Anna & Dalma: 4 Paws dog to head to the ‘Down Under’
XENIA, Ohio – Anna is an artistic, smiling, loving 10-year-old, but that’s not how she was when her adoptive mother Doris Dehm found her when she was just 10 days old in a Chinese orphanage.
More than nine years ago, Doris, originally from Germany, was a volunteer at an orphanage in China. She was living there while her husband, Burkhard, worked. From the moment that she laid eyes on the tiny, malnourished baby, she knew that all she needed was “food and love.”
“I saw her—she looked at me and I thought she was gorgeous,” says Doris.
She remembers how the 10-day-old baby was in 000-sized clothing, refused solid food and was not developing the older she got. She wasn’t making any eye contact, nor was she making any attempt to speak.
Doris and Burkhard decided to adopt the fragile child, however, it wouldn’t be so easy—not if the Chinese government had anything to do with it, she says. Doris says that while fostering Anna, she wrote over 200 letters.
And although Anna wasn’t a planned child for the older couple with two grown daughters (28 and 30), when the little girl was 2 ½ years old, still only weighing 14 lbs., she was finally an official Dehm. And even then, she was only eating three bottles of powdered milk.
She was diagnosed with PTSD, institutionalized autism, anxiety, expressive language disorder, sensory degradation disorder and extreme far-sidedness.
Doris says she wasn’t going to give up on the little girl who had stolen her heart in that orphanage. Many doctors told her, “there’s nothing more” she could do, not much hope. But she refused to let those words be the end all to her daughter’s thirst for survival and for life.
“She’s doing amazing things now,” says Doris in a thick accent, a mix between German and Australian. In fact, the youngster is learning to talk, thanks to neurological reorganization therapy that she’s been receiving in Bend, Ore.
In therapy, she learns music, speech, and movement and basically allows Anna to relearn everything in stages from the age of newborn, since she missed a lot of that as an infant, says Doris.
Now they don’t just celebrate birthdays, they celebrate every milestone for Anna, like brushing her teeth or tying her shoe… or saying her first word, “momma.”
After trying to give her everything that she needed for years and still being shut down to them, Doris remembers that moment when she spoke and says, it was “just amazing for the first time she opened up.”
But the first time that Anna kissed Doris, was an even more of a momentous occasion than even hearing the word, “momma.” She was 9 years old and Doris had put a blanket over her daughter… and Anna kissed her.
“That was her starting to care,” says Doris. “She had no empathy from infancy [so it took her longer.]”
They have lived in Oregon for the past four years for Anna’s therapy and will be moving back to Australia in July 2013 for Burkhard’s work.
Now, when they move back to Australia, they’ll have Dalma, a rambunctious Goldendoodle, in tow as well.
“Dalma makes her calmer,” says Doris of their brand new service dog from 4 Paws for Ability. However, during their first meeting on Day 1 of class, Anna pushed away Dalma—but by Day 11, she was laying next to the cottony pup, with her hand out, gently lying on her soft fur.
After her traumatic childhood, Anna tends to harm herself with hitting and scratching her own skin. She is very sensitive, because she was not only malnourished but also mal-nurtured at a very young age. She easily has meltdowns and sleeping problems.
“If there’s anything not right, she thinks it’s her fault.”
She is also very sensory-oriented. As a baby, she didn’t have soft things around her, nor did she have anything to cuddle, or hold onto, says Doris. But now, with Dalma, she has her soft fur to touch and it truly seems to soothe the young, slowly maturing girl. Dalma, they hope, will pull Anna out of her own isolation.
Having a child with a disability, the 57-year-old mother says, is “all-consuming.” Nothing compares to having a child who doesn’t sleep, is needy and the worry is exhausting, she admits.
But there’s a lot inside of Anna, her mom says—including her artistic nature. She loves to draw and paint and Doris carries pictures of her artwork on her phone to pull out and show off, the proud mother that she is. Plus, she says, Anna is very funny, has a great sense of humor.
“She has a giggle that lightens up a room… just gorgeous.”
“There’s a lot inside of Anna that the anxiety doesn’t allow it to come out. There’s a lot there and I want to foster that,” says Doris, who believes that Dalma will draw more of Anna’s spirit and creativity out into the open for everyone to enjoy.
The duo is like two peas in a pod, says Doris.
“When they walk together at the mall, she’s more grounded and calmer. She give us a little of freedom too. And she’s free with the dog.”
“It gives us hope for the future—we want her to be as independent as possible. We want her to be as much as she can be.”
“Dalma’s bringing her out of her cocoon,” says Doris about Anna who played ball with her new dog this week.
With soft, shiny, black hair and purple, square-framed glasses resting upon her nose, she smiles, as she looks down at her new four-legged BFF.
“Dalma’s a friend,” says the shy, soft-spoken girl, who, on graduation day at 4 Paws for Ability, wore matching red, jeweled bows as her new furry, fluffy friend—a friend that will give her a brand new life, says her mom.
Read her story about adoption: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2005/09/19/1126982001940.html
Story & photos: by Jessica Noll-Korczyk