The Disabled Dog and The Autistic Blogger

My youngest dog is not a very well puppy. 

This isn’t a new thing. He’s been unwell for most of his four and a half years of life. When we picked him up as a puppy (we bought him from a family whose dog had just had her first litter of puppies), it wasn’t until we got him home that we realised that he hadn’t been outside of his box and didn’t know how to run properly. Two weeks after this, he was rushed into the vets with the worst case of worms the practice had ever seen in a dog so small. 

He came through that, and built up his strength, but his health has been a constant issue in the ensuing four years. He is one of the happiest, cheekiest and beautifully-natured dogs I have ever met – we knew that when we visited his litter for the first time, when we picked him up and the first thing he did was lean up and lick my brother on the chin. He comes through everything. But he’s never been well from that moment on. 

He’s riddled with contact allergies and skin infections. The pads of his feet are constantly red raw from where he bites them to stem the itching. Virulent ear infections are a daily occurrence. He has open wounds across his legs, body and face from the obsessive scratching. If there’s illness in the air, he will catch it and catch it worse than any other dog. 

We thought we’d lost him two and a half years ago. He contracted a terrible prostate infection, and I found him unable to move the back half of his body at three in the morning. We though he was dying. We wrapped him in a blanket and carried him to the local PDSA, where they gave him some emergency medicines before releasing him so we could take him to his regular vet. 

He came through it. The next day he was wobbly and exhausted, but he was walking – he proudly showed me when we woke up, hobbling around on his bandaged front leg (from the intravenous drip) with his head held high. He beats everything. He’s battered and bruised, but he walks out of the ring nevertheless. 

I love him so much. And I’m so scared of what it’s going to do to me when we lose him. 

We’re in the middle of having to make some really tough decisions. He’s on a series of medications that are administered on a daily basis, but has regular flares of his allergies that can only be tamed with a steroid injection. Our vet, who we trust absolutely and who has looked after him since he was several weeks old, is becoming more and more reticent to give him these injections – the injections could damage his heart a lot more than oral steroids, but the oral steroids don’t even touch the surface of the major flares. 

So what do we do? Do we travel down the road where he has a potentially longer life, but that life is riddled with painful, itchy allergy flares that have him literally biting his own skin off? Or do we instead turn down the road where we have a tool to combat the worst of those attacks, but it’s a tool that will almost definitely shorten his life? 

It’s a heartbreaking, emotional and tough decision. But it’s not necessarily a difficult one. 

We want him to enjoy the life that he does have. And we want him to be in as a little pain as we can manage throughout that life.

Typing this is making me want to cry. He’s my baby.

I never felt I would ever know what it meant to truly feel love. I’ve never dated, I don’t do relationships, and I definitely do not want children. But when my oldest dog (who is now ten) came into my life, I suddenly realised what it meant to love so utterly and completely – what it meant for the object of that affection to become the centre around which your world revolves. 

Following the death of my nan, which is one of the hardest things I have ever faced, we got my youngest dog to bring some life and joy back into our lives and into the life of our oldest dog. And it’s like my heart doubled in size – as someone who struggles with both self esteem and with human interaction, having these amazing creatures love me absolutely and with no complications or ulterior motives was incredible. 

They are my whole world. And having discussions about losing them is like someone is twisting a knife in my chest.

I get so much strength from my youngest dog. Watching him go through so much and still be the cheekiest, bounciest, most loving creature I’ve ever seen is just incredible. I call us ‘the disabled family’- me with my autism, my stepmum with her various physical challenges, our little disabled puppy dog, and then my mum, my brother, and our grumpy old other puppy dog. It’s like we were meant to find each other. We know how to look after each other. 

In fact, we took him to a (not particularly serious) dog show that had a ‘disabled dogs’ category – and he won! Look at this adorable winner:

This has gotten to be desperately soppy. I can only apologise for how saccharine this post is in the midst of all my anger and activism and indignation. But I’m also not really all that sorry. I like talking about my four legged boys. If it encourages more people in my position (particularly other autistic people) to look at getting a dog in their lives in some way, then I will wax lyrical about them until I’m blue in the face. 

While I’m aware that some autistic people are uncomfortable around dogs, I am a huge advocate for the good that dogs can bring into the lives of neurodivergent people. I am a completely different person as a result of having my boys in my life. I feel bolder, more assertive, and as though someone always has my back. No matter how badly I think of myself, they are there to jump excitedly when I walk through the door. 

They don’t care that I do strange things, that I flap my hands funnily, that sometimes I forget how to communicate verbally, that I have a lot of knowledge about very specific things and like to talk about them all the time, or that I don’t understand unspoken social norms or ulterior motives. They don’t have an ulterior motive. I love them, and they love me, and they don’t give a damn whether I fit into neurotypical society or not. 

I can truly be myself around them. And they intuitively know how to look after me when I need them to. They aren’t trained as assistance dogs, but I can only imagine how much more incredible they would be if they were.

In fact, it’s my dream to one day have my own nonprofit organisation, in which I rescue what would be seen as ‘scary’ dogs – bull breeds (my two are Staffordshire Bull Terriers), Rottweilers and so on – and train them to be assistance dogs for people with autism, other neurodivergences, anxiety, PTSD and other mental health issues. 

There’s a similar programme in the USA called ‘Pets for Vets’, which focuses on rescuing these breeds and training them as assistance dogs for veterans. But I know that it could stretch much further than this. Veterans are not the only ones who need support in this way. And if I can be a part of facilitating that support, as well as rescuing the breeds that suffer from an undeservedly bad reputation, then that would be a dream direction for my life to take. 

But I digress away from the main point of this. And that was my beautiful, hilarious, courageous, resilient and fabulous puppy dog. I mean, just look at this gorgeous creature looking after his favourite queerly autistic blogger. How can you you not just melt?

I don’t want to think about losing him. But I also have to, in order to do the best for him and to put steps in place to make sure I get through it. I owe that to him, with everything he has faced in his life, to grit my teeth, have those difficult conversations, and live my life to the full now and even after he is gone. He fought to be here today, and so will I. 

I won’t let him down. 

Author: QueerlyAutistic
Erin Ekins is a queer autistic writer, speaker and attempter of activism. She has an interest in all areas of autistic social justice, but has a particular passion for improving understanding and acceptance of the intersection of autism and queerness. She runs the blog and is the author of the upcoming book 'Queerly Autistic: The Ultimate Guide for LGBTQIA+ Teens on the Spectrum'. By day, she works in campaigning and influencing at a disability related charity, but, by night, she is inhabits a busy space between angry internet person and overly-excited fangirl.

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