Cancer-Stricken Mom Wrangles Puppy for Son With Autism

A 9-week-old brown and white poodle pawed from inside his kennel, trying to get out.

A young man knelt beside the kennel, put his face close to the door and was barraged by puppy kisses.

They were united for the first time Wednesday at University Park Airport, but it took a lot of planning, a lot of heartbreak and a promise to make it happen.

On a warm June night in Boalsburg, Lisa Bowen, who has terminal cancer, wondered if it was worth another call. Her best friend Jenny Lee Yost told her to have some guts.

They wanted to find a dog for Lisa Bowen's 21-year-old son Austin Bowen, who recently moved into a home for people with disabilities through ARC, a local nonprofit. He has several disabilities, including pervasive developmental delayed autism and obsessive compulsive disorder.

"People know about my condition and have been extremely supportive," Lisa Bowen said. "ARC has stepped up for me. They helped quickly move this process along for Austin to live a more independent life. But I don't know how he'll face his next transition, so this is for him. He knows what will happen to mom, so I promised I would find him a puppy."

But there was a brief hesitation in their search — every prior attempt had come up empty-handed.

Yost and Lisa Bowen kept coming back to Florida-based, where they found a 3-week-old puppy named Holden who had a lightning bolt pattern on his forehead. He was a standard poodle, the right kind of dog. He was hypoallergenic, plus the breed has a reputation for being easily trainable.

"I didn't have the courage to do it without Jenny pushing me," Lisa Bowen said. "I thought they were big business, too big to probably care. I didn't know why they would do it for someone in a small community far, far away from them."

"I wasn't having that, but I wasn't going to do it for her," Yost said. "I told her she needed to do it for herself and for Austin. You have to believe in people. You have to believe they'll do the right thing."

Purebred Breeders did.

"As soon as we received the call from Lisa Bowen and learned about her story, we knew we wanted to help this deserving family," Purebred Breeders spokeswoman Arielle Schechtman said. "It is incredibly gratifying to be able to give Austin a furry best friend and make his birthday wish come true."

The company came through and offered his and the puppy's traveling expenses free of charge.

"I couldn't believe it," Lisa Bowen said. "I couldn't believe they wanted to do it. We were prepared to pay for as much as we could, and they made it happen. They wanted to be a part of this, and I just wept."

Holden will be a central part of life in the ARC home, off McCormick Avenue, where two other men live with Austin Bowen.

"Dogs are like one of the cornerstones of a family," ARC CEO Becky Cunningham said. "The companionship and love that comes from a dog is something that is hard to explain, because they are always there for you. Austin's dog will provide a lot for him and the other men living in the home. They are all very excited. The other men don't have verbal skills, but you could see it in their faces."

They're each ready for the journey of raising a puppy — Austin Bowen already knows he needs to clean up accidents in the home.

"He means the whole world to me. I would never let anything happen to him," Austin Bowen said. "... I'm very excited. This is the moment we've all been waiting for."

It's something he's done before.

"He's had dogs," Lisa Bowen said. "He knows what they do, and he's been talking about it a lot. We lost our last dog, Pudge, last year, and Austin misses him desperately. Pudge was Austin's best friend."

Austin Bowen has matured in the five years since his mom was diagnosed with cancer. He attended LifeLink PSU, a State College Area School District program for students with special needs, performed with the Penn State pep band and got a part-time job working in the kitchen at Foxdale Village.

He recently began taking public transportation on his own and is learning how to manage his money and his time.

It all adds up to him being more independent.

"Lisa is one heck of a strong woman," Yost said. "Austin takes after her."

"He has learned so much in the last few years," Lisa Bowen said. "He learned mom has some limitations. He has had to help me more. He has had to figure out some things on his own. He has heard that mom can't help him sometimes, because mom is recovering from another surgery. He has learned that each day you can give someone a hug, you darn well better do it."

Lisa Bowen can't predict how much time she has left, but said she feels good.

"I think I've got a few more years in me," she said smiling.

With one promise kept, there is another to be carried out.

The next pledge comes from Yost, who promised to look after Austin Bowen with his father, grandparents and ARC.

"Everyone needs a best friend to get them through hard times, and I have always had Jenny," Lisa Bowen said. "Now, Austin has Holden."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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