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Book Review: Second Chance: How Adoption Saved a Boy with Autism & His Shelter Dog by Sandra J. Gerencher

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What if animals could talk? What would they say about autism? There are so many researched articles explaining how a pet can help people with this disorder yet it remains a challenge to the scientific community because of its diversity of symptoms and because there seems to be no one specific cause.

And yet in her small book, Second Chance: How Adoption Saved a Boy with Autism & His Shelter Dog, author Gerencher explains how a mother who adopted Ryan, a child with autism, also adopted Chance to be his companion. Chance is a Rottweiler puppy, and he is the voice of the story.

It begins with the Rottweiler explaining his somewhat formless life in an adoption shelter where he shares a cage with his buddy. Days simply come and go. But to this dog's good fortune, a mother and her adopted son, Ryan, are impressed by this four-month-old puppy that seems equally impressed by both of them.

Ryan’s mother calls the Rottweiler, Chance. He hears the word “adopt.” In his puppy mind, he ponders “Adopt? Now there’s a new word.” With a new leash attached, Chance proudly prances out the front door of the kennel but balks at the idea of getting into a scary automobile. Nevertheless, Ryan and his mom hoist Chance into the car and drive away.

Ryan and Chance distract one another with hugs, kisses, and slobbers and by the cheerful atmosphere in the auto. Once home, The Rottweiler meets his three other dog relatives. Right away, he notices that Ryan’s mother has a special love for her son and his new pet. He begins to wonder when this bubble of living in a caring home will burst because he’s uncertain what the word “adopt” means.

In interactive language only Second Chance and Ryan understand, the young boy tries his best to explain that "adopt" means becoming part of a loving family for the rest of his life. “There’s something different about this boy," the dog notes, "but I sense that he is friendly and that he likes me.” During this explanation, Chance sees Ryan jumping up and down, sometimes flapping his hands in the air, sometimes chewing on the sleeve of his clothing.

What will become of these two friends? The rest of the story is short but to the point. From the wisdom of a dog, I came away with a new understanding of what it means to be adopted and what it means to accept someone who is noticeably different.

I would recommend this book as an imaginative read for any age, but particularly grade school students. It could be a great leaping off point for discussions about children labeled as autistic, and also about adoption and what it means.

Children can be encouraged to tell what they think each not-so-perfectly-clear water color is all about. Who is to say that Chance and Ryan view their worlds with this somewhat blurred outlook? Most critical is having a child understand that Ryan and Chance accepted one another unconditionally. Is that not what love is all about?

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About Regis Schilken

  • Nicole Langan

    Regis – thank you very much for a thoughtful, introspective review and for helping us to spread the word about this PBS Kids recommended book.

  • John Wilson

    Good review. Thanks.

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