Close X
Dogs and Kids
Share this image

When Special Dogs Bond With Special-Needs Kids

Not all dogs are suited to be best friends with a special-needs child, but when they are, an unbreakable and life-changing bond forms between them.

Karen Dibert  |  Jul 25th 2016


Thirteen years ago, our youngest child was born with Down syndrome. His arrival changed every aspect of our lives, including the pet parenting. Dogs have always been a part of our family, and one of the things we love about having them is watching the kids and pups interact. While all of our dogs have been good with kids, a few have been so much more. Our French Bulldog, Louie, is one of these special pups. Louie is very much my dog, suffering separation anxiety when he can’t see me, and yet he is a best friend to Micah. It’s pretty amazing to see.

Louie isn’t a very playful dog, but he’ll retrieve just about anything Micah throws, until one of them taps out from exhaustion or in a fit of giggles. Micah insists that Louie tuck him into bed at night, and he happily complies by licking my son’s face in wiggly glee. Micah takes Louie to the bus stop every morning, where they say goodbye to each other before parting ways for the day.

27 playing fetch

Louie is enthusiastic about playing fetch with Micah. (Photo by Karen Dibert)

Micah asks to bring Louie to church, grocery shopping, or to visit his grandparents. If it were up to our boy, he’d have his dog with him everywhere, and I know Louie would be only too happy to tag along. Conversely, Louie barely recognizes the existence of our other four kids. They’re nothing more than food dish fillers in his world, and he’s been known to walk away when they’re trying to pet him.

Dogs are intuitive, and can pick up when you’re not feeling well or you’re stressed. Not all dogs do this, but the ones who do are special, indeed. Close to my heart are the dogs who share a special bond with special kids. They know these kids are a little different than typical kids, and they adapt how they interact accordingly. Meet four more such special kids and their pups:

Sean and Maggie Mae

sean and maggie mae by deborah minner

Maggie Mae and Sean sharing a special moment. (Photo by Deborah Minner)

Sean’s family recently brought home Maggie Mae. The Standard Poodle is the first dog they’ve had, and she was chosen for her calm personality. Sean has Down syndrome, and his mom reports that while Maggie Mae will run and romp with Sean’s siblings, she respects that he prefers quieter games of fetch or tug.

Sean is in love with his new puppy, and Maggie returns the devotion. She happily shows off her emerging skills of sitting, shaking hands, and lying down on command as Sean shows her off to his friends. Sean sometimes has a hard time transitioning from school to home (he doesn’t like leaving his friends), and on the last day of school, he refused to leave the sensory room. Maggie, who rides to school for the end-of-day-pickup, was available for “Maggie motivation.”

With the principal’s permission, she hunted her boy down, even buried in the ball pit! He was so happy to see his dog in school that he promptly popped out and paraded her through school to the parking lot. Maggie’s grin was just as big as Sean’s.

Hayleigh Elizabeth and Bitzy

Bitzy comforts Hayleigh Elizabeth.

Hayleigh Elizabeth was a sweet angel born with Down syndrome, who had some insurmountable health issues associated with that. She courageously fought for 18 months before passing away. Her dog, Bitzy, knew she was an incredibly special little girl and never left her side, from the moment they first met. While the photo quality isn’t the best, the picture says more about their bond than words ever could.

Catherine and Corey

Special dogs bond with special kids. (Photo by Robin Turton Hentz)

Catherine with her best friend, Corey. (Photo by Robin Turton Hentz)

Catherine was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 5. She is now 14, and she has had a service dog for six years. Corey is a black Lab trained to detect seizures before they begin, allowing Catherine to get help or get to a safe place. Besides being a service dog, Corey is Catherine’s best friend. His patience and devotion are above and beyond normal dog status, reports Catherine’s mom. Corey competes in dock diving competitions through the AKC, being trained by Catherine, and the two are an amazing pair to watch.

Jacob and Bricher

jacob and bricher

Jacob and Bricher (Photo by Jenni Stankevitz)

Jacob has Fragile X Syndrome, ADHD, anxiety disorder, and he can become sensory overstimulated. Bricher (Brick-er) had always been part of Jacob’s family, and the two were the best of friends. Jacob would seek out Bricher as soon as he woke, to set his mood with snuggles before starting the day. When Jacob would become upset, Bricher was always an available calming source.

When Jacob was little, the only way the family could keep him in the stroller for long walks was to allow him to hang onto Bricher’s leash to “walk” him, and Bricher happily trotted alongside his boy or hopped in the stroller when he got tired. When Jacob learned to ride his bike, he hooked a bike trailer up behind it so Bricher could ride with him and always be available for therapy. Bricher was the most patient and loyal companion to Jacob before passing away at the age of 15.

Perhaps the hardest thing about seeing such an amazing bond between dogs and the special needs children they’re devoted to is the deep mourning that happens a member of the team passes. But having witnessed this unusually deep connection, I know these families wouldn’t trade a second of it to avoid that pain, even if they could.