Kids can wear you down. Their persistence is never-ending. When they want something they are like little Energizer bunnies and the, “Please, please, please…” just never ends. Nowhere is this more evident than the desire for a pet. Cats, dogs, hedgehogs, whatever it is…they can go forever until you cave. But for RAD kiddos, it may not always be the best idea. So, should your family get a pet?
August wanted a dog when he was five or six. His brother was just a baby and we we knew we’d be moving. I said he’d have to wait until the move and his brother was four. Which happened in the same year. So after the move, the negotiating began.
I decided that the first step was to keep some lower life forms alive first. Beginning with hermit crabs. We picked some up at the beach but those didn’t prove to like being relocated. So we bought some and got the whole set up. They require virtually no care. They are fun to watch and you can take them out which keeps them from being more like fish. But they aren’t very resilient. We went through a lot of them. The most memorable was when we thought we’d lost one and I threw it away in the bathroom trash can. Later that night it came crawling across the floor. For days later their dad would ask, “What do we do if Mommy says Daddy is dead? Call the doctor!”
From Hermit Crabs we moved to a Hamster named Oreo. This required regular food and water as well as cage cleaning. Food and water wasn’t so hard to get the boys to do. As expected the cage cleaning was another story. They were not fond of dealing with hamster poop. When Oreo died, August did have a very sweet funeral for him in the backyard, complete with a homemade tombstone and a requirement that all the family be present.
We didn’t get a dog. Soon after Oreo’s passing was when August’s behavior got really difficult and the timing just wasn’t right. Followed by divorce, followed by his going to CALO. I haven’t talked much about this period. CALO is Change Academy, Lake of the Ozarks. It is one of, if not the only, inpatient treatment facility just for RAD kiddos. I looked and looked and every place focused on addiction or all mental illnesses and I knew these wouldn’t work at all. And the cherry on top with CALO? They used dogs in their therapy!
August was able to get AKC-certified while working with Mia from when she was a puppy. Mia is a beautiful golden retriever who was bred on-site. The boys all got to name the puppies. The dogs were with the boys 24/7 except for meals. And the place was so joyful with all those dogs around! When August graduated and came home, he’d done the work for Mia to come also, but just as our dog. She’s retired now.
But it doesn’t always work for RAD kiddos and animals. Later on when he left home and was on the streets he tried to come get her and sell her. Mia wasn’t his first dog at CALO. The first dog was Destiny and her personality was more excitable. She was hard to train and August had little patience for her. He wouldn’t take her out when she needed but he did eventually realize that they were a bad match and make the switch. Mia was much more mellow and it worked great.
The RAD groups that I am on have story after story of children hurting pets or wild animals. It’s a manifestation of the hurt and rage they feel. And a way to hurt the people in their lives without actually hurting them. And something else to exert control over, which is central to the RAD mental state. Nancy Thomas parenting has a great article here on RAD and pets.
If you have a pet in the family, make sure you have thought through whether your RAD kiddo is mentally in the right place to have one and be alone with one. Then you can make sure you teach respect for animals so that they can grow up with that dog!
Until next time,