Puppies for Children with CP

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
09/21/23  8:00 AM PST
puppy for children with cerebral palsy

Dog Days

Buckle up because this story is a twisty one. In fact, if you’re prone to motion sickness, you might want to take a Benadryl before reading. I’m only half kidding.

Almost exactly one year ago, my sweet, sweet dog of seventeen years passed away. Zoe was perhaps the most perfect dog. Adopted from the Humane Society, part collie, part golden retriever, part a bunch of other stuff, she gave full body hugs and had the kindest eyes you’ve ever seen. I got her the week I moved back to Nashville from New York, after having upended my whole future by quitting my job in publishing to attend grad school for teaching. Zoe grounded me and loved me unconditionally no matter what I did with my life. I met her before I met my husband. She was here for the birth of all three of my children and she loved Charlie, my oldest, so well. She was gentle around his wheelchair and when he was a baby and still had a tracheotomy and g-tube, she was the only animal I trusted around him.

When she died last fall, a little part of me did too. However, with children, you have to soldier on for them, especially when one of those children was my daughter who desperately wanted a new puppy in the house. It hurt to even think about. I held off as long as I could until one late winter’s night, I found myself Googling “best dogs for kids with cerebral palsy.” As much as I wanted to adopt a rescue again, Charlie was now eleven and I was afraid to play the wild card. I needed a pet that was gentle and calm and loving.

I clicked on a website for Bernedoodles against all my inclinations. I had spent the better part of the last decade making fun of Doodle owners. That was a bandwagon I swore I would never jump on. Joke’s on me. A mix between a Bernese Mountain dog and a poodle, these dogs are apparently extremely chill and also hypoallergenic. I took a chance and emailed a local breeder. “I have a son with CP and I want to make really sure that this is the right fit for us,” I typed. Her response was beyond serendipitous: “My son has CP as well! It’s why we started breeding these dogs” Could there have been a bigger sign? I put a deposit down.

In early spring, she emailed that they would be born end of May. We told Charlie and our twins on the twins’ ninth birthday. Two weeks later, we met the litter and chose our puppy – an adorable black and white fluffball who looked more like a toy than a real live animal. I’m normally a generous person, but when my daughter asked me to hand over the puppy, I took a minute. Sharing is hard. We could all barely stand to leave her that day, knowing we’d have to wait another month until she was old enough to take home.

One week before she was due to enter our home and one day before we left for a family vacation in Colorado, I got a call from the breeder. Bad news. Our sweet puppy had a heart murmur. This had never happened before in all the litters she had ever raised. We could still take her home for now and she would arrange, pay for, and transport her to the cardiac veterinarian once the surgery was scheduled. “But,” she said, “I want to make sure you still want her.” “Of course we do!” I choked out over the phone. If there were ever a family to get a dog with medical complications it would be us. We were already pros. We were meant to be together.

Fate sealed, we left for vacation. Two days before our return and exactly three days before we would take our new puppy home, I got another call. More bad news. The surgery would be upwards of $9,000 and the breeder could not afford it and there was no one in a hundred-mile radius who could do it. My first instinct, after bursting into tears by the fountain my children were currently splashing through? We will find a way! We will pay for it! We will do anything for our dog! After all the medical expenses with Charlie, this was my default. You did what was necessary for the betterment of your people. No matter the cost. But after a long, sleepless night, full of crunching numbers and crying, I had to admit, this would not be for the betterment of my people. We had several big expenses coming up for Charlie. No matter how much I already loved this puppy, we could not afford to fix her. It hurts to type, even now.

We returned from vacation to a home already set up with a fancy dog crate, leash, toys, and a collar with our dog’s name engraved on it. And we did not get our dog. I stared at her crate much like I had stared at Charlie’s crib in the months after his birth when he was still in the NICU. The space felt emptier for all the promise it held.

But, as it turns out, the breeder’s sister happened to have a litter born not long after. We went to visit. It was bittersweet and I held my breath and my expectations the whole time. I kept my heart open though. And we found another puppy—one Charlie and his siblings loved whom I found myself falling in love with more than I thought possible.

Life is twisty like that. Hopes build and fall short. The future you imagine turns out differently. The trick is to keep looking forward, eyes on the horizon until you breathe easy again.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Author of the middle-grade novels:















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