Cooper Estes-Jordan and his emotional support dog, Lucy, when he adopted her in March 2019. Courtesy of Paetra Estes

BRUNSWICK — For Cooper Estes-Jordan and his dog, Lucy, it was love at first lick.

When Cooper and his mom, Paetra Estes walked into Midcoast Humane’s adoption event in March 2019, they had a game plan: They would walk through and look at all the available dogs before making a decision, but knew from the get-go that  the right fit would be a well-trained, adult dog who would help Cooper, who has high-functioning autism, cope with the world around him.

But in the very first kennel they saw Lucy.  

Her tiny puppy body started wriggling with excitement and she covered Cooper with kisses. From that moment on, there was no separating them. 

Because of Cooper and Lucy’s story, Midcoast Humane is one of 50 animal shelters and rescue leagues across the country selected by the Petco Foundation’s Holiday Wishes Grant Campaign. There were over 7,000 applications.

Animal welfare organizations, like Midcoast Humane, work tirelessly to save pet lives every day, and we’re proud to surprise them at the holidays with grant investments to support their lifesaving work,” Petco Foundation President Susanne Kogut said in a statement. “These stories highlight how the love of an adopted pet changes so many lives in different ways, especially during these challenging times. This holiday season, we hope these stories motivate others to adopt a pet and to give back to hardworking organizations in their communities.”

Cooper Estes-Jordan shares a kiss with his dog, Lucy. Their story is one of 50 selected by the Petco Foundation for their annual Holiday Wishes Grant Campaign. Courtesy of Paetra Estes

The campaign awards anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 to the selected organizations to honor the work they do for animals each day. Midcoast Humane will not know how much it has been awarded until late next week.

“It’s a really big honor,” Kate Griffith, community programs manager said. “It’s been such a difficult year and these are really unprecedented times. The community has really come together to lift us up, and this is just one example of that. It really speaks to the power of pets in our lives.” 

Estes, a Freeport resident, is well-aware of that power.

Cooper, now 15, started to struggle when he hit adolescence. His usual coping methods weren’t working anymore and he was on a number of medications to help him manage his behavior.

The family had always been cat people, Estes said, especially since Cooper was, for a while, afraid of dogs after witnessing his cousin be attacked by one at a young age. 

However, he was always an animal lover and enjoyed working at Midcoast Humane as a youth volunteer, working bit by bit to become more comfortable around dogs. 

Then, a teacher at his school started bringing her therapy dog in each day and let Cooper take it for walks and care for it. He began to thrive— so much so that after a great deal of consideration, Estes decided to look into getting a dog for their family. 

That’s when they found Lucy, a puppy transported from Georgia who, along with her littermates, was rescued from a flood. 

“I don’t think we ever could have imagined when we chose her as a puppy…” Estes said. “They have such an amazing bond.”

Some of Lucy’s anxieties, like thunderstorms and water, are also anxieties for Cooper and have only brought them closer together.

“He’s had some autism meltdowns with her here, and it hasn’t scared her or deterred her,” she said. “She just adores him, that is her person.”

“She’s his teammate, catching the rebound while shooting hoops,” Estes wrote in her submission to the Petco Foundation. “She’s his housekeeper, removing his dirty socks off the bedroom floor. She’s his wing-woman, encouraging social interaction. She’s his co-pilot, boosting his confidence to new heights. She’s his rock, grounding him with stability in an often-uncertain world. She’s his sunshine, when skies are gloomy and gray. She’s a doctor, friend, family member, and therapist.”

Lucy the “love pup,” was adopted by a Freeport family in March 2019. Her Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles have almost 16,000 followers combined. Courtesy of Paetra Estes

A 2013 study published in peer-review journal “PLOS One” found that “Participants with Autism Spectrum Disorder demonstrated more social approach behaviors (including talking, looking at faces, and making tactile contact) and received more social approaches from their peers in the presence of animals compared to toys. They also displayed more prosocial behaviors and positive affect (i.e., smiling and laughing) as well as less self-focused behaviors and negative affect (i.e., frowning, crying, and whining) in the presence of animals compared to toys.”

Estes and Cooper aren’t the only ones who love Lucy. 

Her social media platforms, “Lucy the Love Pup,” started by Estes as a way to document the bond between Cooper and Lucy, have almost 16,000 followers between them. 

It was on social media, Instagram, that she first learned about the Petco Foundation and the Holiday Wishes Grant. She jumped on the chance to give back to Midcoast Humane. 

“We haven’t really been able to give to them the way we had before (the pandemic),” Estes said, but this award gives them another opportunity. “It has made our holiday.” 

According to Griffith, the funds, no matter how much they are, will be used to support the daily care of the animals. 

Aside from the money awarded through the grant, the organization has another opportunity for an additional $5,000 to $25,000 through the campaign’s People’s Choice award. Voters have until Dec. 16 to choose their top five rescues.

“The community has been so amazing to midcoast humane in 2020, a challenging year for everyone,” Griffith said, citing the organization’s emergency funding campaign, which has now raised over $400,000. “This is a great opportunity to help Midcoast Humane without having to open your wallet again.”

Comments are not available on this story.