My name is Kimberli. I’d like to share with you about my son Aidan and his special relationship with animals, especially a dog named Lily.
When Aidan was nine he was diagnosed with a mood dysregulation disorder, along with anxiety and depression. Up until 4th grade, Aidan enjoyed the friendship of two young boys. But, eventually the boys found it hard to handle the stress of Aidan’s erratic emotional shifts so those friendships dissolved. One moved away when his family relocated and the other moved to a different school. The loss of his best friends was devastating for Aidan and left him very lonely, especially at school. It still breaks my heart.
Aidan has always had a natural connection with animals. He’s very loving, kind and compassionate with animals of all kinds. During hurricane Harvey, a local dog rescue was collecting leashes to be used for rescuing dogs that were victims of the hurricane, so we gathered some leashes and brought Aidan to the rescue to drop them off. That ignited a spark in Aidan and he donated all his allowance money ($60!) to the rescue for which they in turn named a dog “Aidan” after him to honor his generosity. He also started volunteering with the rescue to walk the dogs there. For Aidan, this was the highlight of each week. He and I would typically walk dogs about three times a week. Then, the rescue made a decision to discontinue the volunteer dog walking after a volunteer accidentally let go of a leash and a dog escaped. Luckily, that dog was found safe. This was another devastating blow for Aidan. The dog walking was something he looked forward to and not only did he get to connect with animals, but it got him exercising which helped with his anxiety and depression.
I started to think of other solutions and decided to reach out to neighbors who had dogs to see if they would hire Aidan to walk their dogs. This is how we connected with our neighbor Barbara. Barbara had a poodle mix named Lily who was in her last phase of life and Barbara thought Aidan should walk her. A beautiful friendship began between the Aidan & Lily … and between Barbara and our family.
Barbara credits Aidan for breathing new life into Lily. Every time Lily seemed to be near death, Aidan would visit her and she would perk up. There were times when Lily was really sick and Barbara needed Aidan’s help giving her medication or fluids and Aidan would run over immediately to help comfort Lily—and Barbara. The pandemic made dog walking tricky, but Aidan continued to walk Lily until she eventually passed away in June 2020. Lily wound up living a few years longer than anyone had expected she would.
The relationship Aidan had with Barbara and her two other dogs continued. Aidan started walking one of her male dogs named River. It wasn’t the same connection, but it was still nice for Aidan to have the opportunity and it was nice to continue to visit with Barbara since Barbara had developed a real love for Aidan, as Lily once had. Walking River gave Barbara an opportunity to continue seeing Aidan and vice versa. And it gave Barbara and me a chance to catch up and commiserate about the pandemic. We became close friends and also started grocery shopping for each other during Covid. To this day we still help each other with grocery shopping and we talk/text almost every day. I also continue to walk River at least once a week.
Unfortunately, the pandemic was extremely hard on Aidan. The isolation compounded his depression and anxiety so he was not able to regulate his emotions. We enrolled him in a wilderness therapy program in the summer of 2021 and, following that, placed him in a residential therapeutic school immediately. Luckily the school has cats, horses and some of the therapists have dogs they bring in so Aidan can get his animal fix, but his connection with Lily was really quite special and will always be treasured … and connected us with Barbara for life.
P.S. There’s more to this story. Aidan has become my Special Technical Advisor! I’m in the process of writing a dog rescue story for children and Aidan is reviewing my manuscript to make sure the dialogue is hip and in step with the way kids talk these days.
Walter Stoffel is a substance abuse counselor and GED teacher in correctional facilities. When not behind bars, he likes to read, travel, work out and watch bad movies. Major accomplishment : He entered a 26.2-mile marathon following hip replacement surgery and finished—dead last. The author currently lives with his wife Clara, their dog Buddy (another rescue), and cat Winky (yet another rescue).