Autistic children pour their love of cats and dogs into colourful art

07 February 2018

A little girl with her cat friends

Dogs helping to brighten the lives of autistic children in China are celebrated in a series of touching artworks by their best friends.

For the past 27 years, Animals Asia’s Dr Dog programme has offered adults and children what they need most when life gets challenging or lonely – a furry, four-legged friend.

Through the programme, hundreds of therapy dogs have visited hospitals, homes for the elderly, centres for people living with disability, orphanages and schools in China, bringing joy and affection wherever they go.

[Dr Dog program] A special need kid is earning to pet a dog

As a special “thank you” to their Dr Dog friends, dozens of children volunteered to create pictures of their companions, depicting the close bond between them. More than 40 drawings and paintings were received by Animals Asia, which selected 13 that have been published as a calendar.

Animals Asia’s Cat and Dog Welfare Director Irene Feng said:

“We’ve been amazed by the talent and creativity of our wonderful artists. Their pictures are a beautiful tribute to our Dr Dogs. Every artwork is full of love, joy and happiness.”

One picture shows a little girl kissing a black and white dog. Another features a sprightly dog trotting contentedly alongside an elderly man with a walking stick.

A dog trotting alongside an elderly man with a walking stick

In perhaps the most whimsical image, a child and a dog set off in a hot air balloon, peacefully drifting past cotton wool clouds and brightly coloured balloons.

Irene said:

“These pictures perfectly illustrate the healing power of dogs and other companion animals for anyone suffering stress, fear, anxiety and loneliness. Who wouldn’t be comforted by the sight of a wagging tail? Or cheered by an affectionate wet-nosed kiss? The greatest gift our Dr Dogs give is to make everyone they come into contact with feel special and loved.”

A little boy with his cat friends on a boat

The pictures were drawn by 10 children aged between five and 15, who are living with autism and dysgnosia, a cognitive disorder, and two adults who are recovering from mental illness.

Studies have shown the enormous benefits of having companion animals. Dogs especially can help keep their humans fit and active, lower blood pressure, stave off depression and add meaning and purpose to life.

Therapy dogs are also effective in facilitating the social behaviour of autistic children, cultivating a positive play environment and providing children with tactile stimulation. They can also help people with dementia since stroking a dog has been shown to reduce agitated behaviour, which is often associated with the condition.

A puppy and an elderly dog

Besides lighting up the lives of their human friends in China, Dr Dogs are also changing the way people feel about dogs in a country where raising dogs was once banned as a bourgeois past-time.

For decades, dogs were seen as a source of meat or fur. However the rising popularity of companion animals in China, combined with efforts by charities like Animals Asia to demonstrate the contribution of dogs to human society, has changed attitudes.