Sunday, February 1, 2009

Adoption Thoughts: You're Thinking Too Much

You know you are thinking about adoption too much when you diagnose your dog with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

We are a dog family and a cat allergy in two of the boys has cemented that reality. We have had a few dogs, and although I started out writing this thinking only one has had a diagnosable disorder, I think I am underestimating our lack of doggy luck.

"Our" first dog, Kemper, was eight years old when we got her but she transitioned fairly seamlessly into our then small family. She had been loved, cared for and trained by her previous owner who was retiring and wanted her to be in a home with a yard rather than a small apartment. Her attachment to me took time, but it was firm and relatively painless to achieve. Well behaved and much loved she kept me company during those early years of marriage before children arrived and while Shel worked shift work.

Maybe due to her age, and maybe due to her disposition as a Blue Heeler/Border Collie, she always thought of the children as a responsibility to be tolerated rather than companions to enjoy. She was decidedly "my" dog and not the boys. She was already 11 when the kids started arriving, and as she aged, we realized her tolerance of children was deteriorating as her arthritis spread. By the time Caden began to crawl we knew the wise decision to protect the baby, and prevent Kemper from being hurt, was to put her down. Then Daisy, the dough head, arrived.

This disaster in doggy parenting came in the form of a pure bred Golden Retriever puppy. Daisy's mother had been rescued from a puppy mill run by an absentee psycho American owner who vacationed every summer on his ranch in our area, only to abandon his animals every winter. He returned to bury the bodies of the dead in the spring and "replenish" his stocks. When finally his dogs and horses were seized by the animal cruelty officers, one of the survivors was pregnant. By the special needs in her pups, we assume she was pregnant by her brother, who was probably also her cousin, nephew, uncle and quite possibly her father as well.

Daisy and her litter mates were as cute as they were dumb. Two died from seizure disorders. One ran INTO a moving train. One was hit by a car. Daisy was a chewer and completely, totally and thoroughly untrainable. She ate everything, and in a house with 4 boys and two teenager foster daughters, there was plenty to find and destroy. After she ate the hamster, knocked Eric down the stairs and broke his arm, ate two bikes, the high chair, numerous rolls of toilet paper and every single toy or shoe ever left out for a moment, and then developed the habit of barking incessantly if she was ever put outside, we decided she needed a higher level of "therapeutic parenting" than we could provide. Off went Daisy to a farm. No, really. It wasn't just a story we told the boys, we interviewed and found a "more suitable rehoming situation" for our dog. Eventually those owners had to have her put down as her untrainability turned out not to be a reflection of our inadequate doggy parenting abilities but rather her absolute brain dead idiocy!

The Daisy Disaster and still missing Kemper resulted in me making a "pet free" house declaration to the boys. Eric begged. And begged. And begged. Finally, after 4 years of begging, we began to look for a new dog just for Eric. She was to be a reward for his improving responsibility and behavior. At first glance, we thought we had found the perfect addition; Jack Russell, 3 years old, trained and small enough to be an easy inside dog. We were greatly underestimating the needs of our new addition (sort of like some pre-adoptive parents!) and you might see where this little tale is going.

Annie was a rescue dog (the fact she was rescued from my mother is a whole other story!). We were her third home in 3 years and she had been highly under socialized before she arrived in our highly socializing home. She had crazy behaviors we weren't fully aware of and deep seeded insecurities of abandonment based on her past. You might call it a sort of "foster care dog adoption". Little did I know how much my previous experience with fostering attachment in our sons would carry over into our dog.

We knew going in that we had no "out" with Annie. She was Eric's dog and we could never, ever admit defeat and decide that she couldn't stay with us anymore. I think it's that determination that got us through the next year or so of helping our Attachment Disordered Dog to "heal". Upon her arrival, Annie took one look at our crazy family and decided she was mine, or rather I was hers.

Now if you saw a child clinging to his new parents, you might assume the child was expressing his love and attachment and be happy for the family. For those of us in the know, we realize that this usually means a child has an "insecure attachment". Annie exhibited strong signs of an insecure attachment to me, never leaving my side, becoming frantic if I was out of sight, working herself into a state of frenzy if access to me was denied. She could puke on demand if too upset, and worse, punish any indiscretion on my part (like needing to grocery shop) by having explosive diarrhea throughout the house.

She chewed her way out of plastic kennels, bent the bars of a metal kennel, broke a window, chewed off door jams, ran several kilometers seeking me (and finding me) at a friend's house. She demanded my undivided attention, and thought the children were a threat to her status and needed to be eliminated; or at least reminded they were below her.

Through patience, retraining, discipline and the fortuitous happenings that I was now homeschooling the boys and we were home all the time with her, (and a BRIEF stint on Ativan at the suggestion of the vet) she slowly began to relax. SLOWLY. It was a worry when I went back to work in September that Annie would fall apart. It has been hard on her and in fact, she does sit in the front window the entire day watching the road for my vehicle to return, but she now believes that I will come home. She no longer needs to get sick with worry. She no longer destroys things when her frustration and fear get too much. She has a secure attachment.

Chalk another success up for Attachment Therapy.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting article.I enjoyed well while reading.I didn't know about this so far.Thanks for your informations!

votemom said...

this made me smile ;o)