I knew that Monkey (and I) had a problem when I came home from a short dinner one night, and there were nine notes on my door – from my landlord, from my neighbor (five of them were from her), from the police (they were doing a welfare check and could I call them ASAP?), and the fire department (who were going to have to break down the door if I didn’t respond to the police about the welfare check).
Monkey, at that time, had been living with me for three months and I had never heard her bark or howl before. I had never received complaints from anyone before. So I thought something unusual must have happened – a car backfiring, someone shooting off fireworks, kids playing loudly in the carport. I asked my completely exhausted neighbor the next day if anything had happened, but she couldn’t think of anything. As I was leaving I said, “It’s just so strange that this started all of a sudden, last night.” I remember the dread in my stomach when she replied, “Well, I have been away for three months.” Oh no! Could this have been happening every time I left Monkey, and I hadn’t known? I was overwhelmed by the suffering Monkey had already faced, as well as the long and arduous behavior modification process I knew was likely in front of us
In order to confirm my suspicions, the next time I went out I left a camcorder running with a view of the front door and patio, the only two places where Monkey might try to get out. When I watched the video, my fears were validated. The howling and barking started within five minutes, and were preceded by clawing at the door, drooling, and panting. Watching the recording was absolutely brutal and heartbreaking. To know Monkey had been experiencing hours and hours of panic, repeatedly, was honestly not even something I could take in.
After a lot of research on the internet, and speaking with skilled trainers in the positive reinforcement community, nearly everyone who saw the video encouraged me to seek the help of a veterinary behaviorist. Yesterday. Most said that Monkey would need to be put on psychiatric medication. At that time I was more than a little resistant to the idea of medicating Monkey. Psych meds? For dogs? I rolled my eyes at the idea. I didn’t want a “doped up” or “loopy” dog. I loved Monkey’s personality, and didn’t want her to become a zombie. Wasn’t that abusive? Possibly even cruel? I was willing to try supplements and “natural remedies,” but I would not make Monkey a member of Prozac Nation! Surely if I loved Monkey enough, and was determined enough, I could guide us together through one of the behavior modification programs.
Several very long and exhausting months later I had changed my tune. The truth was that no amount of my efforts and love could get Monkey past even 10 seconds of absence without her displaying signs of uncontrollable anxiety. The second I left the house she was drooling and panting, pacing back and forth in front of the door. It was very, very painful to watch, and was obviously even more painful for Monkey to experience.
I started to think about the promise that I had made Monkey when I adopted her: I would do anything I could to protect her, give her a happy life, and relieve whatever pain or suffering she might experience. That was my job as her guardian, and my duty as her best friend. Monkey was suffering, and she was very unhappy at times. She was also experiencing chronic anxiety and stress, which was having untold negative effects on her body.
What if medication could help Monkey? If there was a chance of it helping at all, maybe giving it to her was actually the kind option, not the cruel one. And so, after struggling with my own biases against medicating dogs, I found a skilled veterinary behaviorist to discuss treatment options. After Monkey’s bloodwork was done, and I got the all-clear from my regular vet, I filled prescriptions for Prozac and a short-acting anti-anxiety medication. I’ve only used them for a week, but so far Monkey is showing no signs of side effects, and has not, as I feared, turned into a zombie!
Listen, I don’t think any dog parent enjoys giving medication for anything, let alone behavior and/or mental health issues. I’m not going into this naively; I do know that the medications alone won’t fix the problem. Monkey and I have a long, looonnnggg road ahead of us as far as behavior modification programs go. But I am starting to feel cautiously optimistic and hopeful for the first time in months. As for Monkey, she now gets a big dollop of peanut butter morning and night (shhhhh, I don’t think she’s noticed the pills hidden inside), so from her perspective things are already looking up!