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Help will come for boy, animals

A woman gets vows of state aid for her violent grandson and foster care for her pets.

Published April 11, 2007

  • Alone, she fears boy's homecoming
    A grandmother gives up pets to protect them from a violent child. Click for previous coverage and video from Bay News 9.

  • LARGO - After one anguish-filled day, Barbara Morris received a double dose of good news Tuesday.

    She learned her 9-year-old violent grandson, Christopher, made a state crisis list for the developmentally disabled that will give him intense therapy services at home or in residential treatment.

    And her employer, Royal Palms elderly community in Largo, stepped forward to temporarily care for her two chihuahua puppies, Odie and Pepper, which she tearfully signed over Monday to the SPCA to protect them from the boy's violent outbursts.

    The SPCA had planned to put the dogs up for permanent adoption.

    Although it's unclear exactly when Christopher will get the help he needs, Morris, a 61-year-old Largo widow, was relieved that her monthslong effort finally got results.

    "I'm so happy," Morris said after picking up Christopher from the Pinellas Park psychiatric center were he spent seven weeks after stabbing her with a pencil. "It's been a long time coming."

    She believes the 4-foot-8 boy she adopted at age 4 has become too violent and needs to be in a group home setting.

    He has threatened to kill her and been admitted to psychiatric hospitals at least 20 times for violent outbursts, typically against Morris.

    The Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities notified Morris late Tuesday that Christopher has been approved for more intense help.

    The boy is now eligible for about 30 different services, said Carl Littlefield, regional director for the agency in Tampa.

    A state committee approved five of 13 people from the Tampa Bay area for crisis services.

    Littlefield credited the St. Petersburg Times for focusing public attention on the Morris family.

    Though the agency faces a $105-million deficit this year, Littlefield said it will use its state funding to assist Christopher at least through year's end.

    "We're going to do whatever is possible to protect him and his grandmother," he said. "We're going to do whatever we can to get them out of a crisis situation."

    Morris said Littlefield told her a state worker would visit her this week to begin a thorough analysis.

    Dozens of readers telephoned and e-mailed the Times on Tuesday after reading about Morris turning over her dogs, five birds and one turtle to the SPCA.

    Christopher has killed a parakeet, gerbil and guinea pig in the past and recently tried to squeeze Odie, the male chihuahua.

    He has mild mental retardation and suffers from bipolar disorder, among several other disorders.

    An agency humane officer concerned about the dogs' safety contacted Morris after the newspaper first reported Christopher's plight in March.

    Morris said she was encouraged to voluntarily give up the animals. The officer hinted that the agency could ask a judge to authorize it if she balked, she said.

    SPCA executive director Beth Lockwood, however, said the agency did not plan to take court action against Morris, adding that it is rare to get animals before abuse actually occurs.

    Lockwood also said the humane officer wrongly told Morris the agency could not foster the animals. The agency frequently places animals belonging to battered women and ill people in foster homes.

    Most of the readers wanted to provide a temporary home for the dogs since the SPCA planned to allow another family to adopt them instead of returning them to Morris.

    One reader, Reba Stephens, a 50-year-old nurse from Inverness, was one of the more than 100 people who offered to care for the dogs. "It just touched me," Stephens said.

    The executive director of the Royal Palms in the Palms of Largo, where Morris works as a housekeeper, called the SPCA Tuesday morning and offered to care for the dogs.

    The SPCA agreed.

    "People need to know we're willing to listen and work out a good solution," Lockwood said. "Everything is not always a done deal. We're not an organization that doesn't care."

    The dogs will be housed in a building along with about 10 other dogs, cats and birds that belong to the building's 214 residents.

    "We're going to take care of them until Barbara can get some sort of resolution for her grandson," said Robin Katchuk, Royal Palms' executive director. "The dogs mean so much to her."

    Morris said she was overwhelmed by her employer's generosity.

    "I never expected a workplace to be so kind and considerate as they have been to me," she said. "For them to adopt the dogs and keep them here is just more than any person could ask."

    Morris and other employees will be able to walk them and feed them.

    Melanie Ave can be reached at 727 893-8813 or

    [Last modified April 10, 2007, 22:19:43]

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