While I discussed the negative aspects of Bast's separation anxiety last week, I didn't mean to come off all gloom and doom about him. Bast is a wonderful companion and I wouldn't trade his sweet nature for anything. In addition, his SA isn't always depressing - there are a lot of things about it that are unintentionally hilarious, mostly because they involve me looking like a total moron.
When I first got Bast, I didn't understand how bad SA could really get. My fat shepherd mix Grendel has very mild SA that usually involves her eating some of my things while I'm gone and whining a bit whenever I return home. Annoying, but no big deal.
Bast is on an entirely different plane of existence when it comes to separation anxiety. He has transcended mere worry and attained a sort of inverse anxiety nirvana where instead of being at peace, he's at panic. It's sadly one of the most defining aspects of his personality and has become the biggest issue we face together.
So the first time I left Bast alone, Cait and I were going to go perform the very feminine ritual of having our eyebrows waxed, an errand lasting around 40 minutes total. We tucked Bast away in his crate with his squashy doggy bed, several toys, and a chewy bone. Not wanting to disturb my next door neighbors, we situated his crate in my bedroom where he would be surrounded by my scent and wouldn't face the trauma of seeing us go out the door.
Less than an hour later, I stood on my porch, already smelling a tell-tale scent wafting out despite the closed door. It's that distinctive funk that lets you know what's up without any visual needed. You smell it faintly on your shoes when you arrive at your office for work and you just know what happened, and you don't need confirmation but you look for it anyway, like checking your tissues after you blow your nose.
You know what I mean.
We opened the door to hear panicked whining and panting and rushed in to survey the damage. A snow field of shredded bed cushions littered the crate and surrounding area. Underneath the dismembered remains of his doggy bed, the tray from the crate had slid forward to reveal the sight of diarrhea smeared all over the exposed carpets, ground in under the bars of the crate, mixed with dog urine in a nightmare mosaic of browns and yellows. Amidst this carnage stood Bast, ears and eyes downcast, the silky flag of his tail lowered and swaying in a clear sign of defeat and shame.
It was at this moment that I finally realized I rescued a special needs animal and my world had changed.
I adopted Bast at the start of May, and as a teacher, I had most of the summer to work on his SA with the help of my friend, Cait. I couldn't get started right away, though, as I had to leave the country for the month of June while Cait dogsat for me. Cait had work for a few hours each day, but that was apparently enough to cause major upset in the world of Bast. Cait told me that during this time, she just accepted that she would come home to find him smeared in dung and pee while we learned how to help him... Delightful.
I started working with Bast using a number of behavioral modifications for both of us. Bast's separation anxiety is no doubt caused by the severe lack of stability in his early life, hence why he values routine as much as he does. Routine is good - we know what to expect and we can count on things being the same.
Unfortunately, me leaving the house was not routine. I started just taking Bast with me wherever I went, which limited my destinations to either places with a drive-through or to PetSmart. Other than that, I didn't go anywhere all summer. It's weird to think now that I spent my entire summer only ever going to the dry-cleaner and to pet stores, but that's how it went.
To establish routines for Bastas, I researched separation anxiety tips online. One of the ways to acclimate your dog to you leaving, it said, is to try going through the front door for a small amount of time, say 10 seconds, and then return and act like normal. You gradually increase the amount of time spent outside until you remain out there for 30 minutes or more while your dog gets used to you coming and going and not treating it like a big deal.
Bast responded well to this, and it's actually something I still do for him. That means every weekday morning, I practice a bizarre ritual of opening and closing my door and standing on my porch for several seconds at a time while Bast lays on the couch and watches me come and go.
Bast also gets upset if he actually sees me leave outside the window. Since I have a large window right in front where I need to walk, after I do my neurotic door dance, I then have to wait several seconds to make sure he's not standing at the window, then crouch down like a frog and tiptoe underneath the eave of my window.
Now you know. Every day you see me or hear from me, I have spent that morning stepping in and out my door and then doing the walk of shame from my own home.