Monday, July 15, 2013

Back Again....

Back in May, Foster Shilo was adopted.  I wrote about it HERE.  The skies parted and the Universe aligned.  Near and far there was rejoicing.  I blogged about my happiness and it was shared by many.  People from far away, who I never met, knew about Shilo.

Since Shilo has been in his new home, we haven’t heard anything.  Well, we got some great reports the first two weeks and haven’t heard anything since.  That’s pretty normal and so it didn’t bother us – we figured no news was good news.  We ride our bikes by Shilo’s new house and always hope that we see him happily playing the yard (we never did).  I thought about him all the time – wondering if he had gone camping yet or if the fireworks bothered him on July 4th. I have wanted to reach out many times, but didn’t want to be a pain – he is their dog now.

Last week I got a message from a friend. She wanted to know if I knew how Shilo was doing.  She said that a friend in California had read Shilo’s blog months ago and it had touched her. The friend was looking for an update on Shilo.  That got me thinking and it gave me a reason to email Shilo’s family.  That was Tuesday .

Wednesday was a good day at our house.  Asha had a great appointment with her Behavioral Vet and she had slept through the night two out of three nights. I was feeling so good about how things were going in our home.  Finally we were getting some much needed peace.  Our current foster, Poppy, is nearing the end of his life and we are showering our attention on him. Trevor had recently reached out to a local rescue and offered our home as a foster for some dogs they were bring in from a hoarding case.  We were waiting to hear back from them.

I got home and around 7 saw an email from Shilo’s mom. It said “I’m glad you asked how things are going.  They aren’t going well. Blah Blah Blah (my words).  We are ready for him to come back”.  WHAT?  That was a shock.  My heart, which had been happily beating in my chest all day, dropped to the bottom of my stomach. I wasn’t sure if I was going to shit it out or throw it up.

I told her that I could meet her whenever was best for her – figuring that would be the weekend.  By 8:30 that night, Shilo was back at home with me.  His dad brought him back. Once the decision was made, they wanted him to be gone as soon as possible.  When Shilo got out of the car, he looked around and when he realized I was there, it was obvious that he remembered me. He jumped on me and licked my face, then he pulled towards the house. 

I talked with his dad for a bit.  Shilo had behaved with them the same way he had behaved with us.  Shilo had behaved with them exactly the way we had told them that he would.  I was trying to figure out where the communication breakdown had come. I thought we had been very clear about Shilo’s issues, about what to expect and about how they should proceed with him (offering training, suggesting a trainer, keeping him away from strangers because he bites).   Shilo’s dad said he thought after 9 weeks that Shilo would be “over it”.  But they didn’t do anything to help him get over it – no training – no asking for help.   There were a list of reasons why it wasn’t working. Their schedule had changed and things were different.  In the end, I think they just didn’t realize that a quiet home full of love wasn’t going to be enough to change a dog like Shilo.

I know they were sad. I have no doubt it was a difficult decision and I know there were many tears cried, many nights sleep lost over this.   But here was Shilo, back at home with me.

I love Shilo with all my heart and he is a good boy, but he has issues that are not an easy fit in our home.  When we chose Shilo to be our foster as part of a huge rescue operation in December, we did not know that his issues were so bad.  We did not know that he was a biter.  A dog like Shilo doesn’t do his best in a home with 5 other dogs, two of whom can’t see him.  A dog like Shilo doesn’t do well in a home with a 6 foot 4 man.  The majority of his aggression is directed at Trevor.  I am getting ready to head into my heavy travel season and so Shilo will now be home alone with Trevor a lot. We have house sitters who come to the house and Shilo adds a whole nother level of concern with that.  We can adjust, we can make it work.  He just doesn’t make things easy. 

All of this went through my mind as I stood in the kitchen and cried.  I cried for Shilo – he was looking around confused about why he was back.  They had played with him and walked him and surely he loved that.  He won’t get as much of that here.  I cried for the challenge ahead of him.  Then I cried because our lives were getting easier….and in less than two hours, they had gotten more difficult.  I was just so sad.

So here we are, right back where we started.  We have this damaged little soul who needs someone to be his forever family, to commit to taking care of him, protecting him and giving him the space he needs to feel safe in this world that has been quite cruel to him.  He trusts no one (except maybe me).  I think of all the things I could do if he was my ONLY dog and I wonder if there is anyone else out there like me who doesn’t already have a dog!

I don’t want to judge his adoptive family.  I am trying not to judge.  Trevor said to me “you can’t expect everyone to do what we do” and I said “I don’t expect everyone to do what we do”.  I didn’t expect them to take Shilo in addition to their blind/deaf Aussie with anxiety issues who hasn’t slept more than three full nights in 18 months and a 16 year old blind, mostly deaf, dying jack Russell, three other dogs and six other cats, including a 17 year old just diagnosed with thyroid tumors and another senior with one tooth, while both working jobs that take us away from home half of the time, owning a business, training groups of triathletes and marathon runners, etc, etc….I am asking them to take care of one dog with issues.  To honor the commitment that they made when they agreed to take a dog with those specific issues.  To not bring him back because he acted exactly the way we said he would act.  I am not asking them to do what we do.  We have chosen this and I am not sorry about that.  What I am sorry about is that because Shilo is back home with us,  another dog will not get to be here (we told the other rescue that we are all full again).  I know…that all sounded very judgemental….I just don’t understand. 

In all the hurt and sadness, I am also grateful that we were able to take him back, I am grateful that they asked us to take him back.  From the very beginning we told them that if it didn’t work, no matter why or when or how, Shilo HAD to come back to us.  They could not get rid of him any other way.  They agreed.  At first I wished I had never sent the email to follow up on how he was doing  - but then they said that they had been struggling with what to do for a while and so I am very glad I sent that email so that he could come back to us.

Shilo broke my heart when he was here before and he breaks my heart still.  There isn’t enough room in the world for a damaged little soul like him.  We’ll make room and we’ll make room for as long as it takes, even if that means Shilo spends his entire life with us. 

Happy Endings aren't always as happy as they first seem.  Shilo is still looking for his happy ending…..

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

2 years with Asha

Its been two years since we adopted Asha.   Two years since we unknowingly invited chaos into our life.   Two years….and everything has changed for us.   It seems like a lifetime ago.  I’ve written a lot about our experiences with Asha.  I’ve told lots of stories, both from my point of view and Asha’s.  I haven’t ever pretended that it wasn’t a challenge, but I also haven’t ever really admitted here just how hard it has been.
In the grand scheme of things, raising a dog like Asha is not that big of a deal.  Its been tough – but its not like we have child with cancer, are sick ourselves or are dealing with many of the tragedies that we see around us.  But you must understand that for us, these past two years have been the trial of our lives and its certainly not over.  The toughest days are behind us and the more distance we find between now and then, the easier it is to admit just how bad things were….

When we adopted Asha, Trevor and I felt pretty good about ourselves.  We had always considered ourselves selfish people.  THIS (adopting a dog who was born blind and deaf due to irresponsible breeding) was going to be our way to become “good people”.   I have always considered myself very impatient.  I want what I want, when I want it and how I want it.  I thought I wanted to become a patient person.  I remember reading a quote once that said something like ‘if you want to be more patient, don’t ask the Universe for patience, ask the Universe for situations in which to practice being more patient.”  Well…that sucks….doesn’t it?  Who wants to practice?  Why can’t is just BE.
The Universe had a good long laugh the day we met Asha.  “want to be good people? Here’s your opportunity to practice that”. 
I had read up on double merle Australian Shepherds (that’s what Asha is) and felt like I knew what we were getting into.  What I read made it sound like it was no big deal – blind and deaf?  They adapt.  Looking back, I realize that I was only able to find one or two blogs or stories about dogs like Asha.  Now I know that’s because there are not many dogs like Asha that survive.  Most of the ones with issues (and that’s almost all of them), never make it – they are euthanized either by their breeders, at shelters or by their owners because they just can’t survive in this world.  But I didn’t know that then, so I figured it would all be okay.
The first couple weeks we had Asha, she was a typical puppy.  She didn’t understand the stairs and so in the middle of the night when she needed out to pee, we’d scoot down the stairs with her.   She had lots of energy and would either run or sleep.  She had some obsessive behaviors, like spinning, but we were stopping those.  Several weeks after Asha joined our family, she had her first seizure.  She had two more in the coming weeks and was diagnosed with epilepsy.  We started her on phenobarbital.   The seizures stopped, but she has never been the same.

Its  hard to say if the epilepsy caused the damage or vice versa, but Asha became manic. Her anxiety increased.  She went crazy during the day when we weren’t home.  She wouldn’t tolerate being kenneled and we didn’t want to upset her because that could increase her risk for seizures. So she tore our house apart.  I would come home and find her in the middle of a pile of rubble that once was our blinds/books/pictures/molding, etc.  I always checked to make sure she was alive and then cleaned up after her.  She was NEVER calm.  I would lay on the bathroom floor with her at night and she would sleep about 20 minutes at a time and then wake in a panic.  I thought she would have a heart attack, she was so upset.   

I started to become manic too.  Months without more than 20 minutes of sleep at a time wears a person down. It was like having a newborn, only we didn’t have the comfort of knowing she would grow out of it and we couldn’t live like this forever.

We didn’t know what to do, we couldn’t find any information anywhere.  We really didn’t want to give her any sort of drug, that seemed so wrong.  We couldn’t tell people about it because we couldn’t risk being told to put her down or take her back.  We felt like we were her only chance.

We adopted Asha in July and by November, things were very bad.  Trevor would come home every night after work and find me on the kitchen floor with Asha,  crying.  I was so exhausted and I felt like a failure. I didn’t know what to do.   I was so mad at Asha for being this way, for doing this to our life.   I was sick right before Thanksgiving, I came down with a bad cold.  This was a low point.  All I wanted to do was lay in bed and rest.  But I couldn’t….becuase Asha would not be quiet for more than two minutes. I couldn’t lay down and rest.  I had no where to go.  I remember sitting in our entry way, leaning against the front door while Asha ran around and barked.  I finally said what I had been feeling but was afraid to admit….alone in that front room with our girl, I said “I wish we had never adopted you” and then I sobbed.  The only one I hated more than Asha, was me.

At this point, I think the Universe realized that I couldn’t take anymore….our vet prescribed some anti anxiety meds for Asha. They helped some, but not enough.  We were then referred to a Behavior Vet who helped us with some different medications and behavior modification. This started us down the path of redemption!  We started seeing Dr Pachel in December.  Then, in May, we were referred to Dr Valentine, a Chinese Medicine Veterinarian.  We started Asha on a combination of herbs, acupuncture and food therapy.  This made a tremendous difference.  Asha was also growing up and maturing, that helped too.

This also gave us a safe place to talk about what was going on with Asha and how we felt about it.  I know that these doctors would tell you how pathetic and desperate we were.  Many times I cried to them on the phone or in their office.  Over time, they helped me cope with our situation and I believe that made the biggest difference of all. Once I accepted what we were dealing with and started to appreciate it instead of being angry about it, things began to shift.  I was more forgiving of myself and of Asha.
Asha has always been the most amazing dog.  She LOVES people, she is unafraid.  She likes going places and doing new things.  When we were at our lowest point, I would take her to the local petstore every single night and walk her around.   She was so happy there and that is what kept her alive.  If her entire life had been the mania she exhibited at home, we would have had to make some tough decisions.  I am sure I looked like the walking dead when I would show up with Asha. But we walked in and all the employees would say “Asha is here!!” and they would come to see her and give her love.  I would stand back and watch her get all that attention and just eat it up.  For those few moments every evening, I believed it would be okay.

Our vet told me once that if Asha lived with anyone else, she would have recommended that they put her to sleep – that only because of how we took care of Asha, was her life viable. 

Through all of this, Asha has loved and trusted Trevor and I.   She knows when we are close and she looks for us when we are not there.  Trevor or I have slept on the couch with her every night for the last 18 months (the first 6 months she was here were spent on the bathroom floor).  If she wakes up in the middle of the night and I am not there, she barks and cries.  Most nights its just easier to stay on the couch and be able to touch her the second she wakes up, so we can go right back to sleep.  Every once in a while, I’ll let her go to sleep, then head up to my own bed…only to be woken up around 2 or 3 am.   There were a couple nights in May of 2012 when she slept all night. I remember waking up at 5am and looking at Trevor and saying “do you think she is dead?” , because she never sleeps through the night!  Back in January she slept all night…once.  Last night, she did it again.  Maybe we are turning a corner and we’ll start sleeping like we used to….in our bed instead of on the couch or the floor!

Here is my blog post from her one year anniversary of joining our family.  In the last 12 months things have continued to improve tremendously.  Asha is much more calm during the day and even at night – while she wakes up and calls for us, she doesn’t panic…its more of a habit.  She is so smart.  Every day I am amazed at how she has adapted.  She doesn’t know she is any different.  She is happy and loving.  I commented to Trevor just the other day - Asha isn't much different than the other dogs now...she has her quirks, but for the most part is turning into a good dog.

Asha won the Diamond Collar Hero Award from the Oregon Humane Society.   She has had stories about her in the paper and online.  She’s had her pictures taken for a book about special needs pets.  She is our rockstar.

My life is so very different than I ever could have imagined.  We’ve had to work very hard to hold it together.  Most days, no one knew how awful things were here…except for me and Trevor.   But no one can ever  truly know how incredible this experience has been either and how lucky we are to have found Asha. 

I used to look at Asha and wonder how we would ever live with her.  A few months ago I found myself looking at her and wondering how in the world we would ever live without her. 

Today isn’t just the anniversary of the day that Asha joined our family….its much more than that.  Its an opportunity to celebrate all the life has to offer, all that we have become and have yet to be…because we took a chance, made a sacrifice, and kept moving forward when no one would have blamed us for giving up.