Eve has an admirer. In fact, the young man is so smitten with her that he sent her a hand-drawn portrait. You see, they spent weeks together, enjoying each other's company as part of Cunningham's Pet Therapy program.
Eve is a black Labrador who visits the agency a couple of times per week and shares her unconditional love with our kids. So, it's not uncommon for her to be showered with affection. But in this case, even Eve's owners say an unusual bond occurred between her and one of our boys, 15-year-old Aiden*.
Harriett Weatherford who has volunteered with our pet therapy program for more than a decade said, "Eve is hard to train. She's not motivated by treats or playing games, but Aiden had a connection with her. He was able to get her to fetch a ball and do a few other tricks."
Aiden's favorite trick involved having Eve lay down. He put treats on each of her paws and also between her paws and encouraged her to wait for the command to eat them. He was surprised by her patience.
Maybe that's because patience doesn't come easy to Aiden. Because of difficult circumstances in his early life, he struggles to control his thoughts and actions. But Harriett and our special therapies staff say Aiden was always focused when he showed up to work with Eve at pet therapy. That's why these moments are so critical for our kids. Aiden had a chance to feel what it's like to be in control of his behaviors and those little moments build on themselves for greater success.
In addition to behavioral skills, Aiden learned about caring for another life. Aiden says he liked learning how to brush Eve's teeth and clean her ears. As part of the program, Harriett and her partner, Tom Schaefges, teach our youth about the basics of caring for animals. Harriett said Aiden really caught on. "He often asked if she had enough water, whether the pavement was too hot for her paws, and showed other concerns about her care." Again, compassion is a great life skill for our kids.
When asked, Aiden said that pet therapy was one of his favorite activities at Cunningham. He drew the picture to honor Eve, but he also wanted Harriett and Tom to "know how much I appreciate them."
Hope is revealed in ways that are not always expected. For Aiden, hope began with a four-legged, furry friend.
*The story is true but the name has been changed to protect the privacy of our youth.