By Tosha Tharp
When my son was diagnosed with Autism in 2012, I could finally put a name to his various behaviors and his inability to communicate. The diagnoses left me overwhelmed with many emotions including anger, depression and confusion. Once the initial shock subsided, I took a proactive role in his therapy and started working to bring his education up to his age/grade level. At first my son was very non-cooperative until I started including our French Bulldog, Zoe, into our sessions. I was amazed to find out that both boy and dog loved every minute and my son made great progress. My immediate thought was “if this helps my son, why can’t it help others?”
One day while waiting for my son at his occupational therapy clinic, I started brainstorming a name and a game plan and that’s when Pawsitive Friendships was born. My son was responding so well to Zoe, my goal became to create friendships between animals and special needs children.
Although I have always loved dogs, I had never witnessed their potential to help kids heal. On day while I was reading the bible I read John 9: 1-3 and it hit me. I was given my son’s autism so God’s glory could be seen through him. I wouldn’t be helping special needs children experience the unconditional love of an animal if my son wasn’t autistic. Even the most negative situation can have a positive side. If we dwell on the downside, life will seem bitter. The other choice is to focus on how this experience can help make you a better person. I deeply treasure seeing the smiles on the faces of the children we work with. Some of them are not able to communicate with their mouths but their eyes say, “I absolutely love that!”
My extended family has been very supportive of Pawsitive Friendships and attend all our events both as spectators and volunteers. In addition to my eight-year-old son, I have a 14-year-old daughter who often accompanies me to events and loves interacting with the children and the animals. I have three pets, Zoe and Jacques (another French Bulldog), and Penelope, a mini-potbellied pig. She lives in the house and is both doggy door and crate trained. As a matter of fact, she is better trained than the dogs! When it came time to design a logo for Pawsitive Friendships, it just seemed natural to put a boy (my son) and a dog (Jacques our bulldog) together, they even share the same birthdate! My son tells everyone that he is one half of our logo.
At Pawsitive Friendships we are dedicated to educating the public about Autism and raising people’s awareness about the proven benefits of animal assisted therapy. Through the unconditional love of a dog, I want to bring positive change in the lives of special needs children. To learn more, visit www.pawsitivefriendships.org or email Tosha@pawsitivefriendships.org.