Monday, January 23, 2012

Things that go boom in the night

It was a dark and not-so-stormy night. At least that's how it started...

Fast forward to June 2009

This is what happens in New England: You go to bed on a lovely summer evening only to be wakened abruptly by the furious crashing of thunder and lightening around 2 o'clock in the morning. (Or at least you do if you're the female half of this equation - Jan will sleep through the apocalypse and wonder where everyone went when he wakes the next morning.) I don't know why storms here like to occur at this particularly ungodly hour but that's kind of the way of it. Luckily, I tend to be both a light sleeper and a bit of an insomniac so at least one human in the household is capable of functioning during these events.

Insert perfectly irrelevant picture of pretty dog here.
If you've been following the blog for any length of time, you probably know this already but for anyone just joining us, it's important to our story to know that Bella was born on the streets of Puerto Rico. Without shelter for much of her first 5 months during an extremely active hurricane season, perhaps we should have anticipated her excessive reaction to the first boomer that blasted through our area that summer. As it was, we were caught totally unprepared.

In my rather long history with animals, I've known plenty who "didn't like" thunderstorms - my mom and dad's dog, Misty, used to hide under their computer desk whenever it stormed. It was evident she didn't like them but there were no visible signs of panic and dread. Within moments of that first crack of thunder, however, it was clear we were dealing with a different beast in Bella's reaction.

Houston, we have a problem

It was tragic to watch our little girl tremble, pace and pant in abject terror. She had learned with many of her fears to come to us for reassurance, perhaps protection and she did try this with the thunder by climbing into bed with us. We were unrealistically hopeful that she would settle and lie down with us but she preferred to stand - on Jan (well, that's one way to wake him up). Honestly, I think we could have lived with that. It was when she started trying to climb the headboard of the bed that we realized this was going to be a problem: Bella was trying to escape.

She was in a blind panic and I was fast approaching the same - this couldn't be good for her physically. I had no idea what to do - my mind raced to all I had read about fearful dogs:
  • Control the environment - um, well yeah okay but if I could do that, I'd be rich.
  • Remove the object of fear - again, not so helpful here, moving on...
  • Move the dog away from the object - wait, what? We may have just stumbled upon something remotely useful.

Bella's couch.
Short of putting her in the car to travel outside the storm area, we did have a slim possibility of removing Bella from the frightening situation. At least it was worth a try. I sent Jan back to sleep (not that this required much coercion), grabbed the dog and headed to the basement.

Our basement, yay for me, is finished and in fact where we have our "entertainment" area. Unsure what to expect, I turned on the television to some station that was playing music and turned the volume up - way up - until it drowned out the sound of the thunder. Soon, Bella climbed up on the couch next to me, let out a heavy sigh and promptly fell asleep. And this is how she and I have spent pretty much every single thunderstorm in the three years since.

A first on Bringing up Bella: The series

We have tried just about every product on the market to help her with this debilitating fear: drugs, wraps, scents, sounds, TTouch, you name it. Nothing has proven 100% effective. Over the next several weeks, I'll lay out what we tried and our experience with each.

And now for the requisite disclaimer: I am not a vet - my discussion of medications is strictly anecdotal. The products being reviewed were purchased, not offered to us for review - I will present my experience and give an honest opinion. I hope if folks have had different experiences, you will feel welcome to offer them and your own opinions here as well.

Finally, I have virtually no pictures of Bella from during these events. While a visual study of fear displays in dogs may be useful, I'm her hu-mom not her scientist.




42 comments:

  1. I am new to this blog and this is a lovely post to start off with.  You are a great mom to take care of Bella during those storms.  I hope that she might eventually be able to get over her fear and I look forward to reading all of the things you tried that didn't work.  It's a good way to learn!

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  2. Oh poor Bella! You're such a great Mom taking care of her
    Dachshund Nola

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  3. We so rarely, if ever, get a thunderstorm but for those who have them often I can only imagine how many poochies get freaked out.  I would too!  Sometimes you have to do what works and if drowning out the boomers with music works go for it!  I assume you live far enough from your neighbors they won't call the police for the loudness....that could be a problem. 

    Oh Bella baby...take care....you are such a beauty.

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  4. Not sure how our pups would weather a thunderstorm we never get them here, I am sure they would freak out too.

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  5. We had the same problem with our late Basset Barney.  We used to do exactly that.  Take him down to the rec room, put the tv on and turn an air cleaner on for some added inside noise.  It helped drown out the storm and he would settle down and sleep on the couch with me.  Good luck with poor Bella and the storms.

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  6. Well we'll look forward to that... I have anxiety issues, one symptom of which is a regular upset tummy -at  least we're pretty sure the two are related. Nice to know how other people deal with stuff that has no obvious answers. Deccy x

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  7. Living on the streets as a pup during hurricane season - I would be surprised if Bella WASN'T a little anxious. Bad memories. It'll be interesting to read about all the different ways you've tried to help her. Maybe nothing needs to be 100% effective immediately. If she improves by 10% with each thunderstorm, she'll eventually get there too, right? :)

    Until next time...x

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  8. One of our cavaliers are high strung during storms, but at night if hes in his kennel, he feels secure.  Great that bella has you!  Hugs♥ 

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  9. Kootenai Summit PostJanuary 24, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    I hope that she gets less scared.  That's a big history to overcome, though. 

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  10. Poor Bella, she's so lucky to have such a great Mum to hang out with in the basement when the scary thunder comes!!

    We rarely get it here - we did have a rainstorm the other night and as we haven't had rain in so long I was a bit unnerved by it - I got Mum up at 4am, we went out to investigate (and go potty) and then Mum was relieved that I went back to sleep..... :)

    Wags to all,

    Your pal Snoopy :)

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  11. I'm sure a lot of people with thunder-phobic dogs are anxious to see what you've learned. The really tough thing is that each dog is unique. 

    Our local rescue rehomed a dog in their care because her fear was so severe. They shipped her across country to a place that had no thunderstorms. It's extreme but at least she got some relief.

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  12. I do this for my Bella too - we've spent many a storm snuggled up in the basement to hide from the noise.  I'm glad you're sharing that idea here - sometimes it's the only thing that works.

    P.S. I'm going to need to know which vampire you were referencing on my blog earlier. I realize it's unrelated to this post, but I need to know! =P

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  13. Hi Helen, thanks for stopping by and thx even more for saying hello.

    We're working extensively with her and she has overcome many, many fears so we still have hope that t-storms may someday just bother her and not send her into that panic. Someday...

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  14. Thanks Nola, we try. She's our good little girl and worth every sleepless night. ;)

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  15. Wow - I didn't know there were places that disn't get thunderstorms - ours can be pretty severe if not especially frequent. (thank Heavens for small favors!)

    And yes, luckily we live on a fairly secluded lot and don't have to worry about disturbing the neighbors. :)

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  16. Hi Tim, I've found it all boils down to those first few weeks and exposure. My Lab used to watch t-storms with me but I got him at 12 weeks old and he was extremely well exposed even b4 he came to me. Some dogs just handle it better than others...

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  17. Thanks. I'd never had a dog with such intense noise phobias before so was really caught unprepared. Unfortunately, the fear seems to be getting worse around this (for several reasons, I suppose)but it is improving in other areas...thanks for th encouragement.

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  18. Well, we will definitely be discussing anxiety as well as some stronger emotions. Did you ever try the thundershirt, Deccy? For generalized anxiety, it's not a bad option.

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  19. Thanks, GLP, yeah, we really should have seen that coming. :]

    She's improved in so many ways that if she never gets over her fear of storms, I think we'll be able to with that. As long as she doesn't get so freaked that it jeopardizes her health...

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  20. Hi Debbie, I like to think of the basement as Bella's crate. :) (The crate situation is a blog post unto itself. ;)

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  21. Hi Koot - gosh, I haven't caught up with you in ages - my apologies. Hope you are well. It is a lot to overcome and whether we ever get all the way there or not, we will continue to try. :)

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  22. Aww, poor Snoopy, you don't look like you'd ever be scared. Seeing that would break my heart. I'm glad you were able to go back to sleep.

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  23. I wish what I had to say a) presented any answers and b) was applicable across the board. Unfortunatly neither is true. Some things have helped but nothing has fixed... I just hope to offer some options for folks to try. Hope maybe something gives someone an idea that helps their pup even just a little.

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  24. The only problem with hiding in the basement is, what happens when we're ot home? What do we do if we have to go out of town (which, with our Bella is a whole OTHER issue we with which we have to deal!) We've met with some success but it's been a long process....

    Re: your other point, do you watch Sanctuary? I am such a dork. ;]

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  25. We do this for Cali too :) Luckily there aren't too many thunderstorms in Portland, OR!

    She was never afraid of anything loud until we lived in South Carolina - and I totally blame myself; there was a loud crack of lightening and a BOOM of thunder one night and it scared me (it caught me off guard as I was waking in the house and I let out a little tiny scream)  and she has been afraid of it every since :(  it's so hard to turn it around once they have that fear - I'm glad you've found a solution to help Bella feel better!

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  26. That is what we do with Felix too. He gets a dose of Bach Flower remedy which he responds to well, but not enough to solve the problem (it's the difference between all out panic attack and just shaking, whining and cowering in my lap.) When we finished the basement, I had the walls sprayed with that insulating foam, which also happens to be a fabulous sound dampener and we hung heavy blackout drapes, so that I can block the flash from the windows (our basement is partially above ground). Felix and I ride out the storm together :0) Bella is a lucky girl.

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  27. No I haven't as yet. I do pretty well with fireworks & stuff like that. Mum says it's a bit hard to put her finger on, but we think it's a bit of separation anxiety  plus a change in routine / location - even if it's something I like such as visiting Ganny! We are trying a low dose of Melatonin at the moment (which you can't get here so we've had to buy from the States) but Mum can't decide if it works as an occasional med or it really needs to be given all the time to cause a build up in my system. 

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  28. As an owner of another dog who lived outdoors and also has panic attacks from thunder, I totally empathize with you, and am STILL jealous that you have a basement to bring Bella too! I look forward to reading your posts about what you've tried. We've tried a lot of stuff, most with no success either.

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  29. I agree - the basement works, but it's no good when we're not home and a storm strikes. Those are always the worst days. :( 

    I was considering checking out Sanctuary, but hadn't yet. (I'm the worst - when I don't discover a series at the beginning of its run, it takes me a while to get motivated to start since I have to catch up.)  However, I may now move it up in the queue!

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  30. I agree - the basement works, but it's no good when we're not home and a storm strikes. Those are always the worst days. :( 

    I was considering checking out Sanctuary, but hadn't yet. (I'm the worst - when I don't discover a series at the beginning of its run, it takes me a while to get motivated to start since I have to catch up.)  However, I may now move it up in the queue!

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  31. I agree - the basement works, but it's no good when we're not home and a storm strikes. Those are always the worst days. :( 

    I was considering checking out Sanctuary, but hadn't yet. (I'm the worst - when I don't discover a series at the beginning of its run, it takes me a while to get motivated to start since I have to catch up.)  However, I may now move it up in the queue!

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  32. I agree - the basement works, but it's no good when we're not home and a storm strikes. Those are always the worst days. :( 

    I was considering checking out Sanctuary, but hadn't yet. (I'm the worst - when I don't discover a series at the beginning of its run, it takes me a while to get motivated to start since I have to catch up.)  However, I may now move it up in the queue!

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  33. I agree - the basement works, but it's no good when we're not home and a storm strikes. Those are always the worst days. :( 

    I was considering checking out Sanctuary, but hadn't yet. (I'm the worst - when I don't discover a series at the beginning of its run, it takes me a while to get motivated to start since I have to catch up.)  However, I may now move it up in the queue!

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  34. I'm so sorry for the multiple comments - I have no idea why it did that!

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  35. We tried Melatonin - it was actually one of the more successful measures we tried originally.  We used it occasionally so I don't know if it would have worked better if we had put her on it continually.  I think with a lot of the medications, efficacy can wear down over time and I'm not sure if that happens faster or slower based on how often it's given... 

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  36. Be forewarned, Sanctuary is "an acquired taste". :)  If you like graphic novels and can tolerate some not-quite-successful CGI effects (understanding it's television and not Peter Jackson's vision of the Tolkien-verse) in exchange for excellent tongue-in-cheek writing and (some) stellar acting, you should like it.  If your favorite channel is Syfy, you'll be all set.  If it's PBS, maybe not so much. [What can I say, I'm a geek. :]  

    At the very least don't give up on it until Tesla arrives in episode 1x07 then decide. ;)

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  37. Thank you Julie, for saying that. As much as I love watching thunderstorms when I know they're coming, I can't help but think I'm at least partly at fault due to my reaction to that first event - both the 'shock' of waking up to the storm and then trying to figure how best to comfort Bella.  
    It's funny, Bella isn't really afraid of fireworks anymore but she's actually getting worse about storms...  To be fair, we've had some storms here recently that are pushing boundaries - Tornadoes? Check. Hurricanes? Check. Blizzards? Check. What's up with that? :o 

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  38. Thanks for the tip about the basement insulation. At some point in the future we will be refinishing it so that's definitely something we should plan for when we do. Felix is a lucky guy, too. 

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  39. Yeah, I shouldn't complain about having to take her to the basement - at least we HAVE that option. :(

    I think we have to settle for, as KolchakPuggle says, preventing all out panic if not totally eliminating the worry.  

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  40. No worries.  Although I have to admit, I woke this morning and saw so many emails in my inbox I thought we'd gotten famous. ;)

    It appears to be an issue with Disqus (my commenting software) - I'm having trouble with it, too.  Hopefully it'll get fixed shortly.

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  41. oh, bella! this makes me so sad. you're lucky to have a safe place to bring her to, and you're an angel for going down there with her. so many people would just let the dog run off and that's that. i mean, i know you're not really supposed to make a huge deal of things that upset dogs so as not to make it seem worse for them, but i just can't imagine not being around to check up on the poor thing and just ignoring her. i really hope you can figure something out for her. 

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  42. Yeah, well, I'm not as angelic as you're giving me credit for.  If I could get Bella to go to the basement by herself, believe me, I'd be happy to let her do so. ;)

    But yeah, I can't imagine ignoring her during these storms either.  I just sit quietly next to her, sometimes talk in a calm and soothing voice, sometimes slowly stroke her and she quiets. Mostly.

    I wouldn't want someone to tell me to just buck up if I was scared so I can't imagine doing that to Bella.

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