Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2010: I can haz do-over plz?

Blogger's note: I've been trying to write this post for quite some time now but it has eluded me. So I'm giving up and publishing it such as it is.

I'm about to venture into some delicate, perhaps even controversial, territory of Bella's history over the next few weeks and months. It won't always make her sound like a dog you want to take home and it'll probably make us seem like crazy people. Not everyone will agree with what we've done or will do but there's no sense in writing a blog about a fearful/anxious dog if I'm not going to be honest about all that fear and anxiety entails.

If nothing else, perhaps it can serve as a 'what not to do' for other folks who find themselves with an overly skittish and sensitive dog.

Those were halcyon days...
What are you talking about, Leslie?

Quite a few people asked what happened between Bella and her BFF Maggie that ended their friendship. I've been wanting to talk about that, as well as what we're going through with Bella in present time, but it all needs a bit of set up to understand. In fact, only in putting together some of this timeline have I come to realize just how resilient Bella has been in her life with us here and wonder now how she's managed to not be any more screwed up than she is.

2010 was a very bad year

But first, let me tell you, in brief, about a very good year: 2009

  • 2009 saw Bella making friends with our neighbor's Golden Retriever, Maggie, and engaging in daily playdates.
  • 2009 is the year Bella met Gus (still her best boyfriend no matter how long they go without seeing each other)
  • 2009 is the year we discovered Tufts Farm Field, 37-acres of fields and puddles and walking trails. Bella and Gus spent many Sunday mornings there playing and meeting other dogs and dog-folk.

Some things were brewing in the background in 2009 of which we weren't aware but overall it was a good year. Bella was beginning to come out of her shell with other dogs, she was getting good exercise and even the few mishaps she did face, like discovering a yellowjacket's nest and meeting her first skunk, didn't seem to set her too far back. Bella was still a crazy, scared-y pup but, aside from her increasing noise-phobias and thunderstorm fears, she appeared to be adjusting to her new home and family fairly well. Life was pretty good.

And then it all got blown to hell.

(Pardon my language. Also, please understand that some of what I'm about to talk about and how I choose to do so may come off as flippant and aloof. Suffice it to say I'm not really here to disect my feelings around these events. I'm just trying to provide context to some of what has happened in Bella's life with us so when I begin to discuss where she's at now, you'll have a reference point.)

So let's get the worst of it over with: Just before Christmas 2009, my father was re-diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer for which he was given a very bleak prognosis. The following three months, I spent as many weekends as possible traveling to my family's home in Rhode Island to spend time with him. He passed away at the end of February. My father was my hero and his loss affected me deeply.

During this same time, my husband Jan, who had previously had a heart-attack and quadruple bypass surgery in 2007, began having issues with his heart and health. He was wearing a heart-monitor to try and identify what was triggering bouts of ventricular tachycardia while at the same time trying to help support my mom through some of the financial decisions surrounding my father's passing. Jan had two surgeries in about the span of a month right about the same time Bella and Maggie had their falling out.

2010 also saw the closing of the Tufts Farm Field due to some unsavory behavoir by pups and peeps so Bella lost her one real outlet to meet new dogs and get some great exercise.

Finally, I was also in the process of trying to leave a rather ugly job situation.

All in all this was turning out to be a very bad year and I'm sure, thinking back on it now, that Bella was feeling the strain it was putting on us, or more specifically, me. To be perfectly honest, I don't think I noticed at the time - I was just trying to get through every day.

What about the dog?

There was also one last piece of drama of which Jan and I were unaware happening in 2010. Something Bella was dealing with that we didn't understand at all until the following winter. This was concerning a neighbor's dog who was allowed to run loose despite the local leash laws.

We knew from our many altercations in our own yard with Bailey, our neighbor's rescued Black Lab, that she and Bella did not get along. We knew Bailey came into our yard routinely and we knew Bella felt the need to protect her people and her "territory" whenever she did.

What we didn't know until the winter of 2010 when we saw her footprints in the snow (and we finally caught her in the act), was that Bailey was approaching our house and "attacking" Bella through our sunroom windows.

Yes, Bella, your parents are oblivious

So my poor dog, who already had issues with other dogs, had lost her only socialization outlet, was feeling the strain of her mom's family's failing health, was also under siege in her own home and yard and we didn't even know about it. We would hear her bark (we can tell Bella's "Bailey bark" from Bella's "Oh look it's a squirrel" bark) but we didn't understand why Bella's "Bailey bark" was (is) so much more ferocious. Now we know.

At the time, however, we just thought Bella was being grumpy and over-anxious about Bailey. When we would get her together to play with Maggie, more and more Bella's attention was directed at the house behind us, Bailey's home, than towards her playmate.

Then one day in the early summer of 2010, while Bella and Maggie were playing and Bella was nervous about Bailey being out loose, the girls got tangled in their leashes and my neighbor moved to untangle them. Of course, Bella is also afraid of people, so when Ron reached for Bella's leg to untangle her, Bella freaked out and snapped at Maggie. (Thank dog, she snapped at Maggie and not at Ron!)

Maggie is a big, furry Golden Retriever with the thickest ruff I've ever seen so even if Bella had connected (she did not), she would have only come away with a mouthful of fuzz. And maybe a lesson that it doesn't pay to argue with fluffy dogs.

Understandably, our neighbors are now nervous of Bella and she and Maggie have not been able to get together successfully since.

Moving forward

So that's what happened to Bella and her BFF. We immediately signed her up for a Ruffians Class for Reactive Dogs at a local training center. We're blessed to have such a great variety of training options available to us. We've also made some big decisions and taken some creative action to help Bella adjust and live more comfortably in her own skin.

We're still hopeful that we'll get her and Maggie back together someday and Bella does, on occasion still see her sweetheart, Gus. The Tufts Farm Field has since re-opened with an off-leash, 'official' dog park. It's not an option for Bella any more but we still try to get her and Gus (and Gus's new Greyhound sister, Molly) together to walk around the field. It is good to see Bella enjoy the company of her old friend.

I've said from the start that we've done pretty much everything wrong with Bella. I consider it testing her resillience. ;) Please tell me we're not the only ones who feel we've messed up our dog with our own crazy lives. Do you have any regrets or things you'd like to "do over" with your dog? Do you think dogs are "fixable" when owners make mistakes?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday's Dog: Chance

"Take a Chance on me!"

So North East All Retriever Rescue up here in Massachusetts got word that that handsome and friendly fella was languishing away in foster care all the way down in Texas and, even though it's quite a bit out of our usual territory (ha! understatement of the year), we think he's so sweet and friendly that we agreed to help him find his forever home. Transport is included so don't let the fact that he might not be close by deter you!

Chance is a beautiful, unique-looking dog - check out those blue eyes! He's also friendly with people as well as other dogs and, get this - (relatively) low energy! A Lab mix that's low energy? Who knew?

You can find all the details, as well as a way to contact his foster mom to learn more about him over at the NEARR website.

And if you don't have room in your life to take a Chance right now, please tweet or share his story with your followers and friends. I can't say it enough: social media saves lives. Thanks so much!

Come on, you know you want to!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 40 - My bliss

Hi all,

Just popping in from not-exactly-sunny Florida to share a picture of something that soothes my soul: my garden. Hope you're all having a wonderful week and I look forward to catching up with everybody when I get home.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 39 - Bella and the bees

Jan told me I had to post this in order to explain, at least in part, why Bella is afraid of flies. These are from summer 2009 and her first exposure to yellow jackets (an entire nest of them).

While I wish it had taught her not to put her nose in strange places or dig in holes something else has already started that doesn't seem to be the case. The only lesson Bella really seems to have learned from the experience: buzz hurts.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

This is my dog on flies (and other house-keeping)

This isn't the post I planned to write today. In fact, I have 2 or 3 posts running around my head, jotted down on paper or scribbled into "Notepad" scraps. But those will have to wait while I do some blog-house-keeping here today instead.

First, I wanted to share this short video with you of one of Bella's most recent successes.

Remember back in April when I wrote about Bella learning the agility chute for Something Wagging This Way Comes's January is Train Your Dog Month Challenge? Well, she did it. Bella will now complete the chute with the fabric side completely closed. And I thought you might enjoy seeing the evidence:

Yea Bella!

However, as Pamela recently opined over at Something Wagging, "Progress isn't linear". (What a great line and oh so tragically true). Of course, I should have known this would happen. It serves me right for bragging about my "big, brave girl" in last week's blog post. Bella has overcome much, but the fear that remains can be debilitating.

What you're about to see is Bella's reaction to a fly in our house Friday night through Saturday. It is similar to her response to thunderstorms. Mind you, the fly is not near her, it's not dive-bombing her, in fact, it's not even in the same room with her. The only thing in the room this video was taken in is me and her. And she has been acting like this every time she (or I) goes near the bedroom for more than 12 hours at this point.

(I apologize to those readers who also follow us on Facebook as I posted this there as well but wanted to post it here because I want to talk about it in a way I can't on FB.)

Now normally I don't take video of Bella when she's frightened. As you can imagine after watching that, I'm usually dealing with her and trying to manage the situation. This time, her fear of the bedroom had lasted so long and we were so confused over what she was reacting to (we didn't hear or see anything at the time) that I decided to take a short video to share with her behaviorist and trainers to get their take on things.

Anyway, 18 or so hours later, after I had completely torn apart our bedroom and dusted, washed and vacuumed everything in it; after Jan had found a couple of flies in our sun-room and, shall we say, 'addressed' that issue; after Bella still wouldn't comfortably come in the bedroom, I happened to find a fly in the bedroom closet window, buzzing between the blind and the screen. Finally, this is what Bella had been hearing and I was able to eliminate the real "threat".

It took Bella several hours still to believe all danger was gone and she finally curled up in her bed around 4 a.m (the next morning!) Needless to say we were all done in by the event.

Finally, I wanted to let you know that the blog is probably going to be a bit light for the next couple of weeks (you may have noticed it's already been a bit thin the last few weeks.) This is partly because it's spring which brings many hours of garden prep and yard work with it. (Jan and I are avid, even somewhat extreme, gardeners.)

I will also be traveling on business and, while I'll have a variety of computers with me, I likely will not have consistent internet access nor time to do all the usual blog-gy type stuff. I do, however, hope to catch up on visiting my favorite blogs and saying hello to all you wonderful peeps and pets.

In the meantime, I hope you'll stick with me during these light content days. Because, and I admit right up front to stealing this from Sue over at Greyhounds CAN Sit,: