I’m a Survivor

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018  12:50 PM (for Monday, May 21st)

I have a writing helper today.


Frankie wants to help.


Isn’t he a handsome boy?

A writer less dedicated than myself might interpret this as a sign to play PS4 instead of writing. Probably Tropico 5. Or maybe Assassin’s Creed-Origins. Maybe even both.

Thankfully, I’m not that writer. Really, I’m not.

Yesterday’s snap shot is actually a culmination of an event that occurred over the weekend. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that in addition to three cats, we also have two dogs. Sammy is a year and half and he’s full of energy.


Sammy getting ready for bed. Yes, he sleeps in our bed.

We also have Charlie, who was my mom’s dog that we adopted when she passed away last July. He’s almost 13.

charlie and louis

You’re not seeing double. Our neighbor dog, Louis is on the left. Charlie is on the right.

Charlie has led a very sheltered life. My parents rarely went anywhere so he was always with people. He’d never been alone for over 2 or 3 hours, much less overnight, when we got him. He’s a pretty nervous guy in general.

When we got Sammy as a puppy, I was determined I would raise him differently than my parents had raised Charlie. My dog would be well-socialized, well-trained, and independent. I wouldn’t be tied down because of him. We have a fabulous dog sitter we trust with our cats when we travel. We’d just add a few extra visits to let Sammy out when we were away.

Easy-peasy, right?

Except for the part where I discounted Sammy’s own personality, sense of will and independence. And not the kind of independence I’d hoped for. He’s perfectly happy doing what he wants, how he wants and when he wants independent of what we want him to do.

I had a similar goal to raise my son differently than my parents raised me. Thankfully, I was more successful with him than with Sammy.

We’ve tried to socialize Sammy, but he is not at all friendly with people and does in fact bark at my son and his girlfriend every time they visit, no matter how many times he’s seen them. Our latest problem with him is in the past six weeks Sammy has developed separation anxiety. He will bark, literally from the time we leave the house until we get home. This went on once for five hours. (We have camera’s in the house we use to watch the animals when we’re gone).

A few weeks after all the barking I noticed that Frankie, one of our cats, was downstairs with us less and less. He was nervous and jumpy. I feared all the barking was taking its toll on him. I knew I had to do something. And fast, since Dennis and I have short trip planned to Las Vegas in the near future. I’d arranged for the pet sitter to stay over night so the dogs would have company, but I couldn’t let Sammy bark for the entire day when she wasn’t there.

I spoke to the vet and he suggested putting Sammy on Prozac, which we did. Sammy’s behavior became more subdued and controllable. The cats returned to visiting us downstairs more and Frankie stopped cowering and slinking around the house. All good signs!

After two weeks on the medicine (the doctor said to give it a good two weeks to build up in his system) we tested leaving Sammy and Charlie alone for five hours. Sammy was quiet for about three of them and the barked for the other two. Better, and good enough for everyday life, but still not good enough for us to be able to go on vacation.

The vet then suggested a sedative with the Prozac. We tried that, but we were afraid to leave Sammy alone after he took it. He was woozy and dizzy. We were afraid he’d fall off the couch or a chair. And it made him kind of sick. It was a long eight hours until the sedative wore off. That wouldn’t work either.

It’s ironic that Sammy is causing us the problems because I really thought Charlie would be the problem child when we brought him in. He’d never been around other dogs, and the few times he was around Sammy he didn’t like him. He even snapped at him a few times.

However, once my mom went into the hospital it was as if Charlie knew I was his only option. The dog who had to have a set routine and a house all to himself breezed into our home without a stutter. It was as if he’d lived here all his life. He bonded with Sammy immediately and Sammy bonded with him.

My mom didn’t believe Charlie was so happy so I brought her videos I shot of Charlie playing with Sammy. She still wasn’t convinced until I brought Charlie to visit her at hospice. Charlie ignored her and followed me around. He didn’t want to sit by her on the bed, and when he finally did, he watched me the whole time to make sure I didn’t leave without him.

My mom said she was happy that he’d bonded so strongly to me and she was relieved that Charlie was happy. All of which I believe is true, but she had to have been hurt that Charlie didn’t greet her or care to be near her after them being constant companions for eleven years. I told her that I thought he was probably mad at her for the change in his life. She called him a survivor and said it didn’t matter as long as he was happy.

In the months that passed after my mom died, I never saw Charlie look for my mom, even when I’d take him back to my mom’s house as I was clearing it out. I’ve read about dogs going through depression when their master’s die, but there was never any evidence of that.

Charlie, the survivor, could teach a thing or two to Sammy, the barker.

With the Prozac only partially working for Sammy, I came up with two potential options to save our impending vacation: 1. Hire what amounts to a babysitter to stay in the house with the dogs for four days. 2. Put the dogs in a kennel.

I’m not sure I could even find someone willing to stay with my dogs for four days, so last weekend I opted to test out option 2, put the dogs in a kennel.

I chose the kennel All Pets Inn in Pewaukee which is affiliated with Charlie and Sammy’s vet. I figured if something was radically wrong with Charlie while he was there, at least there’d be doctors around.

Saying I was nervous about leaving them on Saturday morning is an understatement. I never in a million years thought I’d be leaving one of my animals in a kennel, much less leaving an elderly dog who already has stress issues and has never been away from home, or been alone overnight, in a kennel. But Charlie is a survivor, right?

We stayed close to home all weekend even though it was a good opportunity to get away. I received updates from the kennel. It was a struggle to get the dogs to eat, especially Charlie. They did hand feed him and get him to eat eventually, though. Charlie shook for the first day. I nearly went and picked him up but kept remembering my mom telling me “to what I had to do” with Charlie. She said this before she got sick under the context of putting him down if he didn’t adjust to my house should she die unexpectedly. But it applies to this situation, too.

It’s not fair for me to deny Dennis from taking any vacations because of the dogs, so I stuck it out and left them in the kennel. By Sunday morning, Charlie stopped shaking. Neither dog was barking constantly and they were both friendly with the workers. Even Sammy who doesn’t really like anyone other than his immediate family and the pet sitter. Charlie had to be hand fed Sunday night again, but at least he ate.

Finally, Monday morning came and I was able to pick them up. The small lobby of the kennel was crowded with people picking up and dropping off animals. I was so happy when I saw Charlie and Sammy being led out on their leashes.

Sammy made a beeline to me, jumping up and tail wagging. Charlie made a beeline to — the woman standing next me! I was surprised and I glanced over at her for the first time.

She was an elderly woman, probably in her mid-seventies, with gray hair. Her height, stature and even style of shoes and clothing was very much like my mom. I did an involuntary double take myself when I saw her.

When Charlie sniffed her leg he immediately looked surprised and confused. He rushed to my side and greeted me. I felt so bad for him.

Charlie is a survivor. A survivor with a good memory as it turns out. And though he may not outwardly show it, I’m betting he feels the loss of my mom, too. I couldn’t help but wonder if he thought back to when he ignored her at hospice, angry that she’d left him alone but never fathoming it would be his last chance to be with her. I hope he isn’t living with regrets.

Of course, he isn’t. I know he’s a dog not a person. But still. I’m convinced that animals understand more than we give them credit for. They just process and understand life in different ways than we do.

Thankfully, my mom was right and Charlie is a survivor. I know he might not be happy with kennel life, but he will survive the three days he will be there and our much-needed vacation (we haven’t been away since before my mom died) is still a go. I will rest easy in Las Vegas knowing that my cats aren’t enduring constant barking, but I may need to have a few more cocktails than I normally would to calm my nervousness about the dogs being in a kennel. I think I can live with that, though. I’m a survivor, too.

Now if I could just get Sammy to stop barking.

5/22/18 2:00 pm (Missed it by 10 minutes today)

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