My Neurotic Dog is a Mirror of Myself

I once Googled “therapy dog vest buy Canada” so I could get the thing, put it on Finn, look legit, and take him with me everywhere. I then realized that doing this would make me a huge asshole, so I closed the tab and looked up Samoyed puppy videos instead.

Figure 1. Unbearable internet specimen which makes my furbaby ovaries explode.

Living with a socially needy dog is hard because he is like a sponge to my emotions. If I am a flustered mess and forget breakfast, guess who else is a flustered mess who refuses to eat HIS breakfast? If I am pacing around the house trying to find my lost keys (yet again), guess who else is pacing around the house at my side, panting heavily? And often, this excessive panting and anxiety (that I’ve probably helped create) causes my own anxiety to build- sometimes until I fully meltdown and need to put myself on timeout. Habits and routine are so important for dogs, but what happens when those are the two things your brain rebels against?

Finn (or Floof, Fluffbutt, Marshmallow Head, Bee, Poupoune, FINNEGAN!!, or Bébé) turned eight in March, and every year I hate his birthday more and more. He is my spirit animal, and although he drives me to the breaking point sometimes, he is also a very blatant reminder that I need to take care of myself. I got him just before starting my graduate studies when he was a two year old stud for a local breeder, and yesterday I realized why we both might be so anxious lately. We don’t exercise as much as we used to. When Finn first came into my life, I was working as a Master’s student studying wetlands. There was a lot of field work, fresh air, and hiking involved. Finn proudly strutted behind me- his luscious locks filling with sticks, dirt, and bugs. Things felt healthier and more balanced when we had to walk to get groceries and had easy access to a long dirt road to walk every morning as the sun rose. When the vet told me he had a slow, strong heartbeat, I nearly busted at the seams with pride.

This all came to a screaming halt when Finn severely injured his leg while running like a maniac through tall grass. Someone left an ATV ramp laying on the ground, and when Finn ran over it, his front left paw got stuck but his body kept moving, causing nerve damage akin to being hit by a car. It was a dead leg for over a month, and it completely changed our lives. The silver lining that still profoundly humbles me to this day is that a friend set up a crowdfunding campaign for him, and we raised over $500 in one day for his vet bills and physiotherapy. Luckily, he has regained feeling in his leg and can walk on it, but only for short distances. This lack of exercise is not only a likely source for his growing anxieties, but also my own (indirectly). I don’t like to go for walks by myself. I’ve been walking/hiking/running next to Finn for the past six years, and it makes me sad that we have a new, less rigorous normal (now I’m crying).

Figure 2. I don’t know why I looked up this photo then inserted it into this post. Every time I see it, I cry. This was the early days after the injury when the future was uncertain.

I’ve recently realized some things about Finn and I, and how my relationship with him could really help my ADHD if I thoughtfully re-tweak our routine. It’s more of an effort to not forget my great epiphanies of the week, but I hope that you can find something useful in here too:

  1. We both need more of what we love. This includes the cold, used bookstores, friendly strangers, children, hiking, car rides, butternut squash soup, and whipped cream. We should seek these out more regularly.
  2. We’re both medicated, and having to remember his meds helps me to remember my own.
  3. We both desperately need structure. This is especially important when it comes to eating. I’ve lost 14 lbs on my new medication in the past three months, and Finn has lost 5 in the past six. This is not okay and I need to do better for both of us. New mini-goal: drink my morning protein smoothie while Finn eats his breakfast. Mush some high calorie wet stuff in there too (for him, not me!). Channel the most zen mood possible. Meditate while sucking back the smoothie. HEY! This would be a great time for a quick mindfulness exercise!! *madly scribbles into schedule* This blog thing is super helpful. 10/10 Would Recommend.
  4. We both need rewards and to be told that we’re doing a good job. Please say something if you notice we’ve done something well. It really helps to combat the negative thought ninjas.
  5. We both need regular exercise, or else meltdowns will happen (see ABCs of Explosion Avoidance). The kind where you huff and puff a little and can feel the excess energy burning up while simultaneously extinguishing any built-up anxiety. 20 mins minimum. Every. Day.
  6. We both need help. I’ve been trying to find things that help me deal with the repercussions of an overstimulated nervous system, and have also found a dog trainer who will provide private in-home lessons for Finn’s separation anxiety and noise phobias. I’m particularly looking forward to this, because I’m sure I can glean some life hacks for myself. Future Christine will write a post about that- promise!

Figure 3. My shadow is also my light through the darkness.

Writing that image description made me tear up again. Ugh. I’m hopeless. For some reason this all sounds very eulogy-ish. I have no intention of ever letting Finn die, so don’t worry about us.

… But do send treats.

 

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