Many a passer-by has sneered, “Hey, buddy, that dog’s walking you! You’re the boss! Take control!”
By Nils Skudra
Years ago my beloved service animal, a bichon frise named Beauregard (after the same guy who ordered the firing of the first shots on Fort Sumter) succumbed to renal failure.
When I graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, Beau was sadly not at my side to see me receive my Bachelor of Arts degree in history nor to take a traditional whiz at historic Sather Gate.
When I made landfall in Greensboro in August 2016, I figured the time had come to patch up the hole in my heart that Beau’s death had made. Any budding Civil War historian worth his measure and one who, like me, has been give a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, should have a canine companion in tow, particularly when the academic going got hot and heavy in graduate school at UNC-Greensboro and emotional support became critical.
I adopted another bichon from the Guilford County Animal Shelter.
Hearts can be won in a moment, and mine was surely grabbed when an 18-pound ball of white fluff came barreling down the shelter yard at me, almost knocking me down, intent on destroying my shoelaces, my new UNCG jacket and relieving himself against my new pair of Levi jeans. I named him Jackson after General Stonewall.
Beneath that double-coated perfectly white exterior lay a heart bent on mischief and irascibility. On the way home, Jackson succeeded in tearing up a copy of the News & Record (no respect for the press) and a box of Kleenex, freshly purchased from the Dollar Tree. He barked incessantly.
He rushed into our house and with a keen sense of irony, snatched one of my history books on Stonewall Jackson from a Red Collection coffee table and chewed off a corner. This raised my hackles as I considered it nothing less than an act of sacrilege.
What kind of emotional support could he give me when he was busy tearing up my textbook for class? And not only that, a book which concerned his namesake! Could this possibly bode well for our future relationship?
Over the past few months, things have not gotten better.
The dog has the instincts of a thief. When I’ve unwittingly turned my back for a moment, the grilled salmon dinner purchased from Whole Foods has suddenly disappeared. And a dish of scrambled eggs met a similar fate. On a stormy afternoon, I walked into my bedroom to find Jackson peeing on an antique log-cabin quilt. The same utterly wayward behavior was directed at a cherished cashmere sweater bought in a highbrow California department store on my native West Coast.
Even my piano bench has suffered from his toothy terrors, and the Art Deco armoire in the living room has battle scars where he managed to rip out a piece of its 1940s grain-resplendent wood.
Walking Jackson would test anyone’s patience and athletic prowess. Many a passer-by has sneered, “Hey, buddy, that dog’s walking you! You’re the boss! Take control!”
How can I adequately explain that Jackson is an emotional support animal when that’s the LAST thing he seems to be concerned with providing?
So I have these moments of doubt — is a dog really man’s best friend? And yet … and yet … who can dispute the obvious love he bears me, sleeping right next to me every night on my bed?
Or how he wakes me up with a doggy kiss? If a stranger comes near, he snaps to attention and assumes the role of protector. He can be fearsome. When he drops a doggy treat on my lap, I understand it is his intention to share. When I practice piano, he curls up against my legs, happy to listen to ragtime or Chopin.
When I study for an exam, he is at my side, and when I travel anywhere in search of Civil War history, he uncomplainingly accompanies that search. He is my boy, and I am his, and for whatever it’s worth, we have yoked our fates ineluctably together.
This article was originally posted here.
I am a second year graduate student for the Master’s Degree in American History at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. I formed the intention as a very young child to pursue a career as a Civil War historian. I am a published author, recently of three newspaper articles in the Greensboro “News & Record.” I have also exhibited my Civil War artwork in six California galleries as well as at the Fresno Civil War Re-Enactment where all of my prints sold out in several hours.
I carry a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and can testify to the absolute paucity of services for young adults on the spectrum. I started an organization at my campus for college students on the spectrum called “Spectrum at UNCG” and it has recently received a lot of media attention. My idea is find funding to create autism centers in each American State which are multifactorial where one can find housing and employment assistance, psychotherapy and medical services, transportation training, roommate referrals, and opportunities to make social connections. My conception is to have numerous health professionals on site to help individuals transition to independent living opportunities.
Since 1 out of every 59 children in North Carolina is born on the spectrum, it is critical to put supports in place so they are they when they become young adults. Social skills groups would be available for people to refine interpersonal skills. A cafeteria would be available at the centers which people can convene and potentially form friendships. There would be numerous opportunities for recreation — movies, lectures, art exhibits as well as places for people to participate in arts and crafts activities. The Center would effectively be a home for those on the spectrum who are generally marginalized in a society which is so often indifferent to those who, like myself, are differently abled.