Written by Nancy Thomas.
I am not just horsing around or barking up the wrong tree here, animals make a difference in our lives. We have had lots of pets over the years. Currently, my puppy, Elan, fills my heart with her unconditional love and joy. Getting greeted like I am the most important person in the world feels great! When Star rubs against my leg to greet me, her royal felineness makes me feel special. But what about animals and challenging children? When are pets a good idea or a really bad one for emotionally disturbed children?
I get a knot in my stomach when I hear a ³professional² has recommended a puppy for a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. There have been some that have actually told parents the child would bond to the puppy and then transfer the bond to the parent. WRONG!!! The pet will likely be hurt ³accidently² and the child will get sicker! With this condition it is a very bad idea to have the child control any living thing until they develop self control and a conscience.
It is my job to keep my pets safe. The sick children focus on their job, leaving pets alone. I do not have them feed, water, walk or even open the door for our pets. Why? The fifth test to see if they can trust adults is; ³Can I hurt your animals?² A child with RAD often is blind to the tremendous love their parents have for them. They see, clearly, the love those same parents show to the pets. I certainly am guilty of talking baby talk and scratching and petting my dog often! I tell her, daily, how beautiful and clever she is. A child seeing this often has a need to test. ³ My Mom/Dad loves this dog, will they protect it?² if not, and the child can harm the animal, the child then cannot trust the adult to protect them (the child) from harm. So, obviously, leaving a child with RAD in charge of or alone with a living creature is a bad idea!
Some parents tell me their child, diagnosed with RAD, loves animals. REALLY? Does the child love the animal or love having control over them? Are they taking the leash and letting the dog sniff and stop to urinate when needed or are they dragged where the child chooses to go? When they hold the dog or cat and they want down do they hold tighter, relishing the control, or let them down out of thoughtfulness to their needs? Does the pet have unexplained wounds and/or illnesses? I have actually met 2 out of thousands of children with RAD that had a special heart for animals. All children are unique!
There are challenging children without RAD that can love and benefit from a pet. I would recommend that whatever the child struggles with that they demonstrate compassion and responsibility before they are ever given control over caring for a pet. When their chores are done daily with no reminder for a month they probably will remember to feed and water a pet. I sure am not going to have them learn responsibility on a living being that would suffer for their mistakes!
Some of the benefits of having a pet are lower blood pressure, less cortisol during stressful times, less cancer, feeling safer with the warning system from some, (less mice from others). For me the biggest benefit is the laughter and joy! Elan makes me laugh and I love her more for it. ³Elan² means spirit of joy and she IS! Some of our pets have been stinkers and we loved them anyway. Many of our children started out as ³stinkers² and we loved them anyway. Enjoy yours, two and four footed, finned, furred and feathered!