Monday, October 10, 2011

3 months with Asha

3 months ago today, Asha came to live with us. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We knew she would have special needs and that our lives would never be the same, but we certainly didn't realize just how exhausting that would be. Somedays I feel like we have made no progress and other days I feel like we've come so far. I felt like I was forgetting things, so I have started to journal Asha's days. That way I can look back and see just what she's been up to.

There is very little help out there for parents of a dog like Asha. I can find some information about blind dogs and some about deaf dogs, but very little about blind AND deaf dogs. Quite honestly, its been a struggle. I've felt hopeless and alone. I've been worried about our future and Asha's future. There is no doubt that we love her and that she loves us. We committed to her when we brought her home and so we owe it to her to do all that we can to give her a great life.

There have been two main issues with Asha. The first is actually the cause of the second. She has extreme anxiety and that results in barking. Lots and lots of barking. We could not figure out how to settle her down and how to quiet the barking. Believe me, we tried just about anything you could think of.

Its actually not just the barking - she runs and barks. So she'll run into the front room and bark or at bedtime, she'll run into the bathroom and bark. I started to leash her up and tie her to me when I'd get home at night - that way she wouldn't run. When she runs, its hard to get a hold of her and settle her down. I figured if she was close to me, she wouldn't need to bark so much.
That worked, for a while....then just like everything else we have stopped working. She'd stay by me but she'd chew through the leash or she'd play tug of war or she would cry.

We tried just letting her bark it out. When we go upstairs in the mornings to workout, she'll bark for a few minutes then settle down. We tried that the rest of the times too. That gets really annoying and once she starts running and barking she just gets wound up.

She was having a really tough time sleeping at night. She'd fall asleep and then wake up, startled, every couple hours. About a month ago, I started to sleep on the bathroom floor with her. I found that if I could touch her as soon as she woke up, she would calm down and go right back to sleep. The last straw with her anxiety came one night when she would not calm down. I was right there with her all night. She was panting really hard, her little heart beating SO fast. She was up all night long, went out a bunch of times to pee, didn't need food or water. She was so upset and I felt really bad for her. The next day, I called our vet and asked about anti- anxiety medication. She suggested something for Asha that could take the edge off while we did some behavior modification therapy. She also commented that kind of stress can have long term affects on a dog's health.

I did lots of reading about the medication she prescribed. Its basically prozac for dogs. There was quite a bit of information about it - people said that it really helped their animals. There were, of course, lots of people who commented that it was wrong to give that kind of medicine to a dog and that owners just needed to spend more time with their pets, give them more attention, love them more. I felt guilty for giving her the medicine. I wondered if we are failing her, if we should be doing something different, if someone else would do better for her.

We started her on the medicine just over two weeks ago. We also started weekly sessions with a dog trainer who comes to our house to work with us and all three dogs. In the past two weeks, we have made significant progress. I am no longer sleeping on the floor with Asha. She has started to sleep through the night. I hear her wake up, she gets up and moves to a different spot, then goes right back to sleep. In the evenings, she'll come into the TV room with us and after she plays with Maggie and Buster (often against their will), she lays down on the floor and relaxes until bedtime. She NEVER did this before. She would either lay down in the kitchen or run and bark ALL evening long.

We were walking her three times a day in an effort to exhaust her and get rid of all that anxious energy. We now walk her two times a day. She is really great on walks. She does try to herd us and nips at our heels, but she isn't nervous or afraid - she never has been - she is SO trusting.

Since she started her medicine, she hasn't peed or pooped in the house while we are away from home. She also isn't chewing on things like she was before. I used to come home to kitchen chairs turned over and chewed on, the kitchen rug balled up in the living room. It was always something. Every night I'd come home after a couple hours away and there would be two or three puddles of pee, a pile or two of poop, remnants of whatever she had chewed to pieces that day and in the middle of it all....a sleeping Asha who would immediately wake up and start barking. We didn't kennel her because she would literally scream when we put her in the kennel.

That was enough to make me feel like I was having a nervous breakdown. The other two dogs go right upstairs into their kennels when we leave home. We are going to work on crate training her with our trainer. I want her to be able to tolerate being in a kennel, that way if she needs to be at the vet or travel in the car she will be okay.

Now, when I get home at night, Asha is asleep or she is just laying down, relaxing.

I let her out and she goes to the bathroom, then comes back and wants to either play with Maggie and Buster or she stays by me while I do my chores. I've started to keep treats in my pocket to keep her close to me. When she sits and is calm, I'll give her a treat. Sometimes she just stands next to me and looks up at me like this....
The trainer has really given me hope that we can make a difference. She has give us homework and we have been doing the homework. Sometimes successfully and sometimes, as in a prior post you may have read, unsuccessfully. But we continue to keep working on it, knowing there will be good days and bad days.

She still does her barking thing in the morning. She hasn't settled down at that time of day yet, but she is still a puppy - just 8 months old. So we really can't expect too much from her!

The dog trainer who comes to our house has a lot of experience with Australian Shepherds. Even though she hasn't worked with a blind/deaf one before, she knows a lot about the breed and she has been doing research on dogs like Asha. We have already been able to use her suggestions on all three of the dogs. We have seen a tremendous improvement in Maggie and some issues we were having with her. Now that Asha is settling down a little, she is able to learn much easier than when she was so panicked.

Sometimes, we still lose our patience with her and we get frustrated. Usually she is also losing her patience with us and frustrated too. Sometimes we get mad, sometimes she gets mad. We don't always know what she wants, sometimes it takes us too long to figure it out. That's one of the reasons I started keeping the journal so that we can keep track of what she does and how we respond so that we can find a pattern of what works and what doesn't work.

Every once in a while, I remember that she cannot see and she cannot hear. I try to imagine how that would be. I ask Buster "what would you do if you couldn't see or hear me?" He looks at me like this...Because he can't imagine that either.

I do my best to be calm and gentle with her, to give her things that will make her mind work, things that will appeal to her other senses of smell and touch. I try to always let her know that its okay and she doesn't need to worry about a thing, that it may be confusing sometimes, but we'll never leave her side and she'll never be alone.

She loves Buster and Maggie - Maggie especially. She looks high and low for that dog and will play with her any chance she gets. When we are on a walk, she wants to walk by Maggie. She wants Maggie to be her best friend, but Maggie already has a best friend - Buster - and she isn't ready to change that. Its an interesting dynamic.

Asha is growing so fast, moving through her puppyhood. The trainer told us that Australian Shepherds usually settle down at about a year or 18 months old, so eventually, she'll have less energy to expend. We look forward to those days!

People always say that we are good people for taking on such a challenge. Trevor and I laugh about that and say that we don't want to be good people, we want peace and quiet, we want to sleep through the night and we want our stuff to remain unchewed. I don't care about being a good person, I care about doing the best I can for this sweet little creature who came into our lives. When things get particularly stressful, Trevor and I will argue about who found Asha and who's idea it was to have her come live with us. I blame him, he blames me. No one wants to take responsibility for the mayhem that has ensued!

The truth is that thinking about Asha sometimes makes me cry. I think about the fate of her brothers and sisters, how they never got a chance at life. I think about the increasing moments of joy that are peppered between the moments of confusion and anxiety. I think of her little tail wagging when she realizes her family is near. I think about how much she loves strangers and treats and toys, how she looks for the cats under the bed when we go upstairs at night. I think of how she looks at me in the light of the laundry room - the only place where she can actually see us - its obvious that the light in that room allows her to make out our shapes and she will just stare. I think of her growing old with Maggie and Buster. I think of how forgiving and loving she is. And I think about the confines of her world and how she goes forward into every day with pure energy. She doesn't know any different. When she is sleeping and I can tell she is dreaming, I always wonder what she dreams about? If you can't see or hear, what do you dream?

I love her. With all of my heart and soul, I love her. Just like I love the others. All I want for her is a safe, healthy, long, calm life. Is that too much to ask? I don't think so and that is what we are building for her and really for all of us.

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