Life’s ok – but my heart’s (and my body if I can be truthful) is a bit broken for Willow.
It’s been tough.
It’s hard work living with a dog that is so driven by fear.
For four months, Willow and I were doing so well. We were working on her fear, and then this pesky lump happened. I couldn’t walk her, because for her to wear a harness would cause her pain – and of course, I can’t go out with her unless she’s wearing it - it’s the only thing that stops her running away when she’s spooked (which is often). Then she had the surgery and it took a good 6 weeks to heal. Now, we’re back at square one with her fear outside the house – and it’s almost as if it’s come back two-fold. Life, at the moment, is difficult.
So many people spend so much time giving me such sound advice about what to do, and how to treat her – I take it all on board, and try everything - but Willow is extreme. Her fear is extreme. Her ability to cope disappears the moment she steps outside of the house and it’s all I can do to hold on to her. Unless you’ve met Willow and seen her fear, there’s nothing else to compare with it. Even experienced dog trainers have looked me in the eye and told me up front “This is the worst case I’ve seen.” Few can offer any real helpful advice on how to cope with it and how to build her confidence – and I do, at times, feel quite alone trying to figure out this massive chaotic puzzle.
I have the most amazing friends – all adore Willow (if they didn't, they wouldn't be my mates, eh?), all want to see her happy too – and they help me with her socialisation. They spend hours being patient with her, hours and hours just sitting and letting her come to them when she feels ready. They will walk with me, they will run with Willow, they’ll give extra tasty treats to her (and me) and support my socks off. I’m not alone in that sense. But, of course the hard work is down to me, and when you really don’t know which road to take (sometimes literally) it’s all a bit scary. This is an animal I have committed my entire self to, and I have to make it right.
Honestly? Had I known of the extremeness of fear, I might not have adopted her. That’s not to say that now I regret adopting her. I don’t. Far, far from it. But, to put her through this breaks my heart. I want to be able to leave her in the house where she is comfortable and happy - in her own little Bubble-of-Safe and not have her worry. But, reality is that I can’t. She is young, she is full of energy that she needs to burn and I have to try and help her.
I also have Harvey. He has needs too. He’s of course the epitome of a gentleman. When we’re walking and Willow freaks out and pulls my arm out of its socket and I wince in pain – Harvey will glance up at me with a “You alright Mum?” look. Of course, I always tell him I am and give him all the “good boy”s I can, and he wags his tail to let me know he understands.
I am in fear every single time we go out. Of course, I don’t show her this. I am confident and walk with my head up and my arms loose and reassure her all the way. But inside I’m thinking, will today be the day that I can’t keep hold of her? Will a parent not heed her hi-vis vest asking them to give her space and allow their children to run at her? – or will a cyclist whizz past her so fast that she screams in terror? Will I have to turn in Xena Warrior Princess and drop kick the next know-it-all telling me “Oh, just let her off lead, she’ll work it all out herself?” and how many times am I going to hear “Oh, he’s fine, he’s just bouncy.” about another dog, who’s clearly showing it wants to knock her off her paws?
One of the many wonderful things that Willow has taught me though (and there’s reams of things), is patience. Patience with the stupid people. I mean, let’s face it, if a dog cowers away from you when you approach it, do you really continue the approach and tell her to “stop being silly?” No, you turn away and YOU stop being a prize idiot.
I’m all for telling prize idiots to bugger off. I’m more than happy to do that. And I will educate parents about the dangers of allowing their kids to approach dogs without asking the owner’s permission (for the record, my answer will always be No when it comes to Willow. If it’s Harvey, that’s OK, just be prepared for the snog of your lifetime and the probable ground hugging you’ll be doing when he bowls you over.) I’m not backward in coming forward. But, when I do my absolute best to keep the fear to the very minimum for my dog and someone comes in and bollocks it up. It miffs me. A lot.
I don’t think I could cope with another week of her being missing. Not even a day. I worry all the time that she is going to break free and run when we’re on a walk. The fear in her eyes tells me that if she did break free she would run and not stop. My stomach knots with anxiety, my thoughts race to the time she was missing and how utterly heart-breaking it was. How I would lay awake at night and wonder if I’d get a call to tell me she’d been hit by a car or shot by a farmer – and the sheer panic when I’d open my eyes after I’d finally fallen asleep to realise she was still gone. Was she alive? Was she scared? Has she been hurt? I can’t go through that again. Not now. Not after we’ve been through so much together.
When we’re in ‘her’ fields (with no one around and just the sounds of nature), she’s the happiest, most carefree animal you ever did see. It fills me with absolute joy to see her run and play and be a dog. A normal dog, doing normal dog things. It hurts to see her coiled up with anxiety when we’re not in those fields. But sometimes, that’s unavoidable. I simply cannot keep her away from civilisation. From time-to-time, we have to go where she’s not comfortable – at least for the shortest time until I can get her to the safe ‘happy’ place.
Maybe, you might think, leave her home. Don’t make her walk anywhere. I’ve tried that. If that’s what makes her happy, then absolutely. But she’s not happy with that. She gets wound up like a tightly coiled spring and needs to run, properly run, and play and sniff and do all she should be doing. Her behaviour becomes erratic and her anxiety escalates if I don’t walk her.
Willow is the reason I'm overcoming my own irrational fears, and learning how to drive. Once I pass that test, she'll never have to walk somewhere she doesn't want to again. For the meantime, we have to get from A to B, and we have to do that by walking.
I was told that she’d never experienced hurt or pain. And I want to believe that. But when she flinches at a caress. When she runs screaming (literally) from children. When she cowers in terror when she hears a man’s voice that isn’t her Dad’s – I find it very hard to believe. This isn’t just a case of no-socialisation from being a pup. Something/someone has terrorised her at some point. That’s not just me who says it – those with decades of experience of working with fearful dogs feel this too.
Willow and I have a bond I’ve never experienced before with any other dog. My first dog was my soul dog, the very thought of him brings me such an array of emotion, I find it hard to think of him sometimes, because I’ve never gotten over him dying, even though he was very old. He was my everything. Harvey, he’s my baby. The light of my life. My right hand man. Willow, well…there’s a deep connection that I can’t explain. She gives me all of her, she looks at me with such entire trust, and I know, when we’re together, in the house, she’s the happiest she’s ever been. I so want that for her when we’re out. I can’t live my life indoors, of course, I’ve tried, for her sake – but it makes me so miserable too. I am an outdoors person. I have to be out there, and I have to help her believe that she’ll never ever be in danger when she’s outside with me. She’ll never be hurt – I just won’t let that happen.
So, we take it step-by-step. We start from the beginning again, and we move forward. And we will get there, I know we will. The day I bought her home, she laid on the sofa and didn’t move for three days, so scared, she peed where she laid and wouldn’t let me close to her. Now, she follows me everywhere. If she can be wrapped around my legs, even better. She’ll commando crawl to get to me on the bed, always with a paw on me to know where I am (I’m not going anywhere without you darling) and snuggle into my armpit sighing a huge breath of relief. She’s safe.
You can bet your life on that.
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