Letter from Mineral’s Service Dog

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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Previously on Cinco de Mommy: My son, “Mineral,” has special needs.

Animal just looked at this pic and said, "Wow, he looks like Abraham Lincoln!"

Ever since Megan the Service Dog trainer determined that Mineral would NOT benefit from a service dog — or wouldn’t benefit enough to warrant the investment of time, money and energy — I’ve been dreaming that she was wrong and a dog would help him.

And, honestly, if I had $20,000 to pay, I could probably find a Service Dog company that would give us a trained dog. Indeed, there are several companies that train dogs for children with psychiatric issues, sensory processing disorder and autism. And while his special needs don’t fit into a precise label or box, he has some aspects of those disorders.

Sometimes I get lost thinking about what he needs from a service dog. And what we as a family need in order to add a Service Dog to our mix of five homeschooled kids in a rental house with a large fish tank — as well as another dog.

In my fantasy, the Service Dog would arrive on our doorstep one morning. He — I imagine it’s a he, and after doing my research on Service Dogs, I imagine him as either a Labrador retriever or a golden retriever — would have a note with him:

Hi there! (credit: pmarkham/Flickr)

Dear Family,

I am a Service Dog for Mineral. My name is Lego (because I was trained to help Mineral, and he loves Legos). I can do the following: help get him out of the house by exercising me, help him focus by working with me — and also distract him from his obsession with media or when he’s going to have media.

Although I am Mineral’s Service dog, I will appreciate some attention and love from the other children. Also from Maizey, the Dog Without a Downside. I will play with her –hopefully I can be a positive influence and she’ll stop barking her head off every time the baby is taking a nap.

Remember, I need to be brushed, washed and groomed regularly. I need to eat twice a day and have access to fresh water that the baby doesn’t play in. I need to see a vet once a year and take heart-worm prevention and flea/mosquito/tick repellent. I am a living creature and I am Mineral’s responsibility. Owning me, he will learn some empathy, which I know he lacks.

In return, I will stay by his side. When he is having an outburst and needs to calm down, he can pet me and/or talk to me. When he’s relaxed, I will sit by his feet while he does school work, or eats his meals.

(credit: Calsidyrose/Flickr)

I will bark to remind him of things. Bark! Sit down at the table with the rest of the family. Bark bark! Don’t aim weapons at people or animals or other living things. Bark bark bark! Wash your hands and change your clothes. Paw on his leg — stop compulsively licking your face. Jump on his chest — stop talking about MEDIA.

I know that every day with him is different, and most days are very challenging. I hope I can make him smile and ease his mind of his anxieties and compulsive thoughts — and behaviors. I aim to mitigate his outbursts, particularly the violent ones.

I know that Mineral has speech therapy, cognitive/behavioral therapy, occupational therapy and takes psychiatric medication. I hope I can complement those therapies and see you implement the most helpful suggestions and solutions.

And also, since you’re going to pay $20,000 for me and still have to pay for my food and dog toys and treats, I will bark four times after I finish vacuuming the entire house, mopping the kitchen and cleaning the bathrooms.

Sincerely,

Lego

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 13 with all the carnival links.)

Mineral Monday No More

Well, the first ever Mineral Monday turned out to be the last —

and yet, I raised $200 in that time.

I refunded it all, of course, with a nice thank you note to everyone who donated. Duh. Of course, there probably are some people who wouldn’t have refunded it, but do I really strike you as one of those people?

What happened was this: Megan, of Triumphant Tails, met with us three times. The first time with all of us, the second time with just the kids and me during a “normal” school day and the third time at Costco. She noted immediately that Mineral has severe ADHD. She also noticed his other issues — I guess the best word to use is SENSITIVITIES. He cannot control his emotions when his senses get overwhelmed (which is constantly because he’s so sensitive. And repeat.)

I literally cannot stress enough how sensitive he is — and it’s in ways that make absolutely no sense to you or me, yet it’s impossible to reason with him about these sensitivities.

Imagine if Hillary Clinton was living with Ann Coulter, and every time Hillary said something, Ann Coulter cried and went to her room — or had a violent outburst, either toward Hillary or someone nearby Hillary. Or toward just any old thing that was in the same room. Now imagine Ann Coulter had some talisman and when she was without those talismen, she behaved in ways that were not socially appropriate. The entire world is Hillary Clinton. Mineral is Ann Coulter.

After the second time we met, Megan suggested that we start fundraising, since a Service Dog is expensive. After emailing the few people I knew who have any kind of fundraising experience, I made a gofundme.com page and linked it to my personal Facebook.

  • The first donation was from an amazing woman named Joy, who I’ve “known” in the online world since Animal and Mineral were little babies.
  • The second donation was from My Chemical Romance’s sister, Julie, whose husband is currently training with the Army, while she’s home taking care of their son — and is pregnant! (I have three nephews, I’m really hoping for a niece.)
  • The third donation was from a friend of Julie’s, who saw the information on her Facebook page. How generous is that — we don’t even know them personally!
  • The fourth donation was from a homeschool mom who has taught Mineral twice in co-op. He loves her classes!

We met with Megan again on Friday, spending an hour in Costco with five kids, three adults and two service dogs. Megan helped Mineral work with one of the Service Dogs. Later she broke it down for me: She doesn’t think a Service Dog will help him ENOUGH to make the investment of time, money and energy worthwhile. Even when he’s on his ADHD medication, she thinks he lacks the focus to train consistently.

I can see that.

Further, she thinks it will be difficult within our family — for Mineral to have a dog that’s “his” yet still have to share it with the other kids, and for the other kids to see Mineral get a dog.

I can see that too.

She said that while she could get a dog and train with him, the effort would mostly be mine, not his, and that she didn’t think it was worth the time and money and effort I’d end up investing.

Ultimately, she’s the expert, and I think she’s right.

I was totally bummed out at first. But really, I just wish there was something — SOMETHING — that could help him be more “normal.” Occupational therapy helps, as does psychotherapy (his therapist recently said on the phone to me, “He’s REALLY sensitive,”) and speech therapy makes him better able to communicate. Psychiatry provides him with the meds that keep him as focused as possible. But even doing all that, he struggles, and I struggle as his mom.

Mineral Monday: I ate a dog biscuit

Perhaps you’ve noticed the new widget in the right-hand column on this page, the one that says A SERVICE DOG FOR MINERAL/PLEASE CLICK THE PICTURE TO DONATE. (If you don’t see it, scroll down a bit.) the new button above the blog that says SERVICE DOG. And perhaps you clicked on it and read it and thought, “Dude. I thought Animal and Mineral were nine; that kid looks five.” Yes. It’s an old picture. I put it up because he looks so happy and carefree. It’s not a look I’ve seen much of in the last approximately four years.

It’s something I want to see again from him, a genuinely happy smile. I think a Service Dog will help him find his smile again.

We’ve already met with Megan from Triumphant Tails. She has observed Mineral twice (and will again on Tuesday; we’re all going to Costco). She thinks a service dog could help him — but it’s a long, slow process, and she wants to take her time before looking for a dog for him.  She mentioned last week that she’s concerned because our house is so small (for seven people and one dog. It’s got four bedrooms and the space is much better-utilized than in our last house, but of course we all share rooms.) And also because we have so.many.young.kids. Yep. Isn’t that always a problem?

The challenge with having so many young kids is making sure that Mineral works with a dog within the parameters of our life (meaning, with all of us around) but that the other kids don’t interrupt that bonding. Megan actually prefers that families who have other children also have another dog — so the other kids don’t feel left out and can work with the other dog. So it’s awesome great fantastic good that we already have Maizey.

My Masterpiece (holding Wolfie, The Informant's wolf) and Maizey

Meanwhile, as I’ve mentioned before, a Service Dog will cost about $8000. Megan charges a training fee, and then an itemized monthly bill for dog food, treats, crate and traveling. We do not have $8000. If we had $8000, I might be typing this post from an iPad, or at least from an iPhone. Or I’d be typing this post while both of our cars were paid off and we only ever used our debit card to buy things.

I reached out to a friend who works at the Humane Society and asked if she knew any rich eccentric dog-loving people who wanted to provide money so that Mineral could get a Service Dog? She said no. But she suggested a fundraising site. So I made a page for Mineral, where anyone can donate.

(By the way, at first I had all my pages linked — fundraising page with twitter and Facebook; my blog with twitter and Facebook — but it quickly turned into a clusterfuck of social media in which I’M CONSTANTLY ASKING YOU TO DONATE MONEY. I find that really annoying, so my friend Rachael from Letters to Ames suggested I detach everything and simply pick one day per week to bombard you all with fundraising stuff. Thus, Mineral Mondays is born! Thank you, Rachael!)

I have several donation levels, including a video of barking children if you donate $25!

And — here’s the one you’ve all been waiting for — a video of myself eating a dog biscuit if you donate $100! Our very first donation was for $100. This is for you, Joy!

An Autism Service Dog?

My kid who has special needs — let’s just call him Pineral — might benefit from a service dog.

We met with a really amazing woman named Megan from a group called Triumphant Tails. She specifically trains shelter/rescue dogs for service. She seems to work primarily with soldiers who have PTSD, and children with autism and other issues. Pineral doesn’t have autism, but he has some issues that are autism-like. (I’m not up on the lingo about Asperger’s but I’ve read that it’s being combined with Autism now? He might fit some of the mildest autism symptoms.)

And I think he could benefit from a service dog.

A service dog could be trained to bump/nudge him when he is engaging in repetitive behaviors — like when he licks his mouth repetitively. A service dog could tether him to me when we’re out (he tends to run off under the guise of “hiding,” no matter how many times we talk about it). A service dog could distract him when he is starting to have an outburst, and give him a focus that keeps him from going back to outburst-triggering thoughts. A service dog could help him stay focused when he needs to focus, like when he’s doing chores or doing school. And a service dog could teach him empathy — something he really lacks, that concerns me greatly.

The operative word here, of course, is COULD. A service dog COULD do all of this. However, I’m sure other things/therapies/medications/experiences COULD help. (And probably wouldn’t cost $8,000, which is approximately what a service dog would cost.)

If we get a service dog, we will definitely get one from Megan and Triumphant Tails. Megan is local. Other autism service dog companies train the dog at their facilities and bring the family to meet him for about a week before receiving the dog. Megan would work with our entire family, weekly, for as long as it takes to get all of us comfortable with the situation. She charges a flat training fee, regardless of how much time she spends with our family, and adds to that the cost of food, toys, crate, etc. It’s a good deal, and it saves a shelter/rescue dog.

Meanwhile, we do not have $8000. We’ll see how our finances look in a few months; for now we’re starting to train Pineral with one of Megan’s two service dogs, just to see how he responds to that. I’m mulling over the idea of fundraising, which Megan suggested. Several autism therapy dog companies require the families to fundraise. I hate asking people for money though. “Can you please donate to this organization that MIGHT help my kid who does NOT have a life-threatening illness (or something like that)?” Yeah.

 

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