Mar 17 2015

Four-Legged Fear

Yesterday the garbage truck came before I left for work; this is a rare occasion. Rambo watched out the window in envy as “the strangers” stole the wondrous, delicious snacks we humans call garbage right off his front lawn! The nerve! Archie on the other hand hid behind me cowering, scared. My 80lb chocolate dog is afraid of the garbage truck…what?

This posed so many questions in my mind. What does he do when we’re not home, where does he find security? How does he feel safe? What else does he encounter during the day when we’re not home that frightens him? Should I be doing something? And most importantly why is he so afraid? I left for work mere minutes later feeling like the worst mommy ever. It’s our job to protect them from harm, isn’t it our job to protect them from perceived harm as well? With both our boys being rescue dogs, I feel this is a very important role we play in their lives.

Rambo has always been our fearless child. Anything loud, annoying or otherwise disruptive of his 24-7 nap time is met with nothing more than a grumble. Archie is far more sensitive; however, we’re not sure if he came that way or if we “ruined” him. (Insert immense feelings of guilt here).

As you are aware Archie was adopted from a Humane Society with a life threatening illness called Leptospirosis. Archie spent the first 2 months of his life with us on IV fluids in an attempt to save his life…it worked! We used to take Archie for walks in the woods when he started to get better, we would put an extra long line on his IV fluids and try to give him a taste of a “normal” life. We knew nothing about Archie’s history, but immediately when he entered the forest he started pointing grouse and other birds. I’ll never forget him looking back at us like we were idiots because we weren’t shooting what he was finding us. These are the moments that made him feel like he had a life, and I feel had a huge impact on his ability to pull through despite his very poor prognosis.

So…Archie’s a hunting dog. He was officially taken off fluids mid- June 2009, it was a rough road and scary for all of us. His condition went backwards and then he bounced back. For 3 months we had no life outside of work and Archie. Canada Day 2009 life is good! Our Archie is on the mend with an excellent prognosis, and we desperately need to get out of the house. Logically we decide to go to the Canada Day Fireworks as a family, a celebration of Archie’s successes. We walked to the local park and sat on the lawn right at the front with our miracle puppy…bad idea!  The fireworks started, they were beautiful and initially we were all enjoying it as a family. Then “the firework” went off, the one that ruined it all. You know the ones that announce themselves with a loud “BANG” before they beautifully cascade through the sky like giant sparklers. The fireworks everyone in the audience oooh’s and aaah’s for. We did the same until Archie tried to climb into both of our laps nails out, and then when he didn’t succeed attempted to do the same thing to our unsuspecting neighbour at the show. We scurried to collect our things and get our poor puppy out of there. We could escape the light, but we couldn’t escape the sound. We ruined our “hunting” dog…great!

Or did we? Did this event trigger some sort of memory from his past that terrified him? How could a dog who presumably spent the last several years of his life surrounded by gunshots suddenly be afraid of fireworks? Did we betray his trust by introducing him to something that is obviously traumatic to him?  How do we fix this?

As you have probably figured out, I haven’t been able to answer most of these questions, and I certainly don’t know how to fix this. Archie is afraid of fireworks, thunderstorms (he can predict the rain better than my Grandma’s arthritis), and apparently garbage trucks. Archie is afraid of anything that makes loud noises.

While I do partly blame myself, I do also believe all dogs have fears. Rambo our “fearless” child is afraid of being alone…he can’t do anything without his brother Archie. Dogs are afraid of the vet, the car, thunderstorms, men, women, sunglasses, the list goes on. What do we do for these fears?

With thunderstorm season approaching I know I will receive several inquiries as a Registered Veterinary Technician from clients asking for sedatives, natural therapies or simply advice. What is best? I have tried to avoid pharmacological intervention for Archie. I have researched countless “alternative therapies” to soothe him during his fearful moments. I have done all of the things I counsel people not to do ie. Coddle him during a thunderstorm. I have yet to find anything that works for him. While sedatives might work when I can predict my neighbours are setting off fireworks, what happens when the garbage truck comes? What happens when all of those things that aren’t “typical” triggers occur? How do we protect them and make them feel safe? I suppose the reality is we can’t. We all have fears whether they be rational or not, animals just make us feel so much more helpless than humans who can articulate their fears. Some are lucky; for some, conventional methods of soothing our beloved pets and curbing their fears works. Some of us aren’t so lucky.

Today I reach out to my followers. I have the ability to provide advice for almost any issue or ailment you may incur with your beloved pet, but fear…fear is something I haven’t found the answer to for my boys. What do you do? What has worked, what hasn’t?

There is absolutely no worse feeling than seeing your beloved fur baby, whom has already encountered so much pain and grief in their life; live their days in fear. It boggles my mind the  things that can trigger fear in our pets that we would never expect; such as the garbage truck.

I welcome your comments, trials, failures and successes. No one thing will work for every pet; however, I do hope that we can stimulate some conversation on this topic and help each other.

~ Emily, RVT

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One thought on “Four-Legged Fear”

  1. John draper says:

    Thought provoking and written with sensitivity.
    Author has the pulse of her pets and is compassionate to many of the anxieties that our pets can encounter.
    Well done and thank-you

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