Ask the Dogfather: A cuddly dog to help children?

Dogs make kids happy: Hallie MacCormack with Mona. — Photo by Jamie Stringfellow

Hi Tom,

A dear friend of mine suggested I contact you. I have a question that I am hoping you may help clarify.

I am really wanting a dog, but since I work so much (sometimes 60 hours a week), I have not gotten one, because I cannot imagine selfishly leaving it home just so I have a pet to come home to. But I really want a dog.

So, over time, I have been thinking of what I could do to get a dog that had a purpose — someone who could partner with me in the work I do with kids. Often kids come into my office (I am not a therapist, but I work with kids daily), and kids seem to trust me. Anyhow, some of the stories they share and questions they ask are hard. I imagine them sitting there cuddling a dog who relaxes them and helps give them comfort.

I contacted an agency in Connecticut, and they said it would cost me around $20,000 to get a certified, AKC-registered, etc., etc. dog. Way, way, way out of my zone.

My question is:

Is there a way to find a young dog, even a rescue, that could be taught the basics and be assessed for temperament that would not cost me a year’s rent?

I have spoken with my CEO, and she thinks it is a wonderful idea, which is why I am pursuing it. You are the go-to as a starting point.

And so the questions. Is my idea the wrong direction? Am I forced to have to get a dog who has gone through rigorous training? Do I have to raise 20K? Or is there a way to find that special-hearted younger dog with a natural compassion — not a big dog, not a Chihuahua, but a cuddly dog with a big heart that does not require a ton of grooming and is hypoallergenic (actually, preferably)? Now that I have written it, looks like a lot to hope for …

I am also looking now at a “beebull,” a cross between a French bull and beagle, so fewer snorting and breathing issues, I am told. My friend got one, and it seems to be close to the ideal size, temperament, and cuteness I had in my mind. Short hair, low shed, mellow, and a lot less expensive if I can’t find that special rescue pup.


A Fan

Dear Fan,

My first thought after reading your letter was, $20,000? I’ll do it for $10,000. (I guess that’s my New York background presenting itself).

Actually, your idea is a great one, right on the money, except for the thousands of dollars. The health benefits of dog ownership are well established, from lowering blood pressure to reducing the likelihood of asthma in infants who grow up with a dog as part of the household, to therapy dogs. I know an acupuncturist on the Island whose dog contributes to the relaxation of her patients. Before it became more widely accepted, I worked with quite a few psychologists and therapists who recognized the value of dogs being present during therapy sessions.

All you need is a well-mannered, mellow dog who loves the touch and the presence of humans. For the cost of an adoption fee, or no fee, there are plenty of dogs in shelters and rescue organizations that will help the kids that you counsel relax and open up. I might suggest an adult dog as opposed to a puppy, and a French bulldog/beagle mix wouldn’t be my first choice. Generally, beagles are scent hounds, whose attitude is, “I’ve found a scent and I WILL follow it,” while French bulls are generally dyslexic: They look in the mirror and see the word GOD. I’d be happy to help you find a new four-legged family member, and teach him or her to be a counselor’s helper. So let me thank you in advance for all the kids who are going to be helped by the presence of your new dog.

Good luck,

The Dogfather