At first, it was cute – Lil Bug loved to follow me around. She always positioned herself at my feet and followed me from room to room. It was something I had always envisioned for my future furry-best-friend. I wanted a dog who loved to be near me, wanted to spend time with me. Well, I got that dog. Lil Bug was already a shy and submissive puppy when we got her; I wanted her to latch on to me. I wanted to be what she needed. Well, I was…and then some. This was when we should have started working with her so that she could be more independent. So that she didn’t have to be attached to my hip, so she enjoyed being alone sometimes. It really is heart-breaking – the general public always thinks it’s cute when a dog is attached to its owners and has to be near them at all times. Sol and I have joined the small population who knows better now. So, if you don’t read this whole post, I just want you to know one thing: a happy dog is an independent dog, a dog who isn’t afraid to be alone.
Her need to be near us at all times soon became scary – it developed into separation anxiety. She became destructive and desperate to be with us when we weren’t home (detailed here). So, we went to a private behavior consult at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley to get some tips on how to overcome this. The trainers there are absolutely fantastic and had helped us through puppy socials, puppy kindergarten and puppy agility classes. They cautioned us that it was a long road ahead but that there was light at the end of the tunnel and this issue could eventually be resolved. They also told us that if we did decide to surrender her, they would make sure she went to a family who understood her problem. They told us that we had already gone through a lot and tried a lot of different things to help her with her anxiety so there would be no shame in surrendering her at this point. This was comforting.
With all this knowledge, we decided to trudge ahead anyways. We wanted to give her our best shot. How could we have gotten this far and give up without trying? Lil Bug was prescribed Prozac from our vet to help with her anxiety attacks when we left her alone. The Prozac helped, a lot. We saw changes in her behavior and for the first time was able to see a tiny bit of “normal dog” behavior from Lil Bug. The big killer, as the HSVB trainers had mentioned, was that she still had to be left alone all day. So, even with the pills, she experienced emotional set backs every time we left her home alone. Yes, there were alternatives to leaving her home alone…but let’s be real – I couldn’t afford to take her to doggie day care every day or every time she was left alone. Not only did we have these set backs, our recent work schedules didn’t really allow us to work extensively with her on counter-conditioning. Two major problems.
It’s been about two months since our behavior consult and things have spiraled downward in the last three weeks. Lil Bug’s behavior is better. But, now that she’s not anxious, she’s bored. A bored dog gets into a lot of trouble. And, tired dog-parents mean no frozen kongs for a week and a half. When we finally got the kongs going again, the peanut butter (or something) made her stomach sore. Sore puppy stomach = diarrhea accidents inside. It was at the point where she was having accidents every time we left her home. We thought this could also be due to the separation anxiety, maybe it was getting worse for her? We took her off food for 24 hours to give her system some time to recover. When we started the kibble again (out of her treat dispensing soccer ball), she was fine. Solid poop – HOORAY! During this time she started a bad habit of clearing the countertops while we were gone (she never did this while we were home because she knows she’s not supposed to). So, about four days after we celebrated the reappearance of solid poop, she got to a banana I had left on the counter. Banana = more diarrhea. The casualties of the latest poop attack? The futon and the bed sheets. And the bedroom carpeting…again. Mind you, we blockade the bedroom every time we leave. I’m sure it would either horrify or amuse people to watch our leaving process. We had to drag the coffee table in front of the sliding bedroom door and jam it with one of my leather notepad portfolios so she couldn’t push the door open. Then, we had to lock the other regular door to the bedroom because she learned how to turn the handle on that one. We also had to close and lock the sliding door between the bathroom and the bedroom in case she did get into the bedroom. And finally, we had to make sure the door to the bathroom from the hallway was also tightly closed. Then, we always had to make sure Lil Bug was wearing her Thunder Shirt (she loved it and it really helped tone down the anxiety) and her cage muzzle. And, the last and final step to leaving was to make sure the front door was dead bolted – she could open it if it isn’t. Quite a process, huh?
Sol and I were so concerned with Lil Bug’s quality of life and if we’re giving her enough time and attention. It was recently brought to my attention that maybe we should really take a look at OUR quality of life. Are we being fair to ourselves? And, as heartbreaking as it is – we aren’t. Lil Bug was living a pretty decent life with us – time, attention, dog park adventures, walks, jogs, toys, food, lots of pillows. But, she wasn’t giving US the best life we could have. So, we decided that the best solution for all of us was surrender. Life will be hard either way. It will be hard to give her up…and it will be hard to live with her like this. She will find a family who can give her more of what she needs. A family who won’t have to jump through these hoops to give her a great life. We took her back to the humane society last Friday evening.
For everyone who has a dog with separation anxiety and you’re working through it? I wish you the best of luck and I hope you get to that light at the end of the tunnel. You’re made of stronger stuff than I am. Take it a day at a time and keep trudging forward as best you can.
We won’t ever forget her. She’s left a hole in my heart that will be hard to fill. Frankly, we don’t have the resources to deal with that kind of problem at this point in our lives. And, even though we’ve gone the whole
9-yards mile with her, I still feel like I haven’t done enough. I’ve given up on her when all she wanted was for me to believe in her, for me to spend time with her. At what point am I supposed to say enough is enough and I’ve given you all I’ve got and not feel guilty? I will always love her. Maybe this is the next step for me to show her just how much I love her.