Furry Friends

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Pets can play an important role in a person’s life, perhaps even more so for individuals who are neurodivergent, have autism or even a combination of both. Animals of all kinds: dogs, cats, birds and others are able to provide a non-judgmental level of support, just through their interactions with us. With this blog post, I’m going to share a couple of pets that I’ve had in my life and how they’ve helped me growing up.

The first pet I would like to mention, would be the cockatiel my family had when I was a child. The bird’s name was Sammie, he had a brightly colored yellow crest, a bold gray coloring on its chest and the traditional red markings on his cheeks. The red markings reminded me of the popular cartoon character Pikachu from Pokemon. What I can remember most fondly about Sammie was his ability to whistle; not just chirping but the ability to memorize tunes that my father taught him. He also picked up a few just by hearing them second-hand from the TV in the other room. School was a little overwhelming for me as a child, and when I would come home, Sammie would always be whistling, and that effect was calming. Sometimes I would sit near his bird-cage, completing homework, reading a book or playing with toys nearby, and he would still be going through a variety of tunes. I really did appreciate that, because it seemed like he was trying his best so that helped me through certain circumstances.

A second pet that I had was a golden lab, her name was Sandy. I got her as a puppy as a birthday gift from my parents. My family always had dogs around, but I really wanted one that I could call my own and I was granted that wish. Her name has a very simple reference, the sand on the beach. Since Sandy was a puppy, I did my best to help take care of her, getting her food and water, going for walks outside, cleaning up messes that she would make, really taking responsibility for her well-being. I think that small caretaking role instilled at a young age that I could make a difference in another’s, a pet’s life. It made me happy that I could do the best for her. Sandy certainly returned the favor, always jolly and ready to go for walks, she kept me active. She also was able to tell when I was upset and would check in or even sit near me, and allowed me to pet her. Sandy was able to help teach me the important lesson of helping others, animals and people as well. I definitely could tell that she valued my well-being, and I did the same of hers.

Linking things back to individuals with autism and those whom are neurodivergent, I think pets and other animals can offer a level of support that doesn’t come with critical judgments that you can get from interacting with other kids/teens/adults. Pets aren’t going to point out stimming, humming or harmless habits and make you feel bad about exhibiting them. A lot of pets don’t like loud noises, so I can relate with them with that. And even pets that are not formally trained service animals, in their own way, they do the best they can to assist. I think, believe and know that the pets that I’ve had definitely eased a lot of stress growing up, and for that, I will always appreciate the memories that I have of them.


Ziggy is a Certified Peer Specialist in PA and currently resides in Pittsburgh. He is a member of the Let’s Act committee, a group of peers devoted to raising awareness about mental health care. In his downtime, he enjoys reading novels and watching nature documentaries.

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