Part 4 – Winging It
“You alone are my hiding place. You alone are my only refuge in the storm.”
This is the fourth installment of ‘The Mourning Doves,’ an adoption story of a single mother, her daughter, and their search for a therapy dog. ‘The Mourning Doves’ is a multi-post documentary from the Invisible Obstacles Series. To start from the beginning, click here.
THE WAFFLE INCIDENT
It’s too late for the half-eaten, drool-soaked waffle in my hand. I drop it back onto the floor, where Xena quickly scarfs it down.
“She does this every morning.” Amelia tells me.
Just a few minutes before, Anne & Amelia had left the room to grab a fork, with Xena at Anne’s heels. I stayed behind to photograph a bookcase, my back to the breakfast trays, when Xena decided to back-track and lunge for the plates. I turned around just in time to see her finishing off one waffle and already lunging to the next. My rescue attempt failed, and that’s how I ended up coated in maple syrup, with no pictures to show for it. Dang.
Amelia heads back to the kitchen, completely unfazed. “That’s why we always make three.”
DETERMINED BY DOLLARS
Amelia tells me about adopting Xena – how she thought an animal companion could help Anne manage her PTSD. Xena has helped, but Amelia’s search for a therapy dog was “a very frustrating process.” Almost a decade ago, the state offered little support for foster and adoptive families – a stark contrast to the programs and support groups available today.
With no support system, resources, or guidance, they were left on their for ways to manage the after-effects of Anne’s prenatal drug exposure and abuse experience.
“When the adoption is completed, DCF just dropped us like a sack. We were on our own, trying to figure out how to manage all these issues…some of them that DCF was responsible for creating.”
“I saw stories online and on TV about children with therapy animals. Yet, it proved very difficult to find one that would give to children. All the PTSD organizations only gave animals to veterans.”
So here is a bleakly unsurprising fact: one in four children who have been through the foster care system will develop PTSD. That’s double the rate of PTSD in veterans. While the recovery systems in place for veterans are less-than-ideal, it’s certainly better than nothing, which is exactly what kids rescued from traumatic experiences received.
“I found only one group that would willingly give to children, but we had to fund-raise thousands of dollars to the organization, before they would match us with a dog. The wait list was determined by dollars, not need.”
THE IMPOSSIBLE COST OF A THERAPY DOG
I knew therapy dogs are expensive and time-consuming to train, but when I looked into Amy’s claims, the situation was more dire than I expected.
A 17K-35K therapy dog costs as much as a college degree. So if you don’t have deep pockets (or, like Amelia, are too busy raising a child to network and solicit donations), your options are bleak. In the event that you are able to raise some, but not enough – you’re dropped from the waiting list, and donations made on your behalf are kept for another family.
Those expenses are just to purchase the dog. Once you qualify, you’re expected to purchase tickets to fly across the country for a 12-day training. So if your job doesn’t include vacation time, or your child suffers from a disability that makes travel a hardship, well – yikes.
Then, of course, there are the long-term expenses of pet food and vet bills once the dog joins your family.
The wait list is long, around 5-10 years or some organizations, as puppies are only bred after the fundraising is complete, and then they spend the next few years in training. From there, they only live so long. Unlike a college degree, a therapy dog isn’t an investment – it’s a maintenance fee.
So if you are a young child with need of a therapy dog now, and you are one of the many low-income families who have trouble with employment due to illness or disability, you’re out of luck.
“In the end, I decided to get a rescue dog from a shelter, and train it ourselves.”
There are only a handful of books for training therapy dogs – and zero that specialize in training dogs for children with PTSD. Using only guides she found on the internet, Amelia had to muddle together her own training regimen for Xena.
“I have had to wing it. We went into the shelters with a very set list of qualities the dog would need. I’m sure it would have been easier with a pre-trained dog, because any ‘naughty’ habits of the dog are trained out, or never qualified for service.”
It’s going okay – Thanks to Xena, Anne can now use the restroom, shower, and sleep without her mother by her side. But they still have a long way to go.
“The hard part is getting Anne to take the dog, and not want Mom. Training Xena to do her therapy duties is much easier than training Anne to accept help from the dog.”
There’s also the problem of certification. Xena isn’t certified, so she can’t accompany Anne on errands when she gets older, or to school if she decides to transition to a public school. She’s a relatively calm dog – but still strains at her leash when she spies a neighborhood cat and a flock of geese. She barks on the patio, and barrels over people entering the apartment.
Xena isn’t a certified therapy dog – she’s still just a pet. She’s an amazing, sweet dog – but not one you’d trust alone with your waffles.
For now, she’s enough. She’s not perfect, and although she’s not the answer to all of Anne’s prayers, she does something that Anne needs right now. She needs a protector and a companion. She needs someone who won’t leave – who will stay by her and remind her that she’s not alone. She needs someone to remind her that the danger has passed, that she will never be abused or neglected ever again.
…Continue Reading Part 5: ‘Good Stuff’, next
This is the fourth installment of ‘The Mourning Doves,’ a multi-post documentary from the Invisible Obstacles Series. Check out the other posts here:
Part 1: Her Protector
Part 2: Restraint
Part 3: Warrior
Part 4: Winging It [You are here]
Part 5: Good Stuff
Part 6: Sanctuary
This session is from the Invisible Obstacles Series. Families in the Invisible Obstacles series provide a glimpse into daily life while navigating adversity. Names and locations of minors may have been changed to protect privacy. Permission & quotes attributed to Amelia R. unless otherwise specified.
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