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.
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.