#22 ~ the curious case of lovie snugglebum
Sometimes I am criticized for a tendency to ‘anthropomorphize’ – giving non-human forms human characteristics or human behaviors.
I don’t, really. What I do is recognize that the animals are sentient beings. They are conscious beings, they have complex social structure within their family groups and they respond to various stimuli or situations with what I wholly consider to be feelings. Not only with their instincts. As one who speaks “Animal” better than “Human”, and feels that they are better people than we human people are, I have no trouble with that. I believe that they must be treated with due respect, be listened to, have all of their needs met, and if quiet ourselves enough to able to really hear and feel them, we become acutely aware of their own vast array of what I can only consider to be emotions. Not emotions just like ours but perhaps emotions much more developed than ours, given that they still retain senses that we humans neglected in ourselves and therefore lost the use of in our evolution over the course of our life on this earth.
I’ve watched a mare mourn her dead foal. One cannot tell me that mare was not grieving, or at least feeling some semblance of what we recognize as grief as she stood with her head almost to the ground, moaning over the foals body for hours. I watched it all and, shaken to the depths of my own heart, touched into that reservoir of grief I’ve dipped in and out of throughout my own life. The mare grieved – and then moved on. The animals do feel, and feel deeply and then, because they live in the moment rather than the past or future, quickly let go – unlike like us humanoids who tend to dwell on our emotions/problems forever!
Most horses are very social beings, but my own mare could care less about whether or not she has an equine companion or even if there are others in her vicinity. She is a loner, happy with her human/canine/feline herd, and just tolerates Molly the pony who now shares her domain. However, years ago I witnessed an extraordinary scenario when Tempest began reacting to the calls of 2 horses being shod – out of her sight – at the farm across our lane. She called to them with a voice charged with something new to my understanding of her vocabulary – a high pitched scream that made every hair on my body stand on end – and then began to race the perimeter of her one acre pasture. Head and tail held high, ears pricked, she ran … calling to them with what I felt was recognition, and even a joy. As exuberant calls reverberated back and forth across our valley I walked up our drive to see who was causing the commotion and saw my friend’s horse trailer parked across the way with the two loud culprits tied to it.
Joe and Gray Thing were the herd/family that Tempest spent several of her youngest years with – but had not seen for 10 years.
For at least half an hour the 3 old friends conversed. There are always new horses in and out of that facility and often one hears the brief calls of horses greeting one another, but at that moment there were at least 10 other horses in the vicinity, none of them joining this conversation between Tempest, Joe and Gray Thing. They remained absolutely silent.
In short time the shared conversation turned from one of recognition to one of frustration and with the plaintive cries, Tempest’s ‘happiness’ deteriorated. Stressed and frantic, she ran back and forth along her fence-line acting as though she wanted to go OVER the 6 ft. fence to get to the source of those unseen but familiar voices. I put her in a smaller enclosure where she wouldn’t hurt herself in her frenzy. Eventually her two old companions were loaded up into their trailer and driven down the road – the 3 continued to vocalize until they could no longer hear one another. With Joe and Gray Thing gone, Tempest quit her storming about, settling in the far corner of her paddock closest to where their voices had come to her from. She stood motionless – and whined – yes, she whined, not whinnied – for what seemed an eternity. She gazed into the now quiet distance and moaned, and wouldn’t come to me for a carrot or sugar cube and simply was not her usual persnickety, demanding, funny self for several hours more. Then – she seemed to let it all go and was all business as usual, bossing her pony and begging for treats.
Was that nothing? Feeling? Instinct? Those horses responded to one another with a profundity that most humans sadly refuse, or fail, to recognize. Horses, dogs, cats, goats and cows are among the lovely beings that have graced my life with their loving presence, and their undeniable, otherworldly sensibilities with such great range of feeling. I find that they should ‘feel’ to be undeniable, and worthy of deep study.
So now we come to the Curious Case of Lovie Snugglebum.
Lovie is an insecure dog. I think she is a naturally submissive, fearful dog whose sad and terrible past deconstructed whatever courage she harbored naturally in her little being. That said, in the 8 months that she has been with us she has gone from a shaking bundle of sadness and fear to a part of the dog park pack, unafraid of other dogs and most humans. Especially those humans who are attached to ‘happy’ dogs. She radiates happiness herself, and has an undeniable sense of humor. Well tucked into our lives here at Dancing Dog Farm, she bounds about in an abundance of mirth, wrestling kitties and chatting up the horses, snuggling with us in bed in the early hours, providing us with an abundant supply of that precious currency we’d been stripped of for awhile – a dog’s joy.
Recently, I was away for an extended period. Physically, psychically and spiritually away, cradled in the arms of the Aegean. I journey to the North Sporades island of Skiathos yearly to revive and rejuvenate and consort with the spirits that tickle the words for me and encourage them to surface for air, the respite prompting the emptying of the old and stale. Then I fill up, with everything good that will help me continue whatever I endeavor to create here at home. The new book, my novel ‘The Turning’ got a good bit of energizing while I was there.
Paul, my dear and darling husband/partner/best friend stayed home so that I could go off to work with unbridled time to write – no business or gigs or life or hungry dogs, or impatient horses demanding my time. While I was there I received several frantic texts, usually in the middle of the night (10 hours difference in time between here and Greece) … “Tempest’s eye is F#####D UP again, what do I do?” and “Old Lily-cat can’t POOP! What do I do?” and … “I picked up the flyswatter and now Lovie won’t talk to me! She hides and cowers and thinks I am a monster! S.O.S! WHAT DO I DO?”
Poor Paul. Tempest, my 25-year-old quarter horse mare, has an eye that gives her – and us – unending grief. It gets irritated or ulcerates regularly, for no reason yet known to us or to our Vet. Paul has learned well how to be nursemaid to an 1100 lb. hooved being and after I reminded him of that, he powered up and doctored that eye like a pro, and all was well by the time I returned. Lily, our 20 year old cat, was fed a bit of butter – and all slid out just fine in the end. J But Lovie, dear little Lovie Snugglebum, remains a bit of a conundrum – for both Paul and I.
As we know, Lovie has a past – one that still sticks to her a bit and is cause for the preservation of a small reservoir of fear deep within herself. It was a terrible past, and being a submissive girl to begin with she hasn’t yet the courage to let the last of its scary shadows slip away, no matter she has been with us in our loving, calm home for 9 months. I believe in all seriousness that she lives with the canine version of PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Canine PTSD has been well studied, thankfully, and does indeed exist, not only in military dogs who have been involved in conflict and combat, but also in household pets who have suffered trauma.)
Why wouldn’t a sentient non-human who has been made to suffer terrible violence be afflicted with a condition like PTSD? (Lovie was shot with a pellet gun and beaten by worthless humans in her ‘past life’.)
The mammals, many species of which are our constant companions, have blood coursing through their veins. They suckle and mother and nurture their young just as we do. They feel physical pain and honor intricate social structures with their own kind – and others. They form lasting bonds with their own kind and all other forms of living beings. They have awareness of their bodies and the space around them, and are responsive and reactive to a wide variety of stimuli. How could they NOT also have a range of emotion, or perhaps (well, most likely) even something far more developed than what the humans limited perspective of feelings are? I think that they do.
Like humans I’ve known who suffer from PTSD, Lovie also generally appears to be happy, well settled and trusting. She gives the impression of being a normal, balanced dog – and is, most of the time, but PTSD causes one to feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger – so even when safe with me, in the safety of the car, she will leap into the foot well of the back seat and shake violently in undeniable fear just the sight of men in big trucks with shaved heads and tattoos (really) in a parking lot or at the gas station. (She was beaten and essentially terrorized by such people.) In the safety of home with nothing to fear, a distant shotgun blast or the sound of a motorcycle on the highway, a chainsaw, loud voices and sometimes just anything NEW in her environs can send her into a fearful panic that shuts her down for the good part of a day.
Just instinct? Self preservation is an instinct, yes … but fear is an emotion.
While Paul was being the brave, lone caretaker of Dancing Dog Farm he decided that the new crop of houseflies had overstayed their welcome, and reached for the flyswatter. At this point Lovie had been with us for 8 months; she dotes on Paul, and he has never raised a hand nor his voice to her and never will. He hasn’t an unkind bit of DNA hiding anywhere in him – except for that one wee strand that allows him to eradicate evil bugs. With the first THWACK of the swatter Lovie panicked. Shaking violently, cringing, tail tucked, ears held back, panting heavily, all signs of distress, her PTSD kicked in. For the next few days Lovie wouldn’t come to him when he asked her to. She wouldn’t eat and wouldn’t even come for her favorite and usually irresistible treats. Paul had a hard time getting her to come into the house, her known sanctuary, and she would run off and hide from him in the bushes. But at night, finally back in the house, she would snuggle next to him on the bed. I suppose he was “OK” when he was asleep. Of course this certainly hurt his feelings but he carried on with patience and finally Lovie came back to her courage, and to him – but she wasn’t fully herself until I returned home from Greece and her ‘security system’ and all that is normal and known to her was once again intact and in place.
However, the evening after my return home, as he has a hundred times since Lovie came to live with us, Paul picked up a spatula while he was cooking dinner and Lovebug reeled in panic again.
We presume that the sight of what she perceives as something hurtful in our hands trumps her trust and sends her to the memory of something bad, and into fear. Panic. Why now, and not months ago, we may never know. I’ve never had a canine companion beset with the conundrums Lovie faces, so my frustration with this latest episode sent me searching for help. The next day I found myself hovering over a shelf-full of boxes of ‘ThunderShirts™’ at the pet store. I’d heard of these things … snug, stretchy, thin fabric jackets that, when fitted properly, will hug a dog’s body in a way that is said to make them feel more secure. I’ve seen a body-wrapping technique similar to this at work on fearful horses, helping them to connect brain to body and legs in stressful situations and in turn, be less anxious. So – why wouldn’t this ThunderShirt™ idea work for Lovie? I was a bit skeptical -and embarrassed, for here I was considering buying what some consider to be a ‘gimmick’, but in desperation I bought one. (Though I was sure I’d be sending it back for my ‘money back guarantee’ because it just wouldn’t live up to its promise!).
It works – to a degree, but that is enough for me! Not unlike Temple Grandin’s ‘hug box’, it has a calming effect and we have found that he T’shirt and various homeopathic remedies, and even melatonin in the most difficult of situations (4th of July) all help ease the suffering that usually sends her out into her ‘place of no return’. We watch for signs of stress, and the new things or sounds that might set her PTSD into motion, and when she begins to flounder, on goes the ThunderShirt™ and the darling little dear relaxes. She loves that darned thing, and even in this heat we’ve been having, over 105 for days on end, she wiggles in happiness at sight of it and stands quietly while it goes on. I testify!
We are also attending “school” with Beverly Mercier Ward … Beverley is a canine behaviorist who works with people and their ‘difficult’ dogs, as well as with dogs housed at Sammie’s Friends, many of whom are previously mistreated, misunderstood pit bulls in need of help in becoming balanced and therefore adoptable dogs. Beverley’s work is very successful, non-violent and reward (YUMMY treat) driven and Lovie relaxed quite easily into her class, with its tendency to provide something ‘NEW!’ with the addition of a new dog and its person each week! Mz. Snugglebum is pretty great at basic ‘obedience’, but that is not our reason for going to dog-school. We are there because Paul and I want to better learn how to maintain her focus when her panic sets in, and rather than retreating into her known habit of dealing with fear by disengaging from the world, to trust us to keep her safe and ultimately, to feel secure in herself. We now have hope that the new things, like me being gone for a month or her beloved Paul picking up an evil flyswatter, eventually won’t cause her well of courage to run dry and fry her security system. She may always have moments in which she catches glimpses of those ghostly fears, but we want to help her the best we can to go from being an 80% balanced and happy pup to 90% – always hoping, for her sake, for 100%!
And then Paul won’t have to worry about using the spatula.
Lovie has come a long way. As have Paul and I. Sometimes we long for the comfort of an uncomplicated dog-companion, but I’m thinking now that with patience, knowledge and understanding we really will have one in Lovie one day. Lovie Snugglebum, a sentient being capable of a range of emotion and more, fills our lives with goodness, and goodness knows we will continue to fill hers with the same.
(If anyone here has a ‘fearful dog’ companion, you might be interested in No Dog About It, a blog that has helped me understand a great deal more about fearful dogs – therefore empowering me to be of better help to Lovie.)