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International Adoption Info

Newsletter #155 for Internationally Adopting Parents
November 10, 2011
PAL Center Inc.


Dr. B. Gindis
accepts patients

New York
October 22 to December 5, 2011
and in
December 10, 2011 to
February 6, 2012


of your internationally adopted child
in the RUSSIAN, SPANISH and CHINESE Languages

is available in

New York


in the RUSSIAN and SPANISH Languages

Helpful links

Animal-assisted therapy

Autism Assistance Dogs

Golden Retriever Helps Boy Come Out of Autism

Therapy Dog Encourages Reading

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or a user of the International Adoption Articles Directory.



Latest Articles
from the

International Adoption Articles Directory
New Articles

Emotional Support Animals
as a Therapeutic Option
for Internationally Adopted Children

Janie Hayslett

When we adopted Gracie from Russia at 19 months old, we knew the potential existed for a variety of post-institutional issues. We plugged in with excellent therapists within a year of coming home and began working on her symptoms of attachment disorder, mild markers for fetal alcohol exposure, and general anxiety. We were relieved to discover she was overall very responsive to intervention, but finding a way to reduce her anxiety remained elusive. Over the years, we watched our little girl become more and more anxious until drug therapy was suggested as a last resort. Gracie's issues were so complex and severe that we were eventually referred to a developmental pediatrician who began digging more deeply into Gracie's issues.

A sleep study revealed four separate (but likely related) sleep disorders. The results were so severe we began working with a pediatric neurologist who specialized in sleep disorders in children. A variety of medications were tried over the next few months but nothing improved her sleep. And worse, the medications fueled a downward spiral that eventually landed us in a psychiatrist's office with a child in crisis. /p>

Our developmental pediatrician was the first to suggest an emotional service dog might be a good strategy for helping Gracie deal with her anxiety and depression. At the time it seemed an unlikely solution, but when the psychiatrist told us that hospitalizing our 8 year old was all she could think to try next, I knew I needed to find another option. We took Gracie out of an institution at 19 months old. I could not bear the idea of placing her back in one. Suddenly, the doctor's unusual suggestion was more viable. While we investigated other alternative approaches, I also began researching how to find the right dog for my child.

Important Definitions

Much has been reported about the use of animals in service capacities. There are several important terms that need to be defined in order to fully understand this discussion. According to www.servicedogcentral.com, "Service dogs are individually trained to perform tasks that mitigate the disability of their owner. There are many types of service dogs and many different types of tasks that might be performed, based on the disability of the individual owner, their abilities and limitations, and their specific needs." Typically, we would not be talking about a service dog for a post-institutionalized child, unless the psychiatric needs were so severe a legal argument could be made that the presence of the dog is required for basic level functioning. Contrast that with "therapy animals," which have no legal definition. They are most often animals who are pets first, but also provide support services such as visiting hospitals or nursing homes or even in schools or libraries as "reading buddies" for children.

Recently, a third distinction has developed: Emotional Support Animal (ESA). An ESA is a therapeutic pet, usually prescribed by a therapist or psychiatrist or medical doctor that helps people with emotional difficulties or loneliness. An ESA cannot go everywhere a service animal goes, but usually does have privileges in rental housing and may travel in the cabin of aircraft.

Finding the Right Dog

Through personal contacts in the dog training community, we were able to match Gracie with Bandit, an 8 year old Australian Shepherd from Windypine Kennels in Florida. Although he was an older dog, Bandit was selected for his even temperament and history as a therapy dog. For Gracie, it was crucial her dog not match her anxious energy, but rather provide the balancing neutral energy she needed to facilitate the de-escalation of her emotional state. Bandit was trained by Aimee Kincaid of Boomerang Kennels in Florida. In addition to basic obedience training, he was evaluated in a variety of social situations with children. His temperament was tested to better predict his reaction in the presence of anxious, loud, and unbalanced behavior from children. But the connection Bandit and Gracie had from the beginning was not something the trainer could create.

Shawna Swanson is a trainer with the Soldier's Best Friend project, a non-profit which connects soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and emotional support dogs. She makes this important point: "the bond between the dog and human is nothing that can be trained. It's a relationship that has to form. In the case of emotional support dogs, that bond, which is crucial to the success of the partnership, is not guaranteed to exist with every dog. It may take trying several different dogs before the magic happens."
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