Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Broken Little Things

After I got in contact with the rescue where Bast initially came from, it was a lengthy and dramatic undertaking to find out how he'd managed to make his way from the rescue facilities in Alabama to a small town in Texas. A lot of it isn't really my story to tell, and I'll go into what I can later, but when we pieced everything together, I found out that at 8 months of age, Bast had already had at least 4 homes before me and possibly 5. He hadn't stayed at any one home longer than a few months before reaching me, and to put it mildly, being passed around like a hot potato gave him some baggage.

Bast is remarkably sweet and social - he's outgoing, friendly, and not afraid of new experiences like many wolfdogs can be if not properly socialized at a young age. Now, that's not to say he doesn't get spooked from time to time - he has the standard doggy fear of the vacuum as well as a few idiosyncratic phobias, such as an inexplicable terror of fitted bed sheets. I don't know how to explain that one, I really don't. I just make him leave the room now when I need to change the linens so I avoid the panting, whining fallout from busting out a fitted sheet.

So aside from a few curious quirks, Bast's biggest problem in life is a very intense case of separation anxiety. I'm not surprised, of course, since he got tossed across the country from home to home for most of his life, but the level of his anxiety is a serious problem to deal with. I have never been exposed to this degree of doggy neurosis, and some days are harder than others.

As I mentioned before, Bast does not do well with deviations in routine. After several months of working with him on his SA using behavior modifications (which I'll detail another time, as some of them are hilarious enough to warrant their own post), I wasn't making any progress and the semester was starting. Although as a teacher, I work for only a few hours out of the house each week, Bast was absolutely not taking my absences well - there was howling, barking, fear pooping and peeing, and outright wanton destruction of everything within reach. I'm not even sure how many sets of window blinds he's shredded so far. I think we may be at 4 now...? I'm getting pretty good at replacing them.

I ended up consulting a behavior specialist for dogs, who told me that I had done everything she would suggest to do as if I were running down a checklist in a textbook. At this point, she said, Bast's fear of abandonment was so deeply rooted in his poor little brain that there was no way he could even process the positive behavioral training I was attempting, let alone be okay with me leaving. In his mind, there was no such thing as "She's leaving but coming back". There was only the certainty of, "She's leaving me, everyone leaves me and they never come back".

Now, I would be lying to say there's none of the frustration of coming home to find my things destroyed - no matter how well I hide things, he always seems to find some treasured possession of mine to shred in my absence. What kills me, though, is knowing that while I'm out focusing on stupid things like catching the bus, he's at home focused on nothing but his fear of losing me. I can't stand knowing he's alone and scared because I'm not there.

Today was a bad day. Although he's been doing MILES better after seeing the specialist and being prescribed some anti-anxiety medication, he still has a huge problem with me leaving for my graduate classes in the evening. Since I only have each of these classes once a week, it's not often enough to establish a routine for him like my daily classes where I teach in the morning. So while he accepts my leaving every morning, leaving in the evening is still very scary to him.

Because of a miscommunication today, Bastas was alone a little longer than usual this evening and unfortunately ascended to a level of insanity he hasn't seen since getting on his medications. When I opened the door, the curiously flat smell of his raw-diet turds hit me in a hot wave. He fear pooped in the living room, and I discovered pee on a couch pillow.The trash was, of course, shredded, but that's pretty par for Bast's course. I expect that every day, so no big deal.

The real fun waited for me in the bedroom where I discovered my favorite belt shredded, the blinds dismantled and strewn across my bed, the window screen torn all the way up and also scattered in my sheets, and the window frame itself bent out of shape...

I just sat on the floor, disheartened and frustrated, and when Bast came up to me panting and whining, I swatted him away and yelled at him to leave me alone. He immediately darted for the security of his crate, looking startled and sad. He stayed there until I cleaned everything up, eyes the color of warm honey tracking my every move until I sat back down on the floor and stared back at him.We stayed like that for several minutes until I held out my arms to him and he came across the room, not making eye contact, to come curl up in my lap. With a lot of mutual snuffly kisses and soothing noises on my part, Bast eventually unwound from my lap and we cuddled up on the couch together to pick at some dinner and do homework.

I struggled for a while trying to summarize how I feel about Bast and his SA here. I guess what I'm trying to address is that some people might get the impression that having a wolfdog is all sunshine, roses, and getting compliments at Petsmart. People want them because they want to look cool, to brag about their pet as if they had anything to do with its existence besides paying for it. But Bast has paid a heavy price for this kind of attitude - bred by someone looking to turn a quick buck, rehomed and returned to the pound at least once by people adopting him and then discovering they couldn't handle him, he's a nervous wreck because of people's inability to commit to the level of care he needs. God knows I struggle with him, too, but in the big picture, even when he freaks out and shreds the windows, nothing's broken that money can't fix.

I can buy new window screens, but there are things inside that pointy, neurotic little head that I can't replace.


  1. You've done a wonderful job with Bast. I know it's hard, but things will get better eventually. He's still a young pup. ;)