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Don't Tell Me Respeciation Is Wrong For My Son
OPINION 10/06/2039 11:52 PM ET
Don't Tell Me Respeciation Is Wrong For My Son

Katherine Hart
Mom to a puppyboy and wife to a wonderful husband

CC BY 4.0 Puppy by Jonathan Kriz | Writer image: CC BY 4.0 Nurse by Walt Stoneburner | Images were cropped. Images used for illustration purposes only.
What our little boy aspires to be.
Ever since he first became aware of the world, our little Adam loved our dogs, Betsy and Boojay.

B & B (as we call them) were both mixed-breeds we had picked up at an animal rescue shelter when they were little. They've always been gentle. When Adam came along the following year, we slowly introduced them to his tiny form.

He took to them like he was one of them.

He constantly played with them and they accepted him unconditionally. They would nap together, eat together. They let our boy hug and cuddle them without ever pulling away.

We worried a bit that Adam was slow to learn to walk. Each time we encouraged him, he resisted, until we learned he was simply more comfortable crawling. Eventually, he got the hang of walking, through patience and a lot of chocolate bribery.

His speech was also very slow to come along, as he preferred to mimic the dogs when communicating. We had to learn different woofs to understand whether our son was hungry, tired, or in some sort of pain (a howl).

Potty training came along slowly too. It was only with great difficulty that we taught him not to emulate our dogs.

When he was three, Adam first drank from the dog's bowl. We had to pull him away, but secretly my husband and I laughed to ourselves.

Adam did not go to preschool, as we thought it best he stay at home given his uniqueness. However, when it came time to send him to school we knew a choice had to be made and we decided to homeschool him. By this time, he had learned to be bipedal when out, but his speech was limited by his insistence on imitating the dogs. He could put sentences together but his phrasing was poor and his vocabulary very limited. He said "no" a lot which helped us understand his needs.

A year into homeschooling, we knew Adam simply wasn't progressing at the speed he should have been. He had become more obsessed with the dogs, and often would get up in the night to lay with them downstairs on the floor. He would steal small pieces of dog food. We knew he was snacking on dog biscuits because the packets emptied very quickly.

We took him to a therapist when he was six years, six months old. He asked all sorts of questions and put a lot of pressure on our son to conform to what he called "normative" behavior. Adam resisted. After the third session, he was inconsolable, crying and howling the entire trip home.

We were at a loss. I decided to do some research and this is how I found out about the transspecies community.

People who are transspecies believe they have been born as the wrong species, and identify as some form of animal.

I found a local organisation called The Northern California Human-Animal Research Clinic. Their job, according to their website, was to "facilitate proactive, productive and compassionate solutions for species-nonconforming individuals."

We were eventually connected to one of the lead researchers, Dr. Alan Sielman. He began to help Adam.

That was two years ago and since then, our son has made incredible progress. Dr. Sielman and his staff have been amazing in helping us understand that our son was mislabelled human at birth, qualifies as struggling with species dysphoria, and that his needs must come first as a non-human identifying individual.

He explained that some children who initially identify as transspecies eventually grow out of the behavioral side of their identity. But those whose identity persists in a non-human context are likely in unbearable pain which is only worsened by their being forced to be something they are not.

The idea that we had been subjecting our son to pain was almost more than I could bear.

It was hard for my husband and I to understand, but we essentially had to let our son go in order to embrace the puppy he identified as.

This meant allowing him to eat from a dog bowl instead of at the dinner table. He had requested dog food, but it was suggested that what he really wants is to eat as the dogs eat. So we bought fresh meat, cooked it, and gave it to the dogs. He was happy to eat "human" food thereafter. He drinks from a special bowl that our other dogs are not allowed near.

Adam sleeps with the dogs at night time, and we found him a collar to help him feel more at home with his identity.

He speaks almost entirely in barks and howls and we have learned to communicate with him.

About six months ago, Dr. Sielman, noting Adam's incredible progress, referred us to Berkley's Center for Transspecies Studies (formerly Berkley Hybrid Institute), in order to investigate the possibility of Adam making a full canine transition.

Professor Evgeny Khazokov spoke to us at length about the treatment needed. He gently let us know that this is an emerging field of study and that everything needed to be done very slowly in order to maximise the chances of success.

The first step is to make the patient comfortable with his or her appearance as a transitioned being. This meant attaching removable, prosthetic ears, nose and tail for Adam, and providing removable fur patches.

The next step, if Adam progressed and was happy, would be to surgically attach organic prosthetics.

Professor Khazokov explained this is where patients generally reject the transition. He likens it to an organ transplant that the body rejects. In the case of some transspecies individuals, the mind rejects the full transition, and that's okay. They may still identify as another species without undergoing a full transition.

If, however, Adam were to accept this next step then the Center would look to transition Adam's body to a canine structure. This would mean amputating Adam's lower legs and attaching his feet where the knee was. As Dr. Sielman offered, one of the most distressing thing for species dysphoria-canine sufferers is their inability to comfortably run like a dog would, because of their overlong hind legs.

At this point Adam would look more dog than human.

Further down the track, Professor Khazokov noted, was the possibility of genetic manipulation, which would slowly transition Adam into a full canine. This is still a novelty, but the Center is progressing this study at a rapid rate and their goal is to have a workable solution in the next ten years, at which point Adam would be a fully grown dog. This is referred to as respeciation.

We've been slowly introducing the idea of transitioning to Adam, to make sure he fully understands what he is choosing for himself. Medicare has agreed to cover the cost of any transition.

The California Department of Education has been immensely helpful at this time, choosing to respect Adam's identity as a canine. They have helped us liaise with the state's Child Protective Services in order to facilitate a safe and healthy environment for Adam to grow in.

Adam has been exempted from any educational requirements because he does not identify as a human child. CPS has visited us and similarly affirmed that as Adam does not identify as human, their department has no authority. Everyone we have spoken to has been wonderfully supportive.

We get that not everyone will be so understanding in our choice to accept our son the way he is. We have lost friends who chose not to let their children play with Adam, making him feel isolated and alone. My husband and I have had to be his playmate, along with Betsy and Boojay.

If Adam chooses respeciation we expect the full range of judgement. We will have to discuss whether we can even take him for walks, or whether he will simply have to stay home in order to be his true, authentic self.

To those out there who have applauded Adam's courage, we thank you. Those friends who have stuck with us and supported us, your bravery is so encouraging. We know Adam has inspired you.

To everyone else, don't tell me respeciation is wrong for my son. His life and choices are his to make, and his alone. You are not affected by his choices so please keep your remarks and hurtful glances to yourself.

Adam is in a safe, nurturing space and if he is willing, we will continue to support him in his transitioning from human to canine, as any loving parent should.
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