A journalist and children's book author tells the story of the golden retriever that changed her disabled son’s life.
Shortly after they married in the late 1990s, Winokur (Nuzzle: Love Between a Boy and His Service Dog, 2011, etc.) and her husband, Harvey, realized they could not have children. Unwilling to wait for an American-born child, they adopted two infants from Russia, a girl and a boy they named Morasha and Iyal. For the first year, they experienced “a parenting honeymoon.” Then Winokur began to notice that Iyal’s development lagged behind his sister’s. At first she thought he had ADD or ADHD, but Iyal’s frenzied behavior, along with the visible disconnect “between his brain and sensory receptors,” suggested a far more serious problem. A doctor finally diagnosed him with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. As the boy grew older, his behaviors became increasingly extreme. Never knowing when Iyal would turn into “a Mini-Me of the Incredible Hulk” and outraged at the many ways other children tried to abuse him, Winokur struggled with anxiety and depression while her marriage crumbled around her. “Betting on hope,” she sought help from 4 Paws, a service that trains dogs to assist special needs children. The organization sent the family a young golden retriever named Chancer. Harvey was deeply skeptical; despite a loving personality, Chancer made mistakes, including chewing up a TV remote control and Harvey’s cellphone. Yet from the moment Chancer met Iyal, the dog’s gentle presence immediately helped the boy begin to find calm from the “chemical storm[s]” that caused him to hallucinate and suffer from extreme sensitivity to smells and touch. The story of how Chancer helped the Winokurs and their son heal and grow closer is poignant and heartwarming. But what makes the book especially important is the frank way the author illuminates an underdiscussed disorder that affects as many as one child in 20 in the United States.
An honest, informative, and uplifting memoir.