Saturday, July 17, 2010

Molly and Me ~ Part Three

I was on a mission; one to save my dog from the hell she was in and one to save my sanity. I was fully aware that my regular vet just was not being very helpful because they did not appreciate the severity of the situation and in all honesty, did not have the experience to deal with this issue. A family member told me about an animal behavioral program at Tufts Veterinary Hospital and she thought maybe they could help Molly. I was willing to try anything at this point. I knew financially it would be difficult but I was willing to rearrange my financial priorities, even if it meant accessing my emergency fund.

It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made. Molly and I established a relationship with Dr. Ogata at the animal behavioral clinic and after leaving a two-hour evaluation, I walked away with the one thing I needed more than anything and that was hope. We then started what would be a very arduous journey that involved several different medication trials as well as a behavioral plan that would make your head spin. I was not a big fan of the medication aspect at first; I got a lot of criticism from people I told about the medication. Dr. Ogata put this in perspective for me though. She explained that it was more harmful and neglectful to continue to let Molly suffer. She pointed out that if a person was suffering from panic attacks, we would use medication to help their suffering. Her final point was that all the behavioral modification in the world would not do Molly any good if she was too anxious too participate. She needed the medication to calm her down enough to participate in the training. We tried at least 4-5 different medications in different combinations and doses, FINALLY finding the right combination that would allow me to implement the training program.

I cannot even adequately describe how intense this behavioral modification stuff was to implement. It was made more complicated by the fact that I did not keep a regular routine since I was out of work and had an unpredictable medical condition. However there is something to be said for being organized and well, a little Type A. After the initial evaluation, Dr. Ogata kept in touch with me through e-mail and the phone anywhere from once a week to as often as every other day reevaluating how Molly was doing and customizing her plan to her progress and oftentimes, to her lack of progress. Six months later, she actually was making progress. It wasn’t a sudden change but every week things got a little bit better and every week I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

One of the most critical things I did with Molly was get her exercising and around other dogs. Dr. Ogata had recommended as much exercise for her as possible but at times, my physical limitations made that difficult. That being said, I realized it was the best thing for her so even on those days I was in pain or severely fatigued, we walked as much as we could. What I didn’t expect is how much it would help me to the point that when we couldn’t walk, I really missed the physical activity and the positive effect it had on my well-being. We did puppy play dates with friend’s dogs. Our saving grace though was finding a dog park in a town ten minutes away. I had found out about it through a guy I had dated a few times who lived in the town where the park is. The guy ended up being well, we’ll save that for another time but the dog park was a godsend! We could walk the park and/or spend time in the dog park with other dogs and probably just as important for me, other people. Molly is definitely not the most energetic dog in the crowd but the socialization has done wonders for her. There is not too much that makes me happier than seeing her playing with other dogs and enjoying herself.

Today, it has been approximately 11 months since her first evaluation at Tufts and the difference is dramatic. She is still on two different medications for the separation anxiety, one of which I have recently begun to start weaning slowly. I still have to be quite conscious of how much time she is left alone (right now five hours which is quite an improvement from 5 minutes!) and the way I go about doing that. Putting her in a kennel to go away is out of the question but I have found ways to get around that with a fabulous dog sitter and friends/family for emergencies. We still do the behavioral therapy but the difference now is, it works! Its actually quite exciting to see her progress. She has stopped following me around the apartment and actually, I can spend hours at home and never even see her as she is very comfortable doing her own thing. I have to confess, it still brings tears to my eyes sometimes to come home, open my front door, glance at the top of the stairs and see her coming out of the bedroom calm, happy, and wagging her tail. I never thought I would see that.

As I have been writing these blog entries about Molly recently, it has really forced me to look back over the past 11 months and what she has taught me. I have been so caught up in the aspects of getting her better, I have not truly appreciated the impact she has had on my life since we went through that traumatic move last year. First, there is something to be said about owning a dog with another person (especially when there is a second dog in the household) versus being the sole owner. For us anyways, there is definitely a deeper level of connection than when we lived with my ex and Jake. I hope that my ex has gotten to experience that with Jake as well.

When the whole separation anxiety thing started and got out of control, many of my family and friends encouraged me to give her up. I was told that the situation would be too difficult for me to handle by myself with my health issues. I know they had my best intentions at heart; I was in a really tough predicament. Looking back, I remember people thinking/saying that I was over involved with her. Well, they were and are probably right. How could I not be? She was in trouble and unless you have ever had a dog in a similar situation, you cannot possibly know what it entails to get them to the other side so ultimately, I make no apologies for that. She has sustained me during a year that otherwise might not have turned out so well for me. Because of her anxiety, I was forced to get out of my apartment most days even when I would rather lie in bed and feel sorry for myself. She has reminded me of the value of unconditional love and loyalty. She has taught me how to go the distance with someone despite obstacles and naysayers. She has made me laugh despite the darkest of days.

Recently I was hospitalized unexpectedly for several days. Molly spent a night with my brother and then two days at a friend’s house (whom we met at the dog park!) I came home from the hospital exhausted, miserable, and discouraged because I had been feeling so much better until these recent events. All I wanted was to be hugged. Molly did her typical thing where she looked minimally excited to see me as is the case when I have left her with someone else overnight and just fell back into her routine. Prior to this hospitalization, she had been sleeping (voluntarily) in her crate or on the rug; occasionally blessing me with her presence in my bed. In all fairness, she had been having difficulty with a pulled groin muscle and the bed is pretty high. After being home for several hours and getting into bed though, she looked at me from her favorite spot on the rug and jumped into bed. As I was lying on my side, she nudged my arm and when I lifted it, threw herself under my arm. She then rested her head gently on my shoulder, pushing her body up against mine as much as she could. I opened my eyes the next morning to find us both in the same exact position and she was staring right at me. I don’t think she moved the whole night which has never happened before. At that moment, I knew without a doubt that she was mine and I was hers, forever.

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