My absence from blogging can be blame on one thing....I've been feeling very overwhelmed. I've kept it to myself because I was trying to pretend it wasn't true. A couple weeks ago, I finally admitted it myself and had a bit of a breakdown. I am feeling better about things now, but still a little apprehensive.
Asha has been draining me. I think I have been hesitant to post about it because I don't want people to tell us that we should get rid of her. Finding a different home for Asha would be like someone with human children saying they needed to find another home for one of their babies. Its not even a possibility.
When we decided to bring Asha to live with us, neither of us expected her to have so many anxiety issues. I know that I thought she would require some extra work because she was blind and deaf. I thought we'd have to watch her more closely, we'd have to get up and make her stop doing things instead of yelling at her. I NEVER thought I would be dealing with a dog who would be so anxious sometimes that she was out of breath from it. Asha has epilepsy and that showed up about 2 weeks after she came to live with us. She isn't wired like other dogs and so she needs different care.
We have done everything we can think to do. We have a trainer who comes to the house every week and works with all three dogs (and us). We've done research, talked to other blind/deaf Aussie owners, found forums, read blogs...all in an effort to find the answer.
Asha is on anti anxiety medication and it has helped quite a bit, but she still has episodes and its really hard on her and us. It can be mentally exhausting to have her constantly bark in a way that will not allow us to relax. The intensity varies - some days are worse than others. This past week has been the best she's even been, but that followed about two weeks of the worst its ever been. Right before Thanksgiving, it was so bad that I sat on the floor in tears one day. As I sat there crying, all three dogs came over to comfort me. Buster said "mom...I remember feeling hopeless and scared. I didn't know how I could go on that way....and then
you came. So don't worry. It will be okay"
That was pretty much the lowest point. As I sat there sobbing, I thought "how can we go on living like this?" That's a horrible feeling - hopeless, helpless, scared and alone.
Our trainer came to the house the following day and we did a lot of talking. She said some things that I really needed to hear. She said "I don't know how you do it, most people couldn't or wouldn't. You are doing a great job with all your dogs. I admire your commitment". Something about those words made me feel validated and made me really want to continue looking for answers.
Asha has an appointment on Tuesday with a behavorial vet - they work with anxiety issues and OCD. They can prescribe medication and I am hoping they will be able to come up with some ways to reduce Asha's anxiety. That's their specialty.
As I mentioned, this past week has been really good. Asha works best on a schedule. She gets really upset if there is uncertainty, so we have been working on a consistent schedule for her and I believe it has made a difference. She has been playing alot with Buster and Maggie - they play until they are all exhausted, panting, out of breath. Then they all sleep. We've also been going to the petstore to do our evening walks. Its cold outside and the petstore is such an interesting place for Asha - different smells every time we are there. The people who work there love her and she gets so much attention when we go.
Asha has also started to develop a close relationship with us. Before, she really depended on the other dogs, lately she seems more interested in being with us. She'll jump up on the couch with me, lay down by my feet when I am working in the kitchen and has started to lick my face when I sit with her - she never did that before!
She constantly amazes me with how smart she is. I sometimes try to imagine what it would be like to be unable to see or hear. I figure she must go off smell and touch, so I try to be conscious of that. When I get home at night and she realizes that I am home, she'll run to find me - with her nose in the air following my smell. I get down on the floor and try to put as much of myself against her as I can so that she feels me there.
She works like a clock - she has a schedule and she keeps to it. She knows when certain things happen. She wakes up at the same time every morning - give or take ten minutes. She knows when she goes in her kennel, she knows when she goes to bed.
When she is good, she is great. I love her so much. Sometimes when she looks up at me with her super blue eyes and her pink nose, I want to crumble because she is such a sweet creature.
There are certainly more times when she sits calmly. It used to be that she was either sleeping or running and barking, there was very little in between. A few times I have come home and she's laying on the couch - not sleeping, just relaxing. She has not destroyed things in several weeks, no matter how long she has been left at home alone. She also hasn't peed or pooped in the house in probably two months.
I am not sure what happened, but last Sunday seemed to be a turning point. That was the best day we have ever had with her. She played with Buster and Maggie, there were no issues, very little anxiety. One night this week, I was actually able to go upstairs and put laundry away for about 15 minutes without Asha barking the entire time. She barked for a couple minutes, then laid down at the bottom of the stairs and relaxed. I couldn't believe it.
We've done ALOT of behavior modification with all three dogs. Asha really disrupted the entire household and we've had to do work with the other two dogs and the cats. Its been exhausting. These last two weeks, we have finally started to see some results from our hard work. While we were in the midst of it all, I kept thinking that we would have to do some of those things forever and that was daunting. For example, we've been giving each dog time alone with us on the couch and that required a "crate and rotate" program - meaning that two would be in a crate while one was out with us and then we would rotate them. Logically - that is exhausting. But it payed off. We don't have to do that very much now, we are all about to be together without issue. The work isn't done, we'll constantly need to work with the dogs and on ourselves to ensure a peaceful home.
I was having a really tough time with all this because I kept thinking about how our lives used to be. Before Asha, we could relax whenever we wanted. When she would run and bark, it would make me sad that life was gone and I didn't think it would ever come back. I told Trevor that I was greiving the loss of that life and moving through the stages of grief. I was angry and sad. I've finally moved into acceptance and this morning I said to Trevor "if this is how it is forever, I would be happy with it". And I meant it.
I know that most people don't feel the way we do about animals. Most people wouldn't allow their lives to be turned upside down by any pet. I think that is the thing that most brings Trevor and I together. We agree that we'll do whatever we have to do to make sure our pets have a good life, no matter what inconveincence that is to us. We made the choice to bring them to our home and now we have to make the best of it.
I know I am a better person because of what we are going through right now. I know that I have learned a lot about myself. The moments of struggle with the dogs are tough, but the moments of love fill my heart in a way that nothing else ever has. When Maggie smiles at me, Buster sleeps against my legs and Asha wags her tail with excitement at my presence, I know that I am loved and its all worth it. This must be what it feels like to have kids.
So I am overwhelmed, but am finally feeling hopeful! I am looking forward to our trip to the vet on Tuesday and continuing to make progress with our special little one. Heaven knows we all deserve it.