Dave had read it somewhere.
It was there, somewhere in the mess of his mind.
Dogs respond to autistic children. Autistic children respond to dogs.
Standing outside the pen with, what he perceived to be, a cute and cuddly spaniel cross seemingly oblivious to his and Lucy’s presence, he doubted the former. Despite earlier enthusiasm, on the journey to the rescue centre, Lucy’s flat refusal to acknowledge the dog was making Dave doubt the latter.
Patience is a virtue. Dave was fairly sure he had read that somewhere too.
An old mongrel, sad eyes but a lightly wagging tail, sauntered towards them in the next pen. “Hello old boy.” Dave mustered as much enthusiasm as his flagging spirit would allow. Lucy rolled her eyes skyward, not even noticing the grey, limping dog now leaning against the wire fence enjoying Dave’s fingers tickling his shoulder.
Maybe it was in one of those Facebook groups, Dave thought. There seems to be a group for every minority, even single, widower fathers, raising an autistic daughter. Yes, he was fairly confident a fellow parent had suggested the dog idea.
Whilst Lucy seemed unfazed attending a mainstream school, she never appeared to befriend any of her peers. Dave’s time and energy was largely spent kicking down doors, hoping Lucy might like what was behind them.
But he was tired.
Lucy’s mother had died shortly after giving birth, a consequence of multiple complications in the torturous and excruciating labour. For many years, Dave simply accepted that Lucy would be in some way different. A perfectly natural reaction to her start in life.
He’d initially reacted defensively and, he was ashamed to say, quite ignorantly when a nursery worker had suggested Lucy be assessed. Wandering, meandering through her days, Lucy never appeared distressed but seemed unwilling to engage with the other children, nor, particularly, the adults.
So, maybe a dog. Maybe.
The last pen in the block housed two very energetic terrier type puppies, both rushing to see the visitors. Call the cute police, thought Dave, Lucy is going to love these.
“Can I take my coat off?” Lucy asked as she again checked out the speed of the low clouds rolling across the roof tops.
Patience is a virtue.
Dave rolled himself upright, Lucy instinctively taking his hand. They headed over to the second block of kennels. Dave took a stronger grip of Lucy’s hand as he heard the threatening growl. A Staffordshire Terrier or similar, crossed with something taller, Dave guessed.
Padding up and down the front fencing of her pen, Dave was reminded of the worn-down tracks around the tiger enclosure at Paignton Zoo on last year’s holiday. He wasn’t comfortable then. He certainly wasn’t comfortable now.
His discomfort intensified dramatically as Lucy slipped his hand and grabbed the wire mesh of the dog’s pen. As he started to reach for her something made him pause. The dog, Duchess, as her name plaque informed him, stopped pacing and turned to study Lucy.
Dave held his hand up to the kennel worker who, clocking Lucy at the fence, was heading their way. He too paused. The four of them, Dave, Lucy, Duchess and the young volunteer seemed frozen in time.
The first to move was Duchess, her heckles visibly smoothing and her crooked tail lifting as she sauntered towards Lucy. Lucy and Duchess had cocked their heads as if mimicking each other. Dave couldn’t help but smile at this. He was in completely unchartered territory now, spellbound. He felt a warmth inside, a stirring, the love of his wonderful late wife, the love FOR his wonderful late wife.
His stomach feeling like it did after their first date, he blinked slowly, confirming that the scene before him was truly unfolding.
Lucy pressed a cheek against the fence, Duchess following her, leaning her bulk heavily, closing her eyes and sighing with a contentment Dave doubted she’d ever had. Lucy giggled.
Lucy was giggling. Dave started to shudder as he felt the heat rising through him. Tears inevitable now. Lucy giggled again. Dave had never heard anything like it.
Duchess took a step back, sat down and reached forward with her neck, taking in the aroma of an unlikely friendship. Not slavering or lapping at Lucy’s face, just gently sniffing, a few inches of respect and trust between them.
Suddenly not so tired, Dave turned to the volunteer, who was himself fighting a lump in his throat.
“I guess that’s our dog!”