Puppy Love & the Anxiety it Breeds

I feel a pair of eyes peering at me from behind a corner, between table legs, or underneath blankets. I am being watched and monitored. Every move I make is being anticipated to head me off. I am being stalked by my dog.

Zoey is a five-year-old Chiweenie, a phenomenon made of Chihuahua and Dachshund molded parts. She has a protracted body which balances on four extended poles for legs. Her Chihuahua head, complete with bat-like-wing ears, is supported by a thick giraffe neck. She came into the family by way of PetSmart, who periodically hosts adoptions through the Humane Society of Utah. My daughter, having been afflicted with a head trauma and teenagedom, spotted the animal housed with another Chihuahua-mix at the store. Zoey had wrinkles around her eyes, which made my daughter laugh. Zoey was black with marks of white on her mussel, her chest, and paws—resembling the Chihuahua we loved for ten years, who died six years previous, suffering a heart attack while I held him in my arms. I did not want another pet. I loved the one I had. I couldn’t face that kind of love and loss again. But still, I went to the store.

My daughter’s struggle came a year and a half earlier, at the end of her Sophomore year in high school. At a friend-of-a-friend’s house, she tripped down a flight of stairs, hitting her forehead on the way, resulting in a mild concussion. After five days of resting her brain, her doctor released her back to school, under the condition of no computer, no math or foreign language, and no participation in her physical education class.

Her first day back, the P.E. teacher moved those students sitting out during the period, to the bleachers where a volleyball competition was in progress. Within moments, while turned, she got a volleyball spike directly to the back of the head—a second concussion within a week meant a double concussion, one that came with stabbing headaches, violent outbursts, and incessant ideas of suicide.

With a drastic personality change, my daughter was diagnosed with Bipolar 2, not to be confused with Bipolar 1, associated with extreme manic high and low episodes and to celebrities who shoplift or have substance abuse problems. No, hers was the type where she was depressed, and then really, really, depressed. She was wounded, without any indication of when or if her condition would resolve. She required medications, therapists, Home Release Time from school, and a tutor once a week. Her emotional peril, forever spiraling and pitching, was harsh and demanding on the whole family, and then came that dog from PetSmart.

My daughter dragged me to the store and pointed me to one of two small breed dogs. Zoey had stretches of fur missing from her front two legs and the top of her head and would not look at us. The other dog was a seven-month-old Chihuahua-Shitzu mix who wagged his tail and stuck his tongue out of the pen to lick our fingers. He was adorable and sweet. We asked to take both dogs for a walk around the store and outside where the loving little puppy bounced and snuggled against my feet and licked my daughter’s legs and hands.

Zoey was indifferent and froze when we tried petting her. Although leash trained, she refused to walk once we went outside. She sat on the cement blinking in the bright September sun. Back inside I noticed Zoey’s information card; Name: MIM, Age: 4 (approx.), transferred from Los Angeles, Weight: 7 LBS, Health: Shots up to date, Spayed, and Housebroken. At the bottom was the date a Utahan family had adopted her and the time they gave her back. Under the comments section was written, Not Friendly.

I asked the pet handler about the dog’s unusual name. She explained it was probably the name of the transport crate. This poor pathetic dog was a designer-breed from California without a name and without a family. According to my daughter, she was perfect. But, we went home, empty-handed.

A few days passed, and my daughter’s anxiety exploded. Another new quirk via brain injury was a paralyzing fear of being left alone. As radical and irrational as it was, for months we couldn’t convince her that loneliness would not result in her death. I did research, asked professionals, read Bipolar blogs, and tried every single notion to help the very complicated person my child had become. So many experts recommended taking on a pet, particularly a dog, who are naturally affectionate and loyal, to help, however, buying a pet was the very last of all exhausted resorts.

“Come on,” my husband said,” let’s check out those dogs.”

We drove to PetSmart. The same two canines remained in the same oversized cage. I thought as soon as the cute puppy wagged his tail and licked my husband’s fingers through the metal, he would come home with us. To my astonishment, the aloof, balding, and bazaar looking one raised up on her two hind legs and swaggered, front paws out, to my husband, all the while gazing at him with two huge sad eyes, begging him to lift her up. He did. We brought Zoe home.

She didn’t like us. She wouldn’t permit any of us to pet her when on our laps, and she’d jump off if anyone tried.

At her first Veterinarian visit, the doctor said the baldness on Zoey’s paws was from obsessive licking.  Her bald head was a result of dragging it across the carpet. He told me Zoey suffered from severe allergies, had OCD, as well as depression. Fantastic!

My family went about trying to make our new pet one of the family. As it turned out, Zoey was hard. She was finicky, going five days straight refusing to eat dry dog food. To curb her obsessive-compulsive licking we had to keep her calm. Nothing worked. After a while, Zoey realized she was going to stay, and that the house, as well as the people inside it, was her new home. That’s when she got awful.

No one could visit. Zoey would growl, bark herself hoarse, and attempt to eat the faces off any stunned friend my son brought home. I took her on drawn-out, six-mile walks in the morning and a thirty-minute walk every evening. We bought a calming jacket, a gray doggie body suit that gave her the illusion of being a well-trained service dog. I tried videos, reward treats, disciplines, and the clicker. I checked into professional dog training, the cheapest of which was over $300  for six, thirty-minute sessions. I concluded, what she needed was a doggie straight-jacket. I have yet to find one.

Over the year and a half of owning a dog, my daughter is better. She graduated from high school and is already in her second semester of College. However, Zoey seems to have gotten worse. She shakes whenever I reach for my purse or put on shoes. She has begun stealthily following me, and I often trip over her, and she’s always on guard. Zoey will position herself to face any entrance to the room I’m in, especially while I’m taking a shower, or in my office writing. She’s got my back. That’s evident. But obviously, inexplicably, I don’t know how to have hers. I’m a bad pet parent.

I’m back to researching how to combat depression, anxiety, and Monophobia, only this time it’s for my dog!  So why in the world of poop bags and dog biscuits do I do it? I blame my kids.

For most of my life, I’ve been a mother or caregiver to someone. My career was in raising my children and now that they’re nineteen and fifteen-years-old, they don’t need me the same way, anymore. I’m a woman who doesn’t know where I fit. But, in my dog’s dysfunction, I’m easing into who it is I want to become, next. It’s terrible. It’s terrifying. It’s wonderful, and it’s because of her; in not abandoning what I know, I can be comfortable in exploring something else.

I’m sitting at my desk eating lunch. It’s raining outside, melting the snow. Zoey is on the prowl, making sure I haven’t gone without her knowledge. She smells my food, scampers to my feet, and stares up at me with sharp canine Jedi-mind-trickery, “Give me the potatoes, you will.”

She makes me smile. My little wreck of an animal is irritating and most days fills me with anxiety, but still, I love that bitch! And I believe, for the first time in the last eighteen months, she’s beginning to trust that.

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