Monday, April 1, 2013

What a difference a drug makes... Pt. 2

Hi all, sorry about last week's cliff hanger. I hadn't meant to do that but our crazy dog has come such a long way since I started telling you her story that I didn't want to short-change the best part. Hence, this 3-parter.

But enough of that, let's get right to part 2, or what I like to call "The Curious Incident of the Fly in the Night-time" (With all due respect and admiration to Mark Haddon).

Folks who follow us on Facebook may remember last April we began having trouble with these horrible, ugly flies that sometimes appear out of nowhere. They are officially called "Cluster Flies" and I now know more about these horrid little beasts than I ever cared to. They are harmless, if gross and disgusting, but they buzz. Loudly. And a lot.

Back during our very first visit with Dr. Dodman in the Fall of 2011, he had recognized, and diagnosed, Bella with "insect phobia". I didn't even know that was a thing. Apparently it is and Bella has it.

So we knew this but hadn't thought much of it for a while since here in New England there's generally a distinct dearth of insect activity during the winter months.

But when we brought Bella back to see Dr. D after Bella bit Jan again in February 2012, we were talking about her increased anxiety and the subject of insects came up again. In fact, while we were discussing Bella's fear of all things buzz-worthy, Dr. Dodman made a 'Bzzzt' noise in his office and Bella almost lost it.

Seriously, you could see her immediately react to the noise: running to us, cowering and shaking and trying to escape. It took several minutes for her to get over a sound that lasted less than a second. We talked about drugs that would specifically address noise phobias but had decided, since we were already looking to increase the dose of Prosac she was receiving, we'd start with that and see what happened.

And so, as I left you last week, we were able to get Bella to the higher dose of Prosac easily enough, she showed no negative side effects. But it was slowly becoming clear to us that, while the Prosac was helping with her aggression towards Jan, it wasn't relieving Bella of the constant stress and anxiety she suffered from noise phobias and insects.

This became strikingly obvious to us, not to mention our Facebook followers, last April when Bella started having trouble sleeping thanks to those horrid little aforementioned flies.
April 16, 2012

"Oh yay, it's time for another exciting episode of 'Let's figure out what scared the dog out of the bedroom so we can get her back in here and go to sleep.' Maybe we can just bribe her with some chicken......?

Oh darn, it's a fly. It's going to be a long night." Bringing up Bella on Facebook, 4/16/2012
We figured it out and Jan and I chased, swatted and vacuumed flies out of the bedroom for a few weeks in April.

But it became a nightly occurrence and finally, I couldn't stand seeing Bella so distressed all the time and on May 5th, I sent Dr. Dodman a link to a video of Bella completely melting down over 'something' in our bedroom. That something turned out to be a fly but it took us two days to find it because it was hidden in a closet 30 feet away. In the meantime, that left me and Bella sleeping in the basement because she simply would not come in the bedroom at night.

Our poor pumpkin.

Our poor me.

For the purposes of discussion of 'phobias', I want to share an event that occurred around the same time during which Bella behaved decidedly different.

Last May, we were wakened in the middle of the night to the sound of Bella barking ferociously at the door of our bedroom that leads out to our backyard. Most of you probably don't know that, while we live in fairly well-populated town, our house is surrounded by woods and we get more than a few wild visitors traipsing through the yard on a regular basis.

Last year, however, something happened in my neighborhood that never has never happened before: we were visited by a Mamma Black bear and her fairly well-grown cub.

We didn't know that the night Bella went all Cujo on us barking and lunging at the door. We found out about it the next night when my neighbor called us at midnight to warn us not to let Bella out as there were two bears sitting in their backyard munching away at their bird feeders. Oh. Well, that explains why Bella had jumped off the bed just prior to the call and threw herself at the door growling and snarling again. Nice to know. Thanks.

This never happens to us, honestly. By wildlife in the backyard, I'm usually talking about deer and raccoon.

But it really struck me as such a different reaction to Bella's response to the flies that I thought it bore mentioning.

What makes a dog willing to take on a bear but cower in fear at the sound of a fly?

Granted, Bella had a pretty bad experience with bees when we first brought her home to live with us but I think it is far more likely that her fear of the buzzing sounds is instinct. All indications point to Bella being born of a stray of a stray of a stray in Puerto Rico, a tropical island paradise (for people). It would have been in her best interest to learn to avoid things that buzz. Flies, bees and other insects can wreak as much harm on a small puppy as just about any other predator Bella would have learned to be wary of.

So I'm not sure: is this a phobia, "an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something"? Or is Bella just really smart? Smart enough to keep herself alive when all she had to depend on were her instincts? Are her genes responsible for what she has come to believe of the world? And do they really still play such a big part in her life that the 5 years she has spent protected in our home matter little in her mind?

You're talking about me again, aren't you?
Regardless of the answer to the nature vs. nurture debate, and personally I believe it's both, we needed to find a way to help Bella survive comfortably in our home. And next week we will do just that covering Dr. Dodman's recommendation of adding Clonidine to our pup's chemical cocktail and the effects it has had on the little wunder-dog's life. Stick with us.

As always, thanks for following the story of the crazy dog.


  1. Cali is afraid of black flies too!! She was bitten by one in South Carolina and her face swelled up. Now, if she even hears a fly on TV, she tries to get out of the room! Can't wait to read more :)

  2. Greyhounds Can SitApril 2, 2013 at 2:54 AM

    I can only imagine what it would be like to have a dearly loved dog with a phobia. My hat goes off to you and Jan for all the love and work you are putting in to helping Bella be the best she can. I am out of the loop with your journey but hope to catch up! She is still as beautiful as ever and if Bella didn't already have a boyfriend (is Gus still in the picture?) Frankie would certainly be tossing his hat in the ring;)

  3. I am so impressed with the dedication you and Jan are showing. As I have said previously, Bella is one lucky dog to have you! Even though we are a house of special needs dogs, we have never had to deal with anything as troubling as Bella's fears. We continue to wish you well and hope things improve.

  4. Gus (via Gus' mom)April 2, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    Hey, who's Frankie??
    -- Gus

  5. Insect phobia...that is new to us too!

  6. PK, insect phobia is one I've never heard of...I can't imagine how I'd deal with it here with the gasillions of skeeters and flies we get here in Florida pretty much year-round...I hope the new regimen makes a real differrence for poor Bella

  7. No worries, Gus. Frankie may be one handsome fella but he's half a world away. You are near and dear to Bella's heart and so much closer for walkies. :)

  8. Oh Frankie, Gus is going to be jealous.... :)

    Nice to catch up with you again and VERY glad to see you back online. Look forward to hearing everything you've been up to. Oh, and congrats again on the new addition.

  9. How's Cali doing? We are thinking of you all and hoping she feels better very soon

  10. She's been very stable for the past few days. Just picked my kitty up from the vet and he had to have 4 teeth pulled - hoping that he bounces back . . we are ready for a house full of healthy pets!! Thanks for thinking of us!

  11. Wow - that is crazy! I have never heard of such a thing before. Kudos to your vet for figuring that one out. Amazing.

  12. I remember that facebook post....I felt so bad for you all. I often wonder about time and how with some dogs it does not lessen their fears/instincts/anxieties. Delilah came to us older and is still persistent with feeding time. Five years has not lessened her obsession with food, and that's with two squares, a snack and some treats scattered throughout...some demons just never seem to leave. :-(

  13. Poor, poor Bella! It would be terrible to be that afraid of something. We got very lucky that Felix's biggest trigger was shouting, so we ere able to control it.

    Wishing you and Bella luck! I hope the Clonidine helped!