Friday, March 23, 2012


Its been a tough 8 months at our house. When Asha came to live with us, her issues didn't just disrupt my and Trevor's life, they disrupted everyone's life. The other dogs and even the cats went into a tailspin and exhibited their stress in many different ways. Maggie became aggressive, Tuna started to attack Roxie, Roxie started peeing on our bed, the dogs bed, our clothes and we were overwhelmed.

When I would talk to our vet about all the things that were going on, she would look at me with such pity. And honestly, I was feeling pretty bad for myself too. I didn't know what to do about any of these things and didn't know how we would manage all that was going on.

Let's start with Maggie. We worked the hardest with her. Maggie has always been the sweetest dog. I could never imagine her hurting anyone or any other animal. After we had Asha for a couple months, Maggie started to change. I was so mad about things in general and I know Maggie felt that tension. She started to take it on herself and express it towards Asha, whom she certainly saw as the source for all this anger.

Asha loved Maggie and always sought her out to play with her. Maggie would try and give Asha signs that she did not want to play, but Asha couldn't see or hear them. So Maggie felt no other option but to attack. The problem was that Maggie would not just snap at Asha, she would attack her. It was like a light switch, Maggie became a different dog. This was incredibly difficult for me and I was constantly worried about it, which just added to the trouble.

We had hired a trainer to help us with the dogs, mostly because we wanted Buster to walk nice on the leash. When Maggie's issues started, we quickly changed our focus. Most of our time was spent on Maggie and getting her to stop being aggressive towards Asha. For weeks, we kept them separate. We had to hand feed Maggie in a different room, we couldn't have all the dogs with us on the couch together. We had to crate and rotate, keep them apart. This was a logistical nightmare and completely exhausting.

We spent one on one time with each dog, giving them lots of positive feedback, playing with them, giving them treats. We worked hard to not raise our voices or get angry, especially at Maggie. We redirected her aggression and stayed calm when she was getting worked up. We were hyper aware of her body language and her looks. We took great pains to be sure that Asha did not push her too far.

Our trainer encouraged us and told us to keep at it, even when it was difficult to do so. Every week she would come to the house and comment on our progress. At first, she said that Maggie was a very unhappy dog. That made me so incredibly sad and I felt responsible for it. Over time, Maggie has changed. We've changed.

Its been a slow process, but progress has certainly come. Its little things here and there, then its big things. We don't have to be a hyper vigilant about the situation anymore. Maggie has learned to tell Asha "no" in a way that our little blind/deaf girl can understand. Its so interesting to see because you can tell by the way Asha holds herself that she gets what Maggie is telling her.

And our Maggie is such a good girl. She's learned self control. She also knows how to redirect her aggression herself too. She's found a new voice and its amazing to watch. She'll play with Asha, she will eat out of the same bowl as Asha, she will jump on the couch with Asha and let Asha jump up with her.

The other day, I was napping on the couch. Maggie had her head on my chest. Asha jumped up and layed on my chest, rolling onto her back. Maggie put her head on Asha's belly. I just about cried because at that moment, I knew that my sweet girl had returned. Our Maggie was back.

I wasn't sure that our dogs would ever be able to be together like that. We don't let it happen all the time because I want Maggie to have her own special time and not feel like Asha is always in her face or going to take our attention. She is so much happier and that makes the rest of us happy. Buster feels it, Asha feels it and we feel it.

I know that my attitude makes a difference too. I'm not on edge all the time anymore. Before I was nervous about every little move that the dogs made because I didn't want it to turn into a fight. Our trainer comments about this from time to time - how much I have changed.

At first, when dealing with all of this, I was really angry. I was angry at what our lives had become. I was mad at Trevor for suggesting we get another dog, I was mad at myself for saying yes. I was mad that I didn't listen when the shelter workers told me that Asha barked alot. The list goes on and on. Mostly I was angry because I missed my quiet life. What I didn't realize is that my anger was perpetuating the chaos that I hated so much.

Asha is not what we expected she would be and I have never done well with the unexpected. I have been on a quest for months to find answers for Asha. We have enlisted a team of people to help us. I know this isn't the best we can do for her. Asha is incredibly anxious and restless. Over the last couple months, she has improved a lot, but I know this is not as good as it gets.

We have another appointment next week with her behaviorist to talk about next steps. We've tried some alternative therapies - Reiki, which she did not take to very well and we've even tried an animal communicator/spiritual healer. Nothing is out of the question for our girl.

The animal communicator told us a lot of things, relayed messages from Asha to us. Whether those things are true or not, it has made me more compassionate towards Asha, more understanding when she starts to freak out.
The communicator told us that Asha was in chaos, that she couldn't channel all the energy she felt around her. She said that Asha felt like she could not control her body. These things all make sense. I have always believed that Asha does not like to be out of control. So while it drives me nuts when she is flipping out, I now really try to be calm with her and remember that its upsetting to her as well.

The other day I was thinking "why can't we have a normal life" and then I thought "what does normal even mean?" Instead of trying to force the life we have into the life I want, I am really trying to enjoy the life we have., to embrace the unexpected and to hold my babies close to me, even when they don't act the way I want them to act. As with all things in life, its best to focus on what you have instead of what you don't.

So while all this progress has been happening downstairs with the dogs, the cats upstairs have been improving as well. We've figured out a way to keep the cats separated so that Tuna will leave Roxie alone. Its been a long time since Roxie peed on anything and that is a good sign. She seems much happier. Tuna seems more calm, although last night we had an episode - the first in a while. Balance is slowly coming back to the Bryant house.

If nothing else, we've got love....lots and lots of love...and as Bon Jovi says "Love's the only rule". Here's hoping for more progress...


Jacqueline said...

Awwwwe... this is such an honest post and one that makes me feel what I am reading. I am so sorry it has been so rough for all of you but good times are happening and obviously there are many more to come! You are the perfect parents to a dog that needs so much LOVE. She was put in your life for a reason! This year will be a distant memory eventually. I have no doubt you will find the help and answers you need. You are doing such a great job! Your love for her (and all your babies) is what will help you all through these rough times. Hang in there!!

Hyacinth said...

You guys are amazing...all the love and energy that you're putting into giving sweet Asha is just so heartwarming...she's a lucky girl to have found herself such amazing parents. I'm part of an animal rescue group and I can't say how wonderful it is to come across people like you...thank you for giving this sweet girl such an amazing home...I know it hasn't been easy but that's what makes you guys so special.