The improvement was remarkably rapid. Each succeeding day was better for Justin. Every day he appeared to feel safer. He stopped throwing food and smearing feces. He started to smile. He showed clear signs of recognition and comprehension of verbal commands. We realized he had received some social stimulation and affection from the dogs he'd lived with-dogs are incredibly social animals and have a sophisticated social hierarchy in their packs. At times, he responded to unfamiliar people much like a scared dogs will-tentatively approaching, backing off and then moving forward again.
And as the days went by, he began to be affectionate with me and several other staff members. He even started to show signs of a sense of humor. For example, he knew that "throwing poop" made the staff crazy. So once, when someone gave him a candy bar, he let the chocolate melt into his hands and raised his arm as though he were about to throw it. The people around him moved back. And then he broke into a big, hearty laugh. It was this primitive sense of humor—which demonstrated that he understood the effects of his actions on others and connected with them—that rapidly gave me hope about his capacity for change.
At first, however, my colleagues thought I was wasting hospital resources by asking that physical therapists try to help him stand, to improve his large and fine motor strength and control. But within a week Justin was sitting in a chair and standing with assistance. By three weeks, he had taken his first steps. Then, an occupational therapist came to help him with fine motor control and fundamentals of self care—dressing himself, using a spoon, brushing his teeth. Although many children who suffer this kind of deprivation develop a highly tuned sense of smell and often try to sniff and lick their food and people, Justin's sniffing was particularly pronounced and may have had to do with his life among the dogs. He had to be taught that this isn't always appropriate.