Four things contributed to my rash decision to adopt a dog when I probably shouldn’t have:
- I was 24.
- He was “free” because I worked at the shelter.
- I thought I could take whatever a new dog could throw at me because I have an animal behavior background.
- Look at his face. Could you blame me?
This is Strider. They told me he was a Leonberger. I’m pretty sure someone somewhere is making a lot of money by breeding Golden Retrievers to German Shepherds and calling them Leonbergers. But I digress.
I could immediately see that Strider was kind of a high-anxiety dog, but I ignored it. One ruined couch, a coworker’s ransacked home, several annoyed neighbors, and a crate reinforced with zip ties later, I had a full-blown separation anxiety case on my hands.
I did what a responsible pet owner should do and enrolled Strider in daily daycare. I then emptied my entire savings to bring him to a veterinary behaviorist who confirmed my diagnosis and began prescribing a slew of medications that would take more than a year to perfect. She also gave me a few behavior modification protocols that I began working into my daily schedule.
Soon after, I got a job in California. I loaded my belongings into the car and my dog up on Clonidine and drove from Minnesota to California. The first thing I did when I arrived was find a reliable daycare so that I could start my job without worrying about my dog ruining my temporary housing situation. Soon after, my boyfriend at the time, Ross, also moved out there, and we settled into an apartment.
Strider was fine during the day, because he went to daycare. But at night, when Ross and I wanted to be social with our new friends, we would have to crate Strider in the apartment and video it to determine how much of an issue he was causing. It was fairly hit or miss. Sometimes his medication had sedated him to the point that all he could do was sleep and other times he would spend the entire absence having a full-blown panic attack, complete with gnawing on the metal of his crate, in an attempt to escape. Once in a while, he would work himself up so much that he would vomit. We had to have the discussion about when it was too much, and we decided that his quality of life was too poor to put him through any more medication changes or times alone. It was that night that I wrote a tearful email to Malena and explained the desperation of our situation. We talked on the phone a few days later and she put me in contact with one of the trainers on her team, Shoshi.
In order to afford what was going to be an expensive process, I got a second job on top of my regular 40 hours and started a gofundme project. I was able to raise enough money to pay for the first month of training, and then the rest was on me. After explaining my situation to the daycare facility we took him to, I managed to get a discount on their packages. And, generous friends who understood and supported us during this process would come over to stay with Strider whenever we wanted to go out.
We made some progress, but Strider’s anxiety was too inconsistent to make any real improvement that would allow us to get our lives back. We decided to postpone his training and medication regimen when I was transferred to Florida for work for three months. Strider moved to Phoenix with Ross, and then all three of us met back up in Denver, where Strider and I now live. Our little family had gone through a lot of changes that year, and it was time to start over. I visited a local vet who wrote a new prescription for Clomipramine, and we began adjusting Trazodone doses to find the balance between calm and sedated. I offered our extra bedroom to my friend, Lizzie, who was between jobs and could spend time at home with Strider while I was working.
Once we found a dosage that worked, training flew by. Strider made fantastic progress and quickly was staying home for several hours alone, completely at ease. My roommates all have jobs now and Strider spends five days a week home alone with their dogs.
There are several people that I credit to Strider’s success. Without them, I wouldn’t own him anymore, and his outcome certainly could have been a lot worse. In Minnesota, my coworkers Jess and Carly graciously offered their homes to temporarily house Strider while I was living with my parents briefly. In California, my friends adjusted their schedules so that Strider was never alone when I was balancing two jobs and wanted a night out. My new Colorado roommates have had so much patience with both Strider and me, as we experimented with different strategies to make him comfortable. Ross gave up so much of his independence to help me keep my dog. And of course, Malena and Shoshi, who truly saved his life.
It takes a village, and sometimes you have to build that village from the ground up. But when all of you work together to save a life, it creates an unshakable bond.
We beat separation anxiety and it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Each day, I am reminded of how much my efforts paid off when I leave to go to work without second thoughts. All of the tears, the money, the time, and the missed social gatherings are worth it, each day, when I am greeted by my dog — after a work day absence.