The song that looped in my mind this morning while out walking with Lucy was Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You.” I was thinking about Lucy, and how she has made such a tremendous difference to my life. People often stop us and ask me what Lucy does for me, as my service dog. Most of the time, they are polite and genuinely curious to know. I take it as part of advocacy, not just for autism and how service animals can improve our lives, but also for Greyhounds as companions and the human-dog bond. I do not only focus on what service dogs can do for us human, but also on what our responsibilities are towards our close animal friends. It is a symbiotic, synergetic relationship.
I concentrate on Lucy. Very simple, really, but far too many people fail to grasp the full meaning, from my perspective. It is not an obsessive compulsion. It is a directed and meaningful passion with Lucy’s wellbeing in mind. If I take care of her in the right ways, I know that she can reciprocate better. This is a fundamental principle even in human to human relationships, overlooked by far too many, and an absolute essential where it comes to relating with autistic people, whose innate functioning and needs may be different from that of the general majority.
Refocusing – away from myself and onto Lucy – also helps me to divert sensory overload. If Lucy is with me, redirecting my consciousness to her acts as a mental switch from one pathway to another, therefore averting potential sensorial disaster. Awareness of Self can also begin with awareness of Other, especially beneficial if the Other is a gentle, genteel, calm and trusting being. This sentience can also alert me to the signals that she is sending out. Many times, Lucy has led me away from sensorially volatile situations, and because her language is so subtle, I would not have noticed at all, if I wasn’t concentrating on her. Lucy also tells me when I have had enough, even before I am conscious of it myself. Most of the time, when she doesn’t wake me up at our usual 5.30am, and decides to sleep in till a bit later, it is also when I have had a rough night and I too need just that one hour more of sleep. Lately, this has been the case – either due to the noise makers who pound the corridor and slam their doors throughout the wee hours, or my own physical pain, or a combination of both. On mornings when I feel more refreshed, she seems to reflect that as well, politely but firmly indicating to me that it is time to get out of bed!
Many people cannot understand why I would much prefer walking with Lucy, just the two of us, without another human. Humans are sensorially intrusive and socially demanding in ways contrary to my own intrinsic functioning. When I am with a human, our interaction is effortful, even when I like the person and enjoy the company. And no human has ever helped alert me to impending sensory triggers or mitigated on my behalf in the way that Lucy can and does. How do I tell someone that I don’t really want their company when I am walking with Lucy, without offending them? I find it difficult even with the more social minded Aspies who do not themselves have the same kind of intimate relationship with a dog (or cat). It is a beautiful oxymoron: a routine and mundane ephemeral adventure into a very private, vibrant and gently sonorous realm full of minutiae and wonderment. I am reluctant to force my focus on chitchatting with a human and thus ignoring Lucy during our walks. There should be a niche, a proper time and space, for everything. Socialising with humans – whether Aspie or NT – should be properly ordered, and they serve their functions best thus.
Someone, not a dog lover, remarked to me that “the dog” is only doing all that to serve its own agenda. Well and good. I have no need to anthropomorphise Lucy at all. It is because I fully appreciate that she is a dog, a different but parallel embodiment, that our relationship bears such significance. Yes, of course, I am aware that she helps me so much not out of some human-centric perception of altruism, but probably simply because we share similar thresholds, and she too is uncomfortable and wants to leave a stressful situation, or she too has had a lousy night and wants to lie in a bit more etc, but isn’t that what sympathetic resonance is all about?