteem – the result of the trauma that he had endured.

But Michelle also noticed his great potential. “His grandmother called him ‘the most feeling child I’ve ever met,’ and this proved to be accurate,” Michelle said. Eddie exuded empathy and kindness for others around him—his friends, his family, and animals— in a way that was quite remarkable. 

At the time he was receiving BHIS services, his family acquired a black lab puppy. Eddie showed great patience and love for the puppy – he taught him to sit, lie down, shake, crawl, stay, and even balance a treat on his nose. They became inseparable. 

However, as the puppy grew, it became difficult for Eddie to walk him. Suddenly he was big enough to pull Eddie around – even into the street. To help, his grandmother tried several walking aids, but the only one that seemed to work was a prong collar. Eddie was beside himself with fear that he could seriously hurt his pet if he walked him with the collar.  He spent an entire walk with his grandmother crying because he was so concerned that the dog was being hurt. 

So Michelle worked with Eddie to face his fear. They talked about how puppies learn through a “different language”—that being one of action and not all words. She shared photos of her own black lab mix and explained that he had needed a special training collar too. Eventually, they took a walk with the collar, and Eddie eventually took the leash. They both did marvelously. Eddie was patient and kind with his puppy, picking up after it when it went to the bathroom, calling him to him when he would get near the end of the leash.  

At the end of the walk, as they were getting back to his house, Michelle noticed Eddie taking his puppy’s head in his hands and looking him in the eyes.  She asked him what he was doing. “Oh, just checking him for tears,” Eddie said in seriousness.  “If he had looked closely, he would have seen tears in my own eyes,” Michelle said.

Within a year, Eddie was blossoming.  His teachers reported that he was doing exponentially better both academically and behaviorally. He began to open up, smile, laugh, and participate fully during skill sessions. It’s clear that the boy’s capacity to feel, and his love his pet, gave him the space he needed to heal. And that special moment with Eddie and his dog reminded Michelle that the work she does at Four Oaks every day is of the greatest value and importance.

*Name has been changed to protect identity