This morning Huck got up as usual, went outside, came inside, gulped two full bowls of water, and then puked it all up. He refused to eat breakfast, slowly went back upstairs with his head sagging, and sprawled out on his side on the cool wood floor instead of his bed (or mine).
This dog seriously cannot catch a break.
Since I wrote about him last, he’s been through quite a lot. Following a disastrous afternoon alone wherein he chewed apart a corner of a baby gate until his gums bled, I had no choice but to take him to the vet to get some help with his anxiety. Our local vet prescribed a low dose of Fluoxetine (Prozac), but recommended that we make an appointment for him at the University of Minnesota’s behavioral clinic.
I had already started the process of doing just that. Our dog walker had recommended the U of MN several weeks before, but I was daunted by the 17-page application, pricey consulting fee, and 6-week wait time for appointments.
The Fluoxetine, though, wouldn’t take full effect for 4-6 weeks, which left our hands tied. Huck’s separation anxiety had gotten so bad that he simply could not be trusted at home by himself. Full-on meltdowns and destruction had become the norm, and I came home more than once to find blood on something he’d chewed on during an anxiety attack. We started making decisions about our social life based on whether or not we wanted to deal with Huck. We skipped movies, put off dinners out, stopped going places together so someone could always be home with him.
This is not a tenable situation. We knew we couldn’t wait a month or more for the medication to magically work. We also knew from experience that our training efforts were not enough to combat whatever was happening – we had successfully calmed him during mealtimes and such, but the moment we put on shoes/coats to leave the house, all bets were off. None of the training techniques even made a dent in his anxiety. (Our dog trainer is very anti-medication, which is admirable, but IMHO not an option in this case.)
The meds were the first step. Doggie daycare was the second. We began taking him almost every single day, all day. If he’s not at daycare, he goes to work with Joel. This is a great solution for weekdays, but doesn’t help at all on the weekends. Daycare also completely wipes him out. He comes home, has dinner, goes to bed, and starts snoring. For the record, it does seem tied to daycare, not the Fluoxetine, as he’s far more alert after being with Joel all day.
After another rug bit the dust and we arrived home to find a bloody mess with Claire in tow, I desperately called the university, prepared to beg for an appointment. To my utter joy they had a cancelation, and we were able to slot in for the following Monday. At that point, the consultation fee and mega-application felt like a small price to pay.
On to step three!
I am a big fan of asking for help when you feel overwhelmed in situations like these, so I immediately felt like a weight was lifted. As much as I like our dog trainer, I just knew in my guts that Huck needed something more/different. The U’s behavioral vet has 25 years of experience and only handles a few patients every day. Appointments are up to three hours long. Following the initial consultation, the vet will respond to as many emails and phone calls as necessary for up to two months at no cost. And they don’t just focus on meds. They also have an anxiety-specific training curricula.
The vet, Margaret Duxbury, was an absolute dream. She started our session by telling me how sad Huck’s application made her, and how she couldn’t wait to help him. (I will admit to getting weepy.) She had carefully read through his application, summarized our problems, and walked through each one at a time until she had every single detail. She didn’t make me feel stupid or negligent. Rather, she validated what I had thought, which is that Huck’s brain chemistry has gone a little funky and he needs some serious help to get better.
Driving to Minnesota, living in a new house, being around Claire, having a different routine, etc. all probably contributed. But Huck has always been a little high strung, and Dr. Duxbury made me see that he was probably just escalating what was already there.
We left with a stack of training exercises, some very specific new rules around our behaviors with Huck, and two more medications – Clonidine and Trazadone. The Clonidine is being given in tandem with the Fluoxidine, and the Trazadone is more of a rescue med for when we absolutely have to leave him but don’t want him to hurt himself while we’re gone.
In just two weeks, the meds have definitely changed our lives. Joel and Claire spent quite a lot of time away from the house last weekend, and Huck remained calm(er) and didn’t cause any damage to himself or the house. He is markedly less anxious when we’re all leaving together and is almost an angel at meal times. He does not follow me from room to room all day long.
He has, however, picked up a whole host of new weird ticks, like not wanting to come in the house in the evenings – the theory is that he’s grown scared of the heater – or not wanting to get in the car when we pick him up from daycare. And I will admit, training has been a bit of a conundrum for us. One of the exercises is easy, but he’s asleep moments after he gets home and is mostly sleeping through the night. I’m trying to figure out with the vet whether I should be hustling him out of bed for nighttime training, or if he needs the downtime. (I’m in email contact with the vet almost daily, and she is quick to respond, a real godsend.)
Just a couple of days ago, Joel said “having a dog shouldn’t be this much work.” He’s totally right. It shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, having this dog is. It will be a lot of hard work for months, likely, and will be some level of work for the rest of his life. He won’t magically be “cured.” If we’re lucky, he will become a whole lot more manageable and happy. If we’re lucky, he’ll be the old Huck again, slightly neurotic but mostly a lovable goof.
When people hear Huck’s story, they always apologize to me. They say, “I don’t know if I could handle that.” But here’s the thing – YOU JUST DO. There is no other option for me. Huck’s my guy. I agreed to take care of him for his whole life when I adopted him. It’s my job, and in return I get his big snuggles and his happy grin on long runs and his silly roo-ing when he’s excited. It’s mind-blowingly hard. But it’s what you do.