Adopted Dog Helps Boy with Autism Thrive

For Lucy and Cooper, it was love at first lick.

Cooper + Lucy

A love story of adoption and autism unfolds when a pup named Lucy shows Cooper the true meaning of best friendship.

"Lucy’s loving impact has been nothing short of remarkable. She’s helped to improve Cooper’s coping skills and emotional regulation. She’s blessed him with companionship. Most of all, she’s given Cooper the gift of unconditional love."

“Mom! Mom! Mom! LOOK! She’s kissing me!” Cooper’s words echoed above the woofs that filled the room of the bustling adoption event, and he giggled with glee from the prickly tickles of the puppy’s tongue. His eyes sparked with amusement, gazing at the smooching pooch. Just like that, their love story began.

This loving licker, named Lucy, wasn’t the only one rescued that day. My teenage son, Cooper, was rescued on Lucy’s adoption day too. With Lucy affectionately cradled in Cooper’s embrace, we walked out of the shelter and away from the past. Cooper is an animal enthusiast with a diagnosis of high-functioning autism. The symptoms of the disorder hindered his ability to have meaningful relationships with peers. He longed for friendship, but deficits in communication and socialization always interfered. With social isolation came depression, anxiety, and impulsive behaviors. After exhausting all traditional treatment methods, I opted for an alternative approach. An approach more remarkable than I ever could have imagined: man’s best friend. 

With all things, both big and small, Lucy’s loving impact has been nothing short of remarkable. She’s helped to improve Cooper’s coping skills and emotional regulation. She’s blessed him with companionship. Most of all, she’s given Cooper the gift of unconditional love. She’s his teammate, catching the rebound while shooting hoops. She’s his housekeeper, removing his dirty socks off the bedroom floor. She’s his wing-woman, encouraging social interaction. She’s his co-pilot, boosting his confidence to new heights. She’s his rock, grounding him with stability in an often-uncertain world. She’s his sunshine, when skies are gloomy and gray. She’s a doctor, friend, family member, and therapist. Cooper’s physical, mental, and emotional health have all benefited because of Lucy. Her love has been pivotal in improving his quality of life. 

In the words of Cooper, “Lucy is the best friend I could ever have.” Less than two years later, Lucy is still stealing smooches as often as she can. As for Cooper, he begins each day with licks and a smile. Their love story is still being written, with many chapters yet to come. For now, I’ll conclude this chapter in fairytale fashion: “….and they lived happily ever after.”

Each year, the Petco Foundation Holiday Wishes campaign invites adopters to share stories of how their pets have changed their lives to give the organizations that they’ve adopted from the chance to receive grant awards. This story by Paetra won Midcoast Humane in Brunswick, Maine a 2020 Holiday Wishes award.