Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Puppies and Placements

Respite 4 is back! Her foster mom had a death in the family and they needed to go out of state for the week. Respite 4 is the only child we've had that hasn't adjusted well to our animals. Even with all the precautions we take when mixing our furry friends with our foster friends, we needed to add to our bag of tricks to make her comfortable in our home.

We have 2 dogs and a cat. They were our babies before foster care. They got demoted down to pet status the day Baby 1 came home. I think the only reason they stood for being kicked off the furniture and bedrooms is because they love having to keep up with our kids.

Persephone- the first pet our kids start loving

Our dogs have been socialized with children since we got them at 12wks old -which is number 1 on the To Do list before bringing any children into the family. They are not super-trained and obedient, but they have been taught not to take anything out of people's hands and they are sensitive to little humans. We had to provide vet papers and vaccine records for all our animals during certification. We also started keeping them out of the kids rooms and set up the baby chairs/bouncers/swings and big toys before we were certified so they were used to all the baby clutter. The biggest thing before bringing in kids is to get your animal comfortable with children. Our cat has also been around children since she was a kitten, but she's a little different because she hangs out in the basement when the kids get too close for her liking.

Mr. Big- 3yr ShiTzu/Pekingese BEFORE grooming
We were told in our certification MAPP training that many children who come into care have only known dogs that were used for protection. They may have never been around animals at all, or been taught not to touch animals because they will bite. Even children who have had pets in the past are coming into a strange new house with a strange new family. They don't know what to expect, and a large furry canine is the last thing that will make them feel comfortable-at first.
Harley Quinn- 1.5yr old ShiTzu/German Shepard BEFORE grooming

Once children are confident around animals though, we have seen a great bond form that connects them to our family. Children are made to have pets. A good kid/dog relationship can give kids a constant friend and confidante, responsibility, and ownership of something good.  The very start of this process is getting kids and dogs to be calm around each other.

We don't often know when kids are coming into our home, but when we first go certified, and when we knew our kids were going home- so new kids we probably coming soon- we made grooming appointments for our dogs. Shaving their usually long hair makes them look smaller, less intimidating, and rids them off any extra temptations for kids to pull on them. We also stock up on biscuits to keep them occupied when the child first enters our house, and for the child to feed to the dogs because everyone of our kids has loved doing this.

Harley and Big AFTER grooming- ready for foster care!!

The babies have have all been too young to notice the dogs when they came to us. When I came home with them, we just held them and let the dogs play outside for a bit while we settled in. The dogs came in from the backyard after 15min or so, I gave them a biscuits and they were happy as clams.

The respites were a different story. They were all aware of the dogs and every one of them was afraid. The very first thing I did was let the adult who was bringing them to us know that we had animals. So the case worker and foster parent could prepare the kids before they actually saw the dogs. When they came to the door, I had the dogs baby-gated in our breakfast room and chewing on biscuits so they didn't bark. We got the kids in, showed them their rooms, and offer a snack (Foster parent trick- ALWAYS offer food to new kids asap). After they settle, we ask them if they want to see the dogs. We tell them the dog's name, let them see us pet the dogs, and I always say, "Big and Harley are very nice. They love to give kisses. Isn't it so funny that dogs give kisses by licking?!" Respites 1-3 wanted to pet the dogs at that point and after that goes well, we take down the gate and let the kids give them biscuits so the dogs are occupied for a couple of minutes while I get the kids engaged in play.

The respites have all asked about biting. We are always reminding them, "Our doggies only bite food. I will not let anything hurt you here.". We also set 'Safe Rules' for how we treat animals. We touch the pets softly on their backs from collar to tail. Pets get privacy when they are eating and drinking. If the pet runs away from you, leave them alone.

Respite 4 has a bloody-murder scream that she reserves for occasions when the dogs look at her. She talks all day long about how the dogs are going to eat her. If the dog should happen to walk past her, her whole body shakes and she starts crying. The first weekend she stayed with us, we left the dogs gated in one room the whole time.

Her next stay was 9 days long. We tried everyday to introduce the dogs to her- holding her on our lap while they sat across the room, holding them on leashes while she plays, bringing her to them while they are locked in a crate. Nothing made her any more comfortable. After 2 days we had to be tough. I let them out and soothed her the best I could while she screamed and shook. The dogs never got near her since she was scaring them with her noise, but that didn't matter to her- she was terrified. I finally got her to start yelling, "I'm not afraid of you, dogs!" instead of screaming, and I told her she could play in her bedroom with the baby gate up if she wanted to be away from the dogs. I let her see me play with the dogs and let them be outside as much as they wanted so Respite 4 could be in alone.

This week she has been with us 5 days. She still isn't used to the dogs and when they get too close she shakes and screams, but I can be firms and say, "Respite 4, you are not scared of those doggies. Tell them you're not scared and stop screaming." and she calms down for a little while.

Tonight is her last night with us. When we walked in the house from daycare, we went through the usual dog-related questions:
4: "Are the doggies in the pen?"
Me: "Yes."
4:"Are you going to let them out?"
Me:"I'll let them out after you sit on the couch. They need to go outside."
4:   "Cuz they poop outside?"
Me: "Yes, doggies poop outside because they don't know how to use the toilet. You know how to use the toilet."
4:    "I poop in the potty."
Me: "Yes you do, because you're a big girl."
4:    "Doggies bite me?"
Me: "The doggies would never bite you. They only bite food"
4:   "I'm not scared those doggies."
Me: "That's right. You're a brave girl."

Whew! It only took 16 days to make that progress with 4. In 2yrs we've kept 8 kids and 3 animals safe and (mostly) happy. Mixing puppies and placements is tricky, but can be done with some thought and sensitivity.  


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