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Fall 2014 Scholarship Winning Essay
The Therapeutic Benefits of Animals

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The following essay was written by Nicholas Vucovich, our $500 Fall 2014 Scholarship winner. Congratulations Nicholas! Click here for details on our next scholarship contest.



I plan to study Neuroscience at Pomona College in Claremont, California this fall. In order to understand my passion for autism and neurodevelopmental research, you need to better understand my background. Here is my story:


I remember the transition like it was yesterday, even though it happened nearly 12 years ago. His eyes changed from the bright blue of an ocean’s tide to the color of gray associated with decrepit prison walls. His contagious laughter vanished along with his angelic smile. He appeared locked away from the rest of the world and his regression was obvious, even to me, his then five-year-old brother. Scientists have still not been able to find the key to unlock my brother from this trance known as autism; however, throughout my life I have been chipping away at the walls that surround him (and so has our dog Daisy).


I had always wanted a dog, but my parents were not certain how my brother Joe would react to a dog. I begged them until they finally acquiesced; we had moved to a new home in a different town when I was 9 years old. I did not want to move, but my parents wanted a better school district to meet my brother’s needs. The dog was supposed to pacify me, and we were instantly buddies. I was slightly less angry about our move after we got our dog Daisy.


Joe was nearly six years old, and at first he kind of ignored Daisy. Daisy is a small white cock-a-poo, and she is very gentle. Over the years, Joe has grown to love Daisy, although he still does not like Daisy to sit on the furniture. Joe is functionally non-verbal, but has learned to say “Daisy down” while pointing to the floor. She actually listens to him, and she sits near him while he is eating (I wonder why…it might have something to do with not liking his vegetables very much, while Daisy seems to enjoy a veggie every now and then when it “accidently” drops on the ground!).


Fast forward several years - Joe is 15 years old now, and walks Daisy almost every day. He has even started to clean up the yard after her, a job I have never enjoyed very much. I have gladly surrendered these duties! He takes these chores very seriously, and lets Daisy out of my bedroom each morning. Joe is always happy to see her after school too. Daisy follows Joe around, hoping he will drop a snack or two. Joe does not have a lot of friends outside of school, but he has Daisy, which seems to make him very happy. Although she was kind of my dog when we first got her, she has slowly become Joe’s dog. I will be leaving for college in a few weeks, and I will miss Joe a lot. But I know he will be okay; he has Daisy, his trusted companion.


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