15 years ago this month I was agonizing over the delay in travel plans to China where we would meet our soon to be 2-year-old daughter for the first time. Fast forward to last week when that same daughter, now 17, lamented that the rescue puppy we were adopting was getting older without her. Although we have had 3 dogs over the past 29 years, this is the first dog that we have obtained thru a rescue agency. I am impressed with the thoroughness that is provided to make sure that each dog goes to a home where they will be loved and well taken care of. I am saddened that we as a society do not do as good of a job with children – both those who are born into a family and those who are adopted. Over the past month we have been made aware of the family in California who kept their children hostages in their own home while using home-school as the cover and the father in Texas who disciplined his newly adopted daughter so severely that she died. I was struck with the similarities between adoption of an animal and a child and believe that we would make lives better for our country’s children if we borrowed some of the same guidelines.
- Home Study – Thankfully we passed both the child and dog home study. Slightly different requirements each time. We didn’t need a fenced in yard for a child, but did for a dog. All family members required an interview for the child but not the dog. Fifteen years ago the house was large enough to add a fifth child; today the house is too empty and we are adding a dog. In contrast, no home study was required when I became pregnant with each of our first three children. In my job as an ob/gyn, I often recite a silent prayer when discharging infants to a parent that I feel is living in a dangerous situation or has had difficulty taking care of herself during pregnancy. The lives of many children could be remarkably improved if we were proactive in helping families provide a safe living situation.
- Cost – The cost of a child adoption, whether domestic or international, is something that many families are not able to afford or need to take on additional debt to accomplish. The cost of a rescue dog adoption is considerably less but still significant. Creating a child is free. I wish there was a warning before conception similar to the one on the rescue dog webpage. “If you don’t think you can afford the adoption fee, you probably shouldn’t consider adopting a dog”. Access to free birth control and improved contraceptive education would help to reduce the incidence of unplanned human pregnancies – currently at 50%. And when you plan a pregnancy, you are much more likely to be able to afford the costs of raising a child.
- Parenting – As part of the child adoption classes we attended, we heard from parenting counselors about problem solving and resources for seeking help. We agreed to puppy obedience classes as part of the dog adoption and were instructed in how to perform redirection type of discipline. No formal parenting training was provided for my birth children. I quickly learned with boys that parenting is similar to dog training – short, repetitive commands with frequent redirection and lots of love. We could help break the cycle of child abuse if we required basic parenting classes of both birth moms and dads and resources for follow-up support.
- Healthcare – We needed proof of medical insurance with the adoption of a child and were encouraged to purchase pet insurance for the puppy adoption. Many children in this country don’t have health insurance because their parents can’t afford it. Needed childhood immunizations and check-ups are put off, only to incur greater healthcare costs later in life. This is only one of the litany of reasons why our healthcare system needs to change.
- Food – The multitude of choices for puppy chow is overwhelming – organic, high protein, vitamin supplemented, minimally processed. We were instructed in portion control and not overfeeding. Putting a priority on feeding children similar quality food in appropriate amounts would pay dividends in reducing the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. If I wouldn’t give my dog a Happy Meal with a Coke, why should I feed it to my children?
Our puppy has now been home a week and has settled into a routine. That process took much longer for the Chinese 2-year-old. Different language, food, smells and faces, in addition to grieving for her foster family, required 3-4 months to produce a child who slept thru the night and allowed her dad to hold her. Giving her wings this fall as she moves on to college will likely dredge up memories of those first few months; sleeping beside her so she could fall off to sleep, sharing a meal @ 3am as she recovered from jet lag, listening as she lost her Cantonese language and formed a new vocabulary in English. Tears will be shed on that day – mine for sending off the last child to college, hers for missing her dog. But she has assured us she will facetime weekly – if only to see her dog.