Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moving Anxiety

We live in a foreign country, and before we get to come home to the United States for good, we will live in at least two more foreign countries. I'm getting nervous as our first move approaches.

Our family will be leaving Okinawa at some point in the next three months, but most likely in mid-October. We do not yet know which country we will be moving to, and that presents a unique set of problems for pet owners. Quarantine laws and the rules for transport of domestic animals are different for each host nation. We have to cross our fingers and pray that our next home will not be one which requires a long quarantine (because we won't know where we're going until it's far too late to accommodate such a requirement).

I am getting her microchip information updated as well as I can. I have several potential backup plans for foster care in the USA if we cannot take her with us immediately. I am working now to make sure she is healthy, current on vaccines, and that all her medical records are in order. I guess there's not really anything else I can do...

...except worry.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Butterfly is a Beagle

I am reaching a place in life where I feel confident that I am not being unjustly kind to myself by saying that I have finally “grown up.“  My life has been orderly, moral, and secure for more than a few years, now, and I have taken great pride in raising my daughter and being my husband’s wife in a way that is healthy and worthy and, for the most part, correct.  But something was always a bit off.  Something was preventing me from enjoying all these hard-earned benefits of a respectable adulthood.  I was unhappy.  I was fretful and anxious.  I was depressed.  

I know, now, that I inherited a lot of these tendencies from genetics and my childhood experience.  My mother and my maternal grandmother both had anxiety and bouts of depression that manifested just like mine do.   My five year-old daughter is already showing early signs of inappropriate anxiety.  Whether this anxiety is a product of genetics or learned behavior (I suspect a combination of both), I know that a large part of the responsibility for her discomfort falls squarely onto my own shoulders.  She has seen her mother respond to stress poorly for most of her short life, and I know that it is up to me to do whatever I can to help her go another way.  I figured a good start would be to live a good example for her.  I resolved to use my breathing exercises whenever I needed to calm down instead of storming through the house in a manic twitter to scrub at imaginary dust with a toothbrush.  I resolved to keep a good sleep schedule instead of surrendering to the whirl of negative and panic-ridden self talk that leaves me prone to insomnia.  I resolved to exercise my slightly-larger-than-before body to release all my anxious energy instead of ignoring my family by escaping into books or immersive video games.  I resolved to show my daughter that mommy can handle anxiety in a rational and caring way…that having a “nervous personality” doesn’t entitle anyone to behave badly.

Resolutions, however, are not necessarily followed by actions.

When my daughter was four, she announced that she wanted a dog.  My husband and I agreed that this was a reasonable request since we had both grown up with childhood pets…and so shortly after the following Christmas,  we met and adopted the most beautiful beagle the world has ever seen.  We named her Kioko, which is a Japanese name that means, “greets the world with happiness.”

She DID greet the world with happiness.  She also greeted it with a lot of poop.

Though we purchased the dog for our daughter, we knew from the get-go that Kioko would be my dog.  I’m at home with her all day.  I’m the one to train her and teach her and take care of her.  

Kioko eats things she’s not supposed to and knocks things over and drinks from the toilet.  And…you know…she poops.  I spent the first month with Kioko in a whirling storm of anxiety.  I couldn’t have her out of my sight for fear she was getting in the trash or pooping on a rug or disrupting the perfect order of my home…which would naturally make the perfect order of my life shatter…and the world would collapse…and life would all be over.

I was terrified.  All the time.

About the time I decided that the dog had no place in our home and that I would never be calm again until this volatile and unpredictable force of energy was removed from my life, I saw my little girl curled up peacefully on her bed with Kioko in her arms.  They were both deeply asleep.  The room was in shambles.  The dog had chewed one of our daughter’s toys beyond recognition and strewn the rest of them all over the place.  Dirty clothing was spread all over the floor in a fan pattern away from the dumped-over hamper.  The room was chaos…but they were so peaceful together.  That was an epiphany because I am not the kind of person who can stand in the middle of chaos without panicking.  I can’t do it.  But there I was…calm and smiling--GLOWING, even--at the sight of this room full of debris and disorder….and peace.

After that, I allowed Kioko to be a dog.

I got up in the morning when she needed to go outside to potty.  I let her throw toys around in the living room…and I left them there until it was time to pick up in the afternoon.  I took her for long walks every day without winding myself up in knots over her refusal to heel and her tendency to ignore my commands while she sniffed at things.  She was stopping to smell the roses, after all, and that was something I desperately needed to learn how to do, myself.  Because I had gotten up early and gotten exercise every day, it became a simple matter to go to bed and find rest at a decent hour.  The more rested I became as weeks passed, the more pliable my temper became.  I didn’t freak out nearly as easily, and I was able to stop my irrational feelings of anxiety before they became a full-blown tantrum.  Because I was calmer, Kioko craved my company.  She stuck to me like glue and made me feel so flattered and warm.  It’s not a substitute for or a slight on the love from my human family members…it’s just a different kind of affection.  Allowing myself to relate to this little animal has helped me find peace inside my todays in a way that nothing else ever did before.

A year has passed.

Today, as I was listening to the Dr. Laura show on the radio, I saw Kioko sleeping, as she does every morning, in the patch of sunlight that streams through our living room door in the morning hours.   She was sprawled on her back with her legs in the air…grunting and snoring in a peaceful bliss on the floor.  My living room is not perfectly clean anymore.  There are vestiges of my daughter’s early-morning coloring session on the coffee table.  There are two dog toys on the floor.  My husband’s coffee cup and some crumpled sheets of note paper are haphazard on his desk.  There is dust on my television screen.  In that moment, I didn’t care.  I hope you understand how BIG it is that I can say that so honestly.

I got down on the floor next to my beagle and scratched her belly.  I laid down in the sunshine patch with her to see what was so darned wonderful about napping in that place.  The warmth and the sunlight felt so good on my face.  I curled up next to this miraculous little dog who taught me how to be peaceful…and laid next to her for an hour until the radio program was over.  Several months back, Dr. Laura had a caller to her show who wanted advice about how to stop being anxious, depressed, and disconnected in her life.  Dr. Laura told this caller to close her eyes, clear her head of all other thoughts, and imagine a beautiful butterfly lighted on a flower.  This exercise was meant to help the caller come out of her head and enter “the moment.”  I had heard of a similar exercise from one of my therapists years ago…about getting grounded and clearing your head of everything but one, particular image so that you stay in the moment instead of wallowing in the negative depths of your mind.  It works well, actually.

Because I was listening to Dr. Laura’s show, that call was brought back to my mind as I snuggled on the floor with Kioko.  I decided that I didn’t want to use a butterfly for my imagery.  My butterfly is going to be a blissed-out beagle lying in a patch of sunlight on the floor.  I practiced…and I can see the image clearly when I close my eyes and clear the other thoughts.  Whenever I am sad or anxious, I can do this to re-center.  I think it’s going to work very well.

I have to go pick up  my daughter from kindergarten soon.  I will clean up my living room so that my husband has order when he gets home from work.  I will help my little girl do her homework.  I will make dinner for the family and work on some laundry in the evening.  I will do all these things without worrying if they are perfect.  I will do all these things with gratitude for the family they evidence.  I will do all of these things with a beagle trailing around behind me…reminding me that happiness is an active and premeditated choice…and that I probably ought to take her outside so she can poop.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sticks and Stones

On August 11th, which was a Monday, I was awakened at 6:30am by the wailing and moaning of a beagle with an uncomfortably full bladder. I dutifully got out of my warm bed and threw on a robe. I let the poor creature out of her crate and put her leash on as she pranced and whined next to the glass door in anticipation of the relief she was about to receive from her morning pee. Sigh. Unbeknownst to either Kioko or myself at that fateful moment, we were about to open the fogged-up glass door to behold a wet wonderland of post-rain grass covered with water droplets and soggy dirt underneath.

Kioko doesn't like wet grass.

Kioko won't step on wet grass.

Not even for a nice morning pee.

So here I am out in my backyard with morning hair and a bathrobe on for all the neighborhood to see while my beagle stood resolutely at the edge of the patio refusing to step off into the grass to do her business. Those of you who have read through this blog and are familiar with Kioko's potty training history know what this means as well as I did in that moment: Kioko was going to wait until I took her inside...and then she was going to pee on my floor.

Not being a morning person, this made me angry. The little twerp had roused me from a satisfying sleep fully an hour before I normally rise with her whining and she was GOING to do her business in the yard. I gave a swift tug on her leash and stepped into the yard myself at the same time. Kioko stood there looking at me...front paws out in front of herself...braced in stubborn hound fashion...refusinig to yield. I jerked again, harder this time. Something happened. She lurched into the yard, but the angle was weird. The 4-inch drop from the patio, the angle at which she landed, her specific torque provided by the resistance...something. The moment her right hind leg hit the ground, she began to cry in pain. The morning pee instantly forgotten, I went to see what was wrong. She continued to bleat and scream in pain, and I was terrified. I scooped Kioko up in my arms and took her inside. I tried to manipulate her little foot to see if she'd fallen on a burr...she jerked her leg away and ran into her crate still crying with alarming volume. I brought her a piddle pad and sat petting her head. She soon calmed down, but she did not put the leg down, and she was holding it at a very scary angle. Feeling like the worst dog owner who ever lived, I called the vet clinic and requested an emergency visit.

By 8:30am, my daughter and I were standing in the vet's office looking at a computer screen image of Kioko's x-ray. She had a compound fracture near the joint on her tibia and another clean break higher up on the leg. In tears, I asked what had to be done, authorized all charges, and begged them to give her a pain shot since she'd been in pain since 6:30am. They all did their best to convince me that this wasn't my "fault," but I still felt like the worst beagle abuser in the history of the world. My poor baby dog was in pain with a horribly broken leg, and--because it happened while I was angry with her--I felt entirely to blame.

My daughter and I waited while the staff gave Kioko a pain medication and put her in a crate awaiting surgery. They explained that she would need extensive surgery and an overnight observation. I nodded and we agreed to come back the next day to find out how it had all gone. Bless the vet staff at Kadena, they called after the surgery was over, and the surgeon explained all of the procedure and how it had gone to me.

The next two months were interesting around here. Kioko became a gloriously well-behaved dog for fully 3 weeks. She was kept on anti-inflammatories and pain meds for the first 6 days home, and after that she seemed happy and pain-free. She only seemed unhappy that we wouldn't allow her to run and jump and play. She began to chew on her bandages at one point, so we had to add the discomfort of a cone on top of her woes. She didn't like that cone at all, but she was only required to wear it for about a week. We noticed that she had stopped trying to lick and chew at her bandages, so we removed it from her life forever. She was appropriately grateful.

After two weeks, we had to go and have her looked at again for follow-up. She saw the same veterinary surgeon who had done the procedure on her leg, and I was grateful for such personal attention for Kioko. He wrapped the leg in a less obtrusive way and sent us home for 6 more weeks of recovery.

Finally, today, we are scheduled to go and have Kioko's pins and surgical apparatus removed. Cross your fingers for us...the little hound should be playing with reckless abandon very soon.
God bless the beagles,

Mrs. Nix

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Spay & The Setback

Well, Kioko came to us "intact," and since we have no intention whatsoever of breeding her at any point in her life, we had an appointment made from day one to have her spayed. Well...the day of her surgery came and went last Saturday. We brought the beagle princess home on Sunday afternoon, and all was well until Monday morning.

Monday started with a bang. On Monday, Kioko did not have a successful potty outside even one time. She did every single one of her eliminations in the house. Overnight, she peed in the crate (which is typical so I don't usually count it), she pooped three times in three different places, and she urinated on a sofa cushion and my bedroom floor. Interestingly, she did all these things while I was not looking.

I figured this setback in the housetraining was due to the spay, so I didn't really react to it much on Monday. Tuesday, it continued in all its glorious and stinky ferocity. We had two outside eliminations, but the rest happened indoors - one was ON the living room carpet WHILE I was actually shampooing that carpet. She was taken out many times and wouldn't go (sounding familiar?), but she'd come in and use the floor inside just minutes later. This was the cycle we went through with the crate, and now it seems that she's brought that cycle into the house flooring rather than just the crate.

So. I'm more than frustrated. At this moment, I'm typing all this out to give myself some resolve to go into my room and retrieve the beagle (It's Wednesday morning now), who is covered in pee from her crate floor as per usual from overnight. I have to put my beagle in the bath and scrub her up again...and I'm just sick of it. I don't WANT to do that. I'm really really tired of Kioko's waste. I really am. I'm tired of cleaning it up. I'm tired of smelling it. I'm tired of breaking my back scrubbing it off the beagle.


My plan, now, is to go back to the beginning and tether her to my waist at all times. All the freedom she had earned in the house in the weeks leading up to her spay will be removed and I'm going to start all over again.

Hear me now: If you want a beagle, you make VERY certain you're willing to go through all this before bringing the darling home.

We adore this beagle. It's ridiculous how much we love this dog. If you cannot love a dog through all this crap (no pun intended) for months and months of your life, then you need to get a different breed. The more I learn about beagles, the more I come to understand that Kioko's situation is not unique at all. Beagles are often very difficult to potty train, and MOST beagles are harder to potty train that typical examples of other breeds. Know that...and know that beagle pee stinks terribly. Beagle poop isn't as bad as human baby poop, but it doesn't smell good, either.


Lord, please bless the beagles...especially my beagle. 'Cause right now, I don't much like my beagle, and I need help getting her past this setback.

Mrs. Nix


The Setback Plan - Back to the Beginning:

1.) Crating only when left home alone and for overnight sleeping

2.) Tethered to me via a 4' lead at all times inside the house except during meal time.

3.) Tethered to the table via a 4' lead during the evening family meal.

4.) Trips outside once every 2 hours--timer on stove used to help us stay consistent.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Veterinary Verdict

Today was Kioko's second visit to the veterinarian for a scheduled vaccination. She LOST weight, somehow. She went from 16.5 pounds to 15.75 pounds. The vet seemed unconcerned and said she didn't look unhealthy weight-wise. He did, however, after administering the shots we originally came for, give her a good checkup to see if he could find anything wrong.

Well...her ears are infected and she has an eye infection that causes excessive weeping. She has always had the weeping, so I guess I thought it was normal. It has, however, gotten markedly worse in the last few days.

So. We have antibiotic ointment for the ears and antibiotic drops for the eyes. Sigh.

On the upside, Kioko is adapting to life on a tether very well. She is MUCH happier tethered to me than she was during the month of crate-training torture. She has adopted the chair next to my desk as her special spot, and she is pulling on the tether less and less. Plus...there's the whole "I get treats for going outside" motivation. She is an altogether happier beagle.

And an altogether happier beagle mom.

Kioko likes ice cubes , now, and she is reliable with "sit" and "drop it" if she knows she'll get a treat for doing them. Stinker dog! Not so much if I have no treats. Ha ha. Oh, but that's just cause she's a beagle. I expected a bit of that when we got her.

So...altogether improved, but two infections that need to be licked.

Our next big challenge? The spay surgery. I'm way more nervous than I should be.

God bless the beagles!

These Are the Things that Vex Me

Well, we are now at the end of our first week without the crate, and I have to say...I think we actually have progress! Because we got rid of the crate, the following has happened:

1.) I am not stressed out and angry all the time
2.) Kioko is no longer skittish around me because I am not angry with her constantly
3.) Kioko has finally found a "place" in the house to call her own, and she readily settles in to nap, snack on a chew toy, or just "be" there. The crate was never going to be that place for her, and because she had no place, she didn't feel comfortable...and she never settled or napped or played with complete security inside our home before.
4.) We have had only one urine accident and two poop accidents in the last four days. Everything else has been a successful outside potty. This is having a HUGE effect. Because she's not going in the crate all the time (where we could not see her doing it or "catch" her in the act), she rarely had anything left for the positive feedback an outside potty would bring. Now...she's out there going in the appropriate spot and receiving treats and praise each time she goes. We've gone from a dog who would plant her feet and refuse to go out the front door without being carried to a dog who gets EXCITED when I open the door to take her out.

It's so wonderful! We love this little dog. Truly, we do. The whole family is (and has been from day one) willing to do whatever we need to to help her learn, but we were beginning to think she just wouldn't ever get there. Now I know that she can. I have hope back that one day our Kioko will be reliably house-trained...that she's not defective and that we are not bad dog parents.


And that...brings me to the stuff that upset me today and inspired the title of this post...

I am SO glad we looked beyond the so-called expert opinions on the right way to train a dog and ditched that horrid box. I have no doubt that crate training works wonders for some dogs and that it CAN work for most dogs. It does NOT work for every dog. In fact, there is a whole category of puppies and dogs for whom crate training will most likely never work at all. But the dog people who publish books and articles and run puppy classes will never admit that to you.

I had a nerve hit today. A woman in one of my online beagle groups has a rescue beagle that she and her husband just adopted. This dog (we'll call her "Marge") is soiling her pen regularly, and the new owner was at a loss for what to do. As ALWAYS...the responses were a mix of the following:

1.) Your crate is too big...because NO DOG will eliminate where it sleeps if the crate is small enough.
2.) You're not taking her out often enough...because NO DOG will eliminate where it sleeps if you take them out often enough.
3.) She must be sick...because NO DOG will eliminate where it sleeps if the crate is the right size and you take them out often enough unless they are sick.


WHY? Why is no one out there talking about dogs like Kioko and Marge? I am very fortunate to have found a small and personal group of beagle people in another part of the internet where the members have supported me and bolstered my confidence throughout my ordeal with Kioko. But, you know what? That isn't enough. Not everyone with this issue is going to come over to our group and join up. Why aren't there books about how to train these dogs? Why aren't there puppy classes for shelter dog owners that address crate soiling? Why is the pat response from the dog community one of criticism of the owner? Marge's new owner had done EVERYTHING right. She was monitoring the times and amounts that Marge was drinking/eating. She had a clean, comfortable, and appropriately small space for Marge to "crate" in. Marge was checked out and given a clean bill of health from the family veterinarian (Marge is not an "only dog," either. The family has raised two other rescue dogs, as well). Marge just simply is not a candidate for crate training. She spent a lengthy period in her first home confined with no choice but to eliminate in her crate. Time spent without individual guidance during her time with the shelter just exascerbated this problem.

Dog owners who buy or adopt dogs like this are left alone and bewildered...wondering why they can't do it right...what they're doing wrong...devastated that they have this dog they want to love...but can't because they're too exhausted from all the poop and the stress. And all the dog community has to offer is, "well, you're doing something wrong...because ALL dogs will crate train." The simple truth Not all dogs will crate train. Some have crate stress. Some have lost the den instinct. Some just hate confined spaces. Whatever the case, if you end up with a dog that chronically soils his or her are not alone. Your dog is not a hopeless case, and you are not a bad owner.

Don't you worry.

Mrs. Nix, armed with her supremely uneducated-but never incorrect opinions, will get through this just fine. Kioko will too. Once we've succeeded, I will send all those dog experts a neatly-bundled pile of poo that,--finally-- I did NOT have to scrape, while weeping, from the bottom of my beagle's crate. And there you have it.

God bless the beagle owners who refuse to give up on their little hounds.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Kioko vs. Crate Training

My husband has been gone on a 10-day business trip. Thank goodness, he's finally home! With him home, it's much easier to deal with the stress of cleaning up after Kioko. Plus, he's my partner. Everything is easier when he is here.

Crate Training is useless for a dog like Kioko (read the post, How We Got Where We Are to understand more about this). For that reason, we are adopting the following changes as of today:

1.) Rather than being confined in her crate, Kioko will be tethered to my waist via a 6' lead, thus having to be with me everywhere I go in the house. This is going to be a huge pain in the ass, but there's nothing else that can be done given the floorplan of our small home.

2.) The crate will continue to be used for transporting her in the car, but crating--as we have known it--is over. Since the "den instinct" logic does not apply to Kioko, we are reversing that logic and going out to get her a large crate that will supply ample room for a sleeping area on one side and an "approved" potty area on the other side with a piddle pad. It is this, we hope, that will teach her to keep her sleep areas separate from her elimination areas. Having the OPTION without anger or stress from her owners of a place that she is familiar with (the crate substrate vs. an outside grassy substrate) to do her "businees" might just do the trick. Our fingers are crossed.

The hope, of course, is that she will become reliably pad trained while in crate. I can live with that long-term. For regular "house" training, we will continue to take her outside during the day (hence...the tether to me so that I can see her all day long and observe her need to go). This will eventually result in a dog who uses piddle pads in her confinement uses the outside potty area when NOT in confinement.

We'll see how this goes. It's Saturday morning, so I must be off to puppy class.

God bless the beagles.