Would it be crazy to get a dog or would it be crazy to NOT get one? That’s what I’ve been asking myself lately.
We have tried many, many things to help our daughter sleep. On our fridge door, we even have a ”To Try” list that has, over the last couple of years, become primarily a “Have tried” list. We only have a few things left on that list. And the only one that doesn’t involve another supplement (which is incredibly difficult to mastermind getting past her lips) is getting a dog. That’s right. A dog. To help her sleep.
Well, I should say it would be to help her anxiety in general, and therefore her sleep as a result. For those of you that are scratching your heads at this point, animals can be very soothing, and for some people they can be truly therapeutic.
We have two cats and my daughter loves them. But our cats are not lap cats. They don’t stay still for long despite Peaches’ learned gentle touch. They can’t be trained to sleep with her or to go to her when she cries.
I’ve never owned a dog. I’ve never trained a dog. And, I feel quite enough responsibility in my life as is.
Remember my Why Peaches? page? I’ve never envisioned more than living with some plants (preferably succulents), let alone a husband, a child, two cats and a dog.
Still, we’ve tried everything else, it seems…and she does LOVE dogs.
A dog is a lot of responsibility. If a dog helps her sleep and find more self confidence and calm, then GREAT. But if it doesn’t, how much more will having a dog add to my levels of stress?
I already have a lot more going on than the average stay at home mom. And ANY mom will tell you they have TOO MUCH going on. Just in terms of sleep, it’s as though we’ve had a newborn for 39 months. I count myself fortunate if I get four hours of solid sleep at night, and if my daughter wakes only three times a night, that is FANTASTIC. But, sadly, it is a very rare occurrence. We’ve never had a good phase of sleep. Ever.
During the day, I need to watch her more closely – much more closely, than you would a fully sighted child. (To understand her vision impairment, read my earlier post, Visual Expectations and my more recent post, Navigating the World.) I go to a playground with her where a Moms of Multiples group meets with their kids who are all a year younger than my daughter. Most of those moms are standing around by the benches chatting. I’m on the playstructure (or right next to it) holding my daughter’s hand as she goes up steps and down slides. I’m watching for kids running fast who might inadvertently scare her or collide with her, as she can’t see them coming.
Even at home, she needs more attention. She’ll slide on a jigsaw puzzle piece she doesn’t see at her feet or trip over a toy. She broke her arm at 18 months, crawling out of a box with me in the same room. Her vision is good for being visually impaired, but it’s still a hazard.
Her sleep is so bad that I have to walk her to sleep to get her down for a nap. Because she is so sensitive to light, walking her to sleep looks like this:
At night time, I have to hold her hand and with the other arm, stroke her to get her to sleep.
At around six months, she slept for five hours. That only happened once and I thought it was because teething had started. We tried homeopathic teething tablets that many moms swear by. No luck. We tried western over the counter drugs. No difference.
We tried sleep training at 14 months, with a specialist assisting us. NOTE TO OTHERS: Sleep training should work in three to seven days. If it does not, STOP! Our “specialist” seemed not to know that, and we persisted for a month under the delusion the problem was teething (even with drugs). Gulp.
We then realized – with the help of a neighbor who used to work with visually impaired children – that Peaches also has Sensory Processing Disorder. This greatly impedes the ability to self soothe, and therefore sleep. We worked with an amazing OT and had much success with everything but sleep. Then we saw a doctor who diagnosed the Separation Anxiety as the cause of her poor sleep. (See my post Suddenly Skydiving for how this manifests in our waking and sleeping life.)
We’ve done months of child/family therapy and have also tried, over the last few years and, in no particular order (because, what, you think I have any sort of memory left???): different sleeping arrangements, elimination diets to check for food sensitivities, homeopathy, melatonin, aromatherapy, various night lights, various pajamas/blankets, dropping her nap, a beanbag bed, a weighted blanket, joint compressions, chamomile and other herbal infusions, Feldenkrais, introducing a pacifier….I’m sure I’m forgetting things….We even had a Feng Shui consultant assess our bedrooms.
One day, determined to find out if something else was really WRONG that we were missing, I dared to look up something I’d seen advertised on a poster at the medical school I used to work at: a sleeping disorder that is fatal. I figured I should at least consider it, right? Thankfully, fatal familial insomnia did not fit at all. It starts in middle age.
As for me, and years worth of very disturbed sleep, my short term memory is most affected. I’m faring pretty well, I think. Though I have no idea how my adrenals are coping. And I imagine I must be reducing my life expectancy. I try not to think about that. I try to think, instead, about how I have so much more stamina than I ever imagined.
I, myself, have suffered since an early teen from what most people would call insomnia, and what others call polyphasic sleep. In university I’d wake after four of hours of sleep routinely and use the quiet time to write my essays, then go back to bed for a few more hours before dawn. It worked well for me during those years, and many first drafts of my blog posts are actually written in the middle of the night too. So, yes, I have my daughter’s sleep disturbances and my own to contend with. Although, I am inclined to think my decades of insomnia/polyphasic sleep have served to prepare me for this most trying time!
A dog would also help encourage Peaches to walk outside where terrain is uneven. At the beach, she’ll sit and play, but not run or even walk around of her own accord. Beaches are one of the hardest things for visually impaired children to navigate because of the glare and because depth perception really helps to navigate sand!
Incidentally, this wouldn’t be just any dog. It’d be a dog that has failed to become a guide dog. Sometimes they have skin allergies, sometimes they are too social, sometimes…well, there are a lot of reasons a dog might not make it to become a guide dog. Of these “flunkees”, as I affectionately call them, the dogs deemed best for becoming a child’s companion go into a K9 buddy program, becoming pets for children who are visually impaired (but not to the degree that they need a guide dog for navigating).
It’s quite a process. We applied maybe five months ago. In the last few months, I’ve talked with three separate people in Guide Dogs for the Blind: the outreach coordinator, the dog trainer and the child specialist. They do not have dogs lined up waiting to give away. If they see your family’s case as being a good fit and your home suitable, then you wait for the “right dog” to become available.
The dogs are well trained. I need that. There is no way I could train a dog at this point in my life, or learn to find the “right” type of dog from a shelter. Otherwise, I’d adopt, I promise.
The people that I have spoken with all agree Peaches is an ideal candidate. They told me a story about a family who had not slept through the night in a year that got a dog and the visually impaired son started sleeping through the night THE VERY FIRST NIGHT. Of course, they said they can’t promise that sort of response but said that they believed the cumulative effect of the dog’s presence would be wonderful for her. Their concerns are the immediate impact on me, and on our cats who’ve never had a dog in their home. They emphasize they want the dog to help the family, not just one individual (unless there is then a knock-on effect).
So, they are coming tomorrow with a dog. Not our dog. A dog. It’s for us to see how our cats respond and for them to see what qualities would be ideal in a dog for Peaches. I’m excited, but also a little worried – mostly about our cats and if they freak out or/and then take out their fear on each other.
I’ll keep you posted. If we get a dog, I imagine things will be crazier for a while, then better sooner. That’s my best guess now. Maybe tomorrow’s meeting will change my mind.