Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Proof of Attachment from a RAD Kid or The Tale of Two Dogs

We had written many times about the usefulness and dangers of pets in the home, especially with children with attachment disorders.

In a blog post from August 2013 How Do I Deal With: Kids Who Hurt Pets     I talked about an incident at my own foster care home with a RAD child. We were discussing the possible dangers of having a child with an attachment disorder interact with a dog.

Here is an excerpt:

Now, my advice comes from my own experience working with RAD kids and my families own pets.  I have had the same issues with kids being too rough with pets, mistreating them, and I have cameras in my house, I feel like I supervise the kids as well as anyone can.  And I lost a pet. A small breed dog under unfortunate circumstances- most likely from one of the kids hugging the struggling dog too roughly.   It was devastating.  The RAD child then acted as if nothing bad had happened. He had to learn to allow others in the house to grieve the loss of the pet, I had to accept it, and counsel the child through the event, to try to discover what had happened, without allowing my own personal feelings to come out, or to take them out on the child, ... it was terribly, terribly difficult.

In the end, I guess it helped build trust between this boy and myself. He was sure he'd be kicked out of the house for the incident, and I didn't kick him out.  I tried to get to the bottom of the situation, and we continued to work on his skills with pets, and worked and worked on it.  He has come a long way and I do believe he will be a success story yet.  Time will tell.

I wanted to talk a little more about this, and give you an update.

So, this child I referred to came to me at 12 years old with RAD (reactive attachment disorder) ADD, compulsive disorders and other behavioral issues.  He had come from a psychiatric hospital setting, where he had been for a over a year, and my home was basically his last chance at living a normal life in the "real world."

After this incident with the dog, "Billy" (not his real name of course) acted very inappropriate to the circumstances. While the rest of the children grieved, he sang happily, explaining that he was singing "for Fido," but his affect was clearly inappropriate. Once he realized he wouldn't be kicked out of the house for the incident, and after days and days of counseling and attempting to get to the truth of the incident, we (the counselors and treatment team and I) worked hard and watched "Billy" to insure that he did not act out any further with the other house pets.

His interactions with the other pets in the house in the past two years has been a roller coaster. He teased one of the other dogs for a while, and so he was told to leave the dog alone, and he eventually appeared to feel bad that the dog avoided him. He was taught to offer the dog treats and treat the dog nicely to get the dog to come to him in a gentle way. He also walked the dog and took over care taking duties.

We also have a bird in the house. At times he took great interest in the bird, giving it water, food etc.  One day I noticed the bird had feathers missing and he admitted to pulling feathers from the bird.  We discussed this as well and talked about how this was unacceptable behavior.  He knew this was wrong behavior because he took time to do it out of camera range.

We had one other incident where one of the other dogs nipped at him. He claimed it was a scratch from something else, but it was clearly from the dog. He must have needed it.

During this 2 year time period though, although there were slip ups, there was also steady growth. I saw that "Billy" was able to be gentle, was able to understand that humans were caretakers for animals and understood his responsibilities with the house pets and the chickens we had in the yard. I was seeing signs of responsible behavior.

"Billy" began a closer relationship with one of the other family dogs, another small breed dog, who seemed to enjoy his company and slept with him at night. Although I had some fears about this, I had to trust "Billy" and show him that I could trust him to be a careful dog guardian.

He did well.  Then the dog became ill.  The dog was an older pet, and began having kidney issues.  "Billy" was concerned and displayed his attachment to the dog. He took responsibility for the pet, cleaning up the dogs "mistakes" in the house, and even purchasing special pet food with his own money earned by doing chores.  He literally doted on the dog.

As the dogs health continued to decrease, "Billy," now 14, cradled her in his arms and rocked her. She would seek out his company, and he would oblige her to make her comfortable.

"Billy" held her in his arms when she died.

He did not sing this time.This time he cried.

He was unsure what to do, but called to me, and we arranged for a funeral. He prepared a casket and insisted on putting her favorite blanket and pillow to make her journey comfortable.

Although, again, I am sad to lose a pet, this has been a unique opportunity to see the growth and change in this child.  It is not often that we get a chance to see reactions to similar circumstances in a RAD child 2 years apart, and then, to see, such drastic changes.  It really feels like a miracle, and one of hope that I wanted to share with all of you.

"Billy" took pride in care taking for the pet, and has now taken over duties for one of the other dogs in the home.  He is making friends, is involved in school and after school activities. He still has problems, to be sure, but he has come a long way.  He is motivated to be the best he can be. 

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  1. All I can say is WOW! Ok I can say more....LOL Bless you because if I lost a pet to a foster child I really do not know I would keep him in my house and risk another of my fur babies, since they are in need of being taken care of as well and trust in us to make sure they are safe as well.

    All I can say is thank God there are people like you in foster care! ~Hugs~

    1. Thank you so much... and thanks for taking the time to comment Msmoozy. It was heartbreaking to lose that first pet, and John had to grieve in private, and really hold back his feelings, which was more than difficult some times, but we talked a lot and really don't think the child hurt the pet maliciously... so, that helped. It wasnt a situation where he shot the pet, or anything like that, but still, it was tough. In those situations John always turns to God for strength and felt that he couldnt give up on the child. Maybe that is why he - and all of us that read this, any parent who struggles with a RAD child and might feel hopeless, who reads this and feels hope because of it, was given this gift... this vision of transformation. Really, although sadly, another pet was lost, and that is part of having pets, the situation offered a really remarkable comparison for us to see how far this child had come. Hope.