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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarian Essays

Vegetarians in Paradiseregularly presents informative articles by guest contributors on subjects of interest to vegetarians and vegans. This month we asked Shirley Dumas to tell her heart-wrenching story of her battle with authorities in Indiana who took her adopted child from her because she and her husband are vegetarians.

An Adoption Cancelled

By Shirley Dumas

When my husband James and I changed our diet over eleven years ago, it was not the only change in our lives. While it made our lives better, it also put us at odds with the State of Indiana where adopting a child was concerned.

When we first became foster parents, getting into the system seemed to be the right road to take in adopting our children. But when the authorities found out that we planned to feed the children organic food and give them snacks that had no artificial colors or pesticides, they felt we were not going to make very good parents for the foster/adopt program in our area.

Not much was known about vegetarianism or organic food in our community, and there is much mistrust when people are faced with the unknown.

We did become foster parents, but our hearts were in adopting children with disabilities. The children that were placed with us thrived on a totally organic diet; it was clearly seen in a change in their behavior.

Many of the children placed in our home had a background of drug usage by the parents. An organic diet helped, but even at that, it was not seen as helping the children by the state. Instead of being recognized as a positive thing, it was seen in a negative light.

We had our first conflict with the state officials over it. The change in the behavior of the children was not seen as a result of a healthy diet but of some sort of abuse on our part. Dumas Family

It was sad because informed people know that children thrive on a diet that is full of nutritious foods that do not contain chemicals and preservatives.

All of our efforts were seen in a negative light, so we decided not to reapply for a renewal of our foster license. We told them we would not go another year as foster parents and we kept a record of this.

They attempted to say that they had revoked our license, but we had proof to the contrary. We knew that feeding these children organic food was helping not harming them, but we didn't want to fight the system over this issue.

We had wanted to adopt two of the last three children that had been placed with us, but we were not allowed to continue with the plan. We did not let this stop us. We looked high and low for another agency, a private organization that would allow vegetarians to adopt.

Finally finding one that was more concerned about placing a child who needed a good home than whether the home was vegetarian or not was not easy, but we did find one. We were overjoyed. We couldn't wait to become parents. It was a boy and, of course, my husband was very happy about that, but he would have been just as happy if it had been a little girl.

We told the adoption agency everything that we had been through with the state. We held nothing back. We wanted them to know the whole story from start to finish. We didn't want any problems later on.

Our baby was placed with us with the help of The National Health Federation of California who loaned us $450.00 to start the adoption process. We were on our way to a happy ending as a family, we thought.

We were trying to pay off the adoption fee, and we weren't going to have a lot of money for Christmas presents. A local store was having a grand opening, and the first 200 people would receive a coupon for $20.00. The way I shop I knew it would get our baby a couple of Christmas presents. We got up real early in the morning, around 5:30, got dressed, got a couple of bottles, and got to the store around 6:00 a.m..

The baby and my husband stayed in the car with the heat on, and I stood for 3 hours in below 0 weather for the chance to get one of the coupons, and I did. These are some of the presents he received for his first Christmas with us. A member of our church at the time gave him the suit for Christmas and another set of clothing.

Our Jeremiah was ten months old when we picked him up from foster home and eighteen months when he was taken from our home. We had him with us for eight months. Those were the best months of our lives since we were married. We had so much fun, every day was a joy for us.

We educated ourselves about the disability of the baby that was being placed with us. His disability was Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) which meant that his growth had been affected by drug and alcohol usage by his parents, and his brain had been affected also. We knew the type of child we were adopting.

But questions arose about our son's growth and his behavior. We wish that the people who had the questions would have only asked us so that we could have answered them, but instead they talked among themselves, reasoning that we were neglecting our son and that our vegetarian lifestyle played a part in the neglect/abuse.

Several people from our church called CPS (Child Protective Services) about us. During a Sunday midday service at our church, two police officers and two state workers marched in looking for a mother, a father, and a baby boy.

There was no reason for such a show of force because we had been contacted by telephone by state officials on the previous Friday before they made their appearance. Speaking with my husband, they asked if we were still vegetarians. My husband answered that we were.

We had made arrangements to meet them at a local doctor's office on that following Monday and they agreed.

Instead they came into the church as if we were common criminals. We have never been able to understand the reason behind this action. We just happened to be out of the state that afternoon. We had been at church earlier, but my husband had a very important meeting to attend. We went everywhere as a family, and it's a good thing we did.

After the meeting we returned home and were told by one of our dear neighbors about the visit to our home by the two policemen and the CPS workers and how they had knocked on the door and had peered into the windows looking for us. It was quite a sight on a Sunday.

We were told that they had stayed at our house for awhile and then headed off toward the church we attended. My husband went to church after being told by our neighbor to see what was going on. I put our son down for his nap and called a trusted friend from the church to come by and pray with us and to be with us during the return trip of the policemen and the CPS workers.

They had left their card with the number to contact them as soon as we came home, and we did just that. When they arrived, they wanted to see the baby who had been napping. They wanted him stripped of all of his clothing so they could check for signs of abuse or neglect. None was found. This poor baby didn't know what to do. He looked at us for help, but there was nothing we could do to help him.

They referred to the child as a victim in front of my husband, but James held his cool and did not respond, I am sure they expected him to answer, but Thank God for prayer. They proceeded to search our refrigerator looking for the type of food we ate. They did not seem concerned with the baby's food only ours. They did ask what we fed the baby, and we told them organic baby food and soy formula. They did not want to see any of it.

They also searched the baby's room looking for anything they could find to prove that we were unfit parents. When they could find nothing wrong, they referred to him being small for his age. That was odd because the report we had received when we picked him up from the agency clearly stated that, " outstanding feature was that he was small for his size." They did not seem to care about what was on paper in reference to our son or that we had a nutritionist that helped with his dietary needs. Nothing we said or did was going to stop them from taking our son away. They asked that we dress him, and then they took our baby boy away.

A few days afterward we were in court where the Judge told us that if we cared as much about our son as we did being vegetarians we wouldn't be there. How sad! We cared very much, and it was shown in the pictures that we took of our son over the time that he was with us and in the records written after each home visit required when an adoption is being done. The positive reports did not change their minds, and the adoption agency that had once been on our side turned its back on us.

Jeremiah We were ordered to take nutrition classes, which we did through our nutritionist who taught at a local school, and we received an A. Also ordered were parenting classes which we took at an organization that worked with parents with children with disabilities. We took the classes and completed them. We mailed the adoption agency the papers and gave them to the state officials who did not accept them. They wanted us to play the role of neglectful/abusive parents, and we would not do it. Because we had done nothing wrong, we held our ground.

The adoption agency took the child and allowed him to be adopted by a non-vegetarian family. This seemed to be an important issue with them because they put into a report that they feared " our excessive vegetarian beliefs may have harmed the child."

We didn't take this lying down. We contacted every agency we could think of. We received a lot, and I mean a lot, of support and help from Lyge Weill of the Vegetarian Awareness Network. He has helped so many people. Without his help and support we would have never gotten anywhere. He put us in touch with vegetarian organizations across the country.

Some tried to help, some were in disbelief, but our story got out there for the world to see what was happening. So many people contacted the agency that they became upset with what was going on. We couldn't just sit back and let our lives be destroyed.

We lost a lot, our home which was just one thing that we missed, but much more important was our son who had done nothing wrong. He looked to his mommy and daddy for help, and we could give him nothing at the time. We told him he should never forget us, and that one day to remember that we loved him very much, and we always will. We pray that one day when he is older, he will remember that he had another set of parents who did not go off into the sunset quietly.

We just hope that telling our story will serve to educate other parents about what is happening. Maybe going public will change things. We know that out there somewhere in a vegetarian-friendly country there is a baby for us, and we know that God will work it out in His time.

We are now vegan, and we have been blessed with a vegetarian real estate agent who is working with us to be able to finally have a home to fill it with children to love and raise vegan. We want to say thank you to Cathy Ballesteros, our real estate agent, for her support and help to make our dream come true.

Thank you for printing our story. We hope that it will help other families that are facing similar situations.

Let us not hide our heads in the sand.
Let us support our vegetarian/vegan brothers and sisters in this most stressful time for us all.

God Bless You,

Shirley and James Dumas

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