The next few posts are going to cover a fair amount of chronological time but only 3 major events that changed, and significantly improved, Bella's quality of life (after it had become almost inconceivably mucked up.) This first part is about the realization that we hadn't quite gotten this whole Bella thing figured out just yet.
Part 1 - Bella bites Jan - again
|I do love you, Daddy, I really do.|
I'd love you even more if you gave me that chip.
We first put Bella on medications to ease her anxiety under the direction of Dr. Dodman in September of 2011. We had some ups and downs with the dosages through that fall and finally decided to keep Bella on a lower-than-recommended dose of Prosac. She became a member of the living dead whenever we tried to get her up to 30 mgs/day - the lowest recommended dosage for a dog her size. (Sensitive dog is sensitive.)
We had also changed her food to reduce her intake of protein and increased the amount of physical exercise and mental stimulation she was getting.
Bella had been doing very well with all the changes and her relationship with Jan was much improved. However, during the holidays that first year on the meds, her stress level began increasing culminating with a blow-out in agility class with Willy. Her cranky intolerance of any faux pas Jan made was also on the rise and finally came to a head with a very serious altercation in February 2012.
(Honestly, my husband is the most patient man on the planet and I love him dearly for putting up with this crap.)
Bella's relationship with each of us as individuals is complicated. Believe it or not, Bella sees Jan as her protector, seeking him out in times of distress. The problem is she sees herself as mine.
But it's really a little more complicated than that because I'm no shrinking violet whose dog thinks she can walk all over her. But for some reason, every now and then, Bella's fear of losing her most valued resource, that which she associates with getting her out of the shelter and into a home (me), takes over and she flips out.
Bella doesn't really have separation anxiety but this quote by Dr. Dodman describes what's going on with her perfectly:
"A recent study suggests that dogs suffering from separation anxiety are the pessimists of the canine world who always expect the worst in any situation. In the case of separation anxiety, their worst fear is presumably that their owners have gone, never to return." Source - Veterinary Practice NewsIn our case, I believe Bella's worst fear is that something will happen to me. So Bella lashes out at the presumed threat: Jan. It sucks but it is "understandable".
By that I don't mean it's excusable, I mean it's literally "understandable": we can understand the reasons for her overreaction. And if we can understand them, we can change them.
|(Click to embiggen.)|
- We hadn't quite gotten the right combination or dosage of the drugs yet,
- Bella's anxiety was ratcheting up again as she acclimated to the meds and our own stress levels rose over the holidays,
- It was winter and Bella wasn't getting as much as exercise as she had been through the fall,
- She had just suffered the altercation with her agility classmate, Willy, making her nervous and hyper-vigilant and finally
- When she lives under constant stress and nervousness, Bella's "trigger" point is much lower.
But while we may have understood all this, we had no idea what to do about it. So off we went back to Dr. Dodman.
His first line of advice was to see if we could get Bella back up to the higher level of Prosac (Fluoxetine). We were much more successful getting her up to the 30 mg a day this time around. She hadn't turned into a zombie, she maintained her appetite and her enthusiasm and everything was looking up.
But then we noticed something else: the increased dose didn't zombie-fy her but it didn't seem to be doing much of anything at all. She was still fleeing the room at every tick and tock and every drop of a pine cone on the roof. And not just fleeing but fleeing and trembling and cowering in fear.
Bella was doing very well with Jan. In fact they spent a week alone together while I was traveling for work which seemed to further solidify their budding relationship. But we still weren't confident another outburst wasn't waiting in the wings. Her anxiety remained at epic levels and, even if she never reacted badly again, we knew her quality of life was suffering due to her continuing to live in constant fear - of life.
Not a happy state for our little heroine but don't give up on her just yet. We'll be back next week with the second part of this, the final chapter in Bella's redemptive arc.
|And here's just a silly picture of my little wack-a-doodle to remind you she's actually a good girl.|