Every Annie needs a Sandy: How Rescue Pups help Adopted Children

girl and dog at the beach

“Come here, Sandy. Come here, Sandy. Come here. (Sandy the dog runs to the little girl.) Good old Sandy!”

“You've got yourself a dog. Get him a collar and a leash.” says the police officer.

And so begins the saga of little orphan Annie and her beloved canine companion, Sandy, as the pair make a new life in New York City. The famous Broadway musical “Annie” is reimagined for the big screen this year starring Jamie Foxx, breakout star Quvenzhané Wallis and an aptly cast Marti, a Golden Retriever-Chow mix rescued from a New York shelter, as Annie’s best pal “Sandy,” reports Haley Goldberg of The New York Post. While most of us know the uplifting story of the orphan and her dog, other lessons can be learned about the healing power pets can have with adopted children.

Kids and pets share a special connection
This extraordinary relationship has been scientifically evaluated and a 2008 study published in Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry by Nancy Parish-Plass showed that abused or neglected children responded better to therapy if an animal was present. The therapists reported that nervous, withdrawn, or frightened children became more relaxed and engaged when a pet was present during sessions. Animal-assisted therapy helped improve the children’s self-esteem and practice newly acquired social skills. The scientists speculate that animals provide a safe, nonjudgmental and nonthreatening companionship that humans can’t match. I agree.  

Families with children facing separation, loss, or even moving can also benefit from sharing their home with pets. A 2009 journal article, Family Process by Froma Walsh, PH.D., describes how important pets are to both adults and children during stressful transitions. Pets were shown to lessen or diffuse tensions, ease anxieties, and emotionally support family members in a variety of difficult circumstances. In short, this research concluded that pets made human lives better. As a practicing veterinarian for the past 23 years, I couldn’t agree more.   

Families considering adopting a child should seriously consider adopting a pet. Dr. Deanna Linville conducted a study and followed 20 American families who adopted children from Russia or Romania. She found it interesting that all 20 families had pets, most of them rescues. One of the families she studied joked, “We have four dogs and two cats. They are all rescue animals. I laugh and tell everyone that everyone in our house is rescued.” Sound familiar?

The power of companionship
Many of the families chose to rescue a shelter pet shortly after their adopted child arrived. Dr. Linville later reported in a 2007 Journal of Marital and Family Therapy article that parents who chose this “parallel experience” believed it was helpful. The newly adopted children were thought to be confronting similar emotions and challenges as their animal counterparts, helping ease the transition to a new home. All the participating families felt their adopted children positively benefited from family pets. I think they’re right. 

Though “Annie” is a fictional rags-to-riches tale, the underlying positive link between the little orphan who could and her dog is very real. My bet is that Annie was braver, tougher, and scrappier because she had Sandy at her side. Throughout good times and bad, Sandy was Annie’s steadfast sidekick providing comfort and security. If you have someone, or something, like Sandy in your life, you’ll be stronger, too. For children, the faithful, secure, and authentic companionship a pet provides can lead to helpful coping and healthy maturity. Science proves every “Annie” needs a “Sandy.” I believe everyone benefits from sharing his or her life with a pet. 

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.