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When you have a fearful or reactive dog, you approach change slowly, if at all.
We’ve learned the hard way that something as simple as placing the couch in a different location can create chaos. (Whoever thought putting it under the window would be a good idea was clearly an idiot. Felix spent all day, every day, pacing the back of the couch and barking at anyone who dared enter his domain until we moved it back to where it belonged.) A change in schedule can set Felix back for days. When I started going to and coming home from work a half hour later, Felix would sit at the door, wailing at the top of his voice because I was “late”. Nothing could distract him from his despair, not love from the Nana, not snacks, not anything.
Even temporary change can knock the dogs for a loop.
Last Spring I went to Virginia for three days for BlogPaws. This summer, I went to Vegas for SuperZoo. Felix cried and picked at his food, eating partial meals and snacks without gusto. Kolchak “iron guts” puggle threw up. Twice. I thought I was going on a business trip, but it turned out to be the most spectacular guilt trip ever. Last time we went to the lake house for the weekend, Felix didn’t sleep. He woke constantly to bark at imaginary sounds and perceived threats. Once we came home he was restless for days, as if the scary unknown had followed us home.
This is still real life though and sometimes life is messy. Sometimes, change is thrust upon us and everyone, human and canine, just has to adjust.
We went through some major changes at Casa de Kolchak this summer. Felix hurt his leg and we weren’t able to be as active as we normally are. We moved from a house with a spacious yard to an apartment. The dogs have been spending time with humans that have only been visitors in their lives up until now. Behind all this change, was the biggest change of all: the Daddy and I decided that we were better apart than we were together.
For dogs who don’t deal well with even minor change, this life altering decision has been an adjustment, to put it lightly.
The decision is ultimately what is best for everyone, dogs included, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t had some unintended, if somewhat anticipated, challenges. Felix’s separation anxiety has backslid to a place where it is worse than it was before we adopted him. He can’t be left alone. He actually can’t even be left not alone, unless he is with one of his three “safe” people. Kolchak is fussy and constantly begging for snacks. Both dogs are jumpy and startled by every noise. They are a bit reactive with dogs in the street and slightly reactive to people in the apartment hallways. Any change to their schedule is huge and to be avoided at all costs. The humans have had to be very flexible, just to keep the dogs from going bonkers.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
While our feelings for each other may have changed, our feelings for our dogs have not. We both love these crazy, neurotic, little furballs more than I can possibly put into words. While I am the dogs primary care giver and they are very attached to me, they are also both head over tail in love with their Daddy. He is hands down Felix’s favourite human to snuggle. He’s the guy who can get Kolchak to be silly and play with reckless abandon. The thought of removing him from their life was never considered, even for a moment.
I’m grateful for a Mother In Law that welcomes the dogs every day when I go to work (allowing me to go, really, because let’s face it, two dogs wailing all day is not going to endear me to my neighbours). This means that for 9 hours a day, it’s like nothing has changed. They hang out with the Nana, eat delicious, illicit snacks, play in their own house and romp in their own yard. At night, they hang out with me, going for long walks and learning how to be good apartment dogs. On the weekends, they spend some time with me, they spend some time with Daddy and they spend some time being with some new humans, like the Grandma, with the goal of creating some new “safe” people. They may come from a “broken home”, but they have a whole lot of humans who love them and are determined to make sure they don’t become broken dogs. Every dog should be so lucky.
We know that sharing the dogs isn’t the conventional route when a couple breaks up.
Janine Kahn, editor of Dogster, recently wrote about why they’re not staying together for the sake of the dog and how she’s not sure who the dog will live with in the long run. Jennifer Keene wrote a whole book about it and just as with many other people, even celebs fight over who will get the dogs.
Legally speaking, Kolchak and Felix are my dogs. I own them. You guys know me though and despite what the laws may say, my dogs are not property. While I may be referred to as their “owner”, they are not mine to do with as I please and woof to the consequences. They are thinking, feeling beings and they deserve to see the people that they love and who love them. I’m grateful for an ex that sees that and who wants to keep them in his life. I’m grateful that we called it quits while our friendship could be salvaged, so we can share our dogs without it being uncomfortable or awkward. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for my family. That’s what we still are, even though we aren’t together: one big, crazy, unconventional family.
How do your dogs deal with change? Has life ever got in the way of what is ideal for the dogs? How did you get around it?