Sometimes All Troubled Kids, and Dogs, Need Is a Little TLC

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Four years ago, a psychiatrist branded Sue Shaffer's little grandson Michael "incorrigible" because of his terrible behavior.

It was so bad, the Palmdale woman says, "one doctor's recommendation was that he be put into a facility where they would basically lock him up and forget him."

Today, 8-year-old Michael Shaffer, who lives with Sue and her husband, Tom, goes to a neighborhood Christian school, gets straight A's and reads at the seventh-grade level. In short, says Sue, he is a delight.

Michael's mother, the Shaffers' daughter, was an unmarried 17-year-old on Feb. 1, 1986, when Michael was born, according to Sue.

The baby was in Sue's care until he was 18 months old and his mother married. But when Michael was 4, that marriage fell apart and he was back with Sue and Tom by court order.

Sue says her daughter couldn't control the youngster. So, after going to court to get legal guardianship, she was awarded custody of him. But Sue couldn't understand the child's behavior either.

"When I got him back he was a wild animal," she says. "He once screamed without stopping for 48 hours."

For a while, Michael was so wild he had to be put in a Valley psychiatric hospital, according to Sue. That was when one doctor told the Shaffers that Michael might never have a normal life.

Through the determined efforts of the couple and several other doctors, Michael was put on an antidepressant drug and returned to the Shaffers. Gradually, his behavior began to improve.

After a time at a school for children with a variety of disabilities, Michael was placed in a private school for normal children. His progress since then has given the Shaffers reason to feel very encouraged.

"At this time in our lives, Tom and I hoped we would have raised our two children and be able to devote time to travel and each other," says Sue, 47. Tom is 48.

"Well, that is not the way things turned out, and we are not complaining," she adds. "We have the pleasure of seeing our grandchild grow up."

There have been no miraculous cures or sudden breakthroughs in their struggle to help Michael. "It's been hard work, a lot of discipline and a lot of love," she says.

And lately another element has been added to the equation: a mixed-breed dog named Honey, who has a story of her own.

In February, Nancy Hovey was driving down Avenue S near the Antelope Valley Freeway on her way to a Park-N-Ride in Palmdale when she saw something in the road she thought was a dead dog.

Hovey stopped and discovered a female, honey-colored mixed breed that was alive, but in pain and unable to get up. She took the dog home and put it in the care of her brother while she went to work.

When the dog did not get better, Hovey called the Los Angeles County Animal Shelter in Lancaster and the shelter sent a vehicle to pick the dog up.

A veterinarian said she was suffering from multiple fractures of her pelvic bone. The dog was treated, sent to the shelter and then to a private kennel to convalesce while the Save-a-Pet organization tried to find her a home.

According to Wilma Peterson of Save-a-Pet, everyone who came in contact with the dog was impressed by her will to live and her gentle nature. "We finally put a story in the local paper to try to find her a good place to live," she says.

Sue Shaffer saw the story and asked Michael if he would like to try to read it. Not only did he read about the dog, by now named Honey, he decided he wanted her.

"I called the number in the paper and told the lady I wanted to adopt Honey," Michael says. "The lady told me a lot of people wanted Honey, and she would have to talk to my mother before she could put me on the list."

Sue got on the phone and said she would also be interested in having Honey and told Peterson a little about Michael. After some investigative work, Peterson brought Honey to the Shaffers' home.

Honey is a good dog, Michael says, even if she did chew up his Game Boy.

According to Sue, Honey follows Michael everywhere and he is very loving toward her.

She adds that she sometimes looks at the dog and boy and thinks how different things might have worked out for each of them.

"It makes all the effort worthwhile," Shaffer says.

Teacher Works Hard to Find Hosts for Great Danes

When Liliana Garcia of Sunland agreed to find homes for some Danish exchange students, she didn't know what she was getting into.

The 32-year-old Garcia, who teaches elementary school in Burbank, did know of a place that might be able to help: the Center for Educational Travel, headquartered in San Rafael, Calif. "I knew the organization is eight years old and brings students from all over the world to live with Americans to become familiar with their lifestyle and language," she says. "It is an educational opportunity for the students, who range in age from 15 to 18 and have taken as much as six years of English to come to this country for this total-immersion opportunity."

When she learned that about 21 young people from Denmark would be visiting the Valley, Garcia agreed to house one of the students and offered to find homes for the rest.

"I was given lists of local people who had expressed an interest in the program, and I had many friends I thought might take one or two students," she says, adding she figured, "How hard could it be?"

In short order she found out the recession was not going to make her job easy. "Many people were interested, but not now," Garcia says.

By June 17, her last day of teaching for the summer, Garcia had homes for all but four of the Danish students. But they were all about to arrive, and she still needed four sponsors. In desperation, Garcia parked herself in front of a local church to try to solicit sponsors for those last four.

Although she didn't come up with any, she did get calls back from two families who said they would each take two students, and Garcia says she finally started to breathe easier.

Now, Garcia's only duty, in addition to enjoying the company of her own Danish student, 15-year-old Annemarie Boe, is helping to chaperon all of the young Danes on group outings around Southern California.

One recent outing took the Danes to Olvera Street, where the students seemed fascinated with the strong Mexican flavor of California's heritage.

When it came to food, however, the visitors wanted to eat American.

"I tried to talk them into burritos. I suggested taquitos and tacos," Garcia says. But all they wanted was hamburgers, "and there was no way to talk them out of it."

Overheard:

"The media is overplaying the coverage of the O. J. Simpson trial. It's on every television station, and I know because I watch every one of them."

Woman to other shoppers in the checkout line at Vons in Woodland Hills.

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