It’s been almost 8 years to the day since I adopted a scruffy 23lb terrier mix from the Hawaiian Humane Society. They told me she had a history of showing up at the shelter at least once or twice a year for her entire (4-year) life. At the time I had hardly any experience with dogs, and I thought her trembling, whining when we walked away from her cage, and super lovey, cuddly behavior were just charming. Now I know those are typical manifestations of a dog with anxiety problems, and lo and behold, my difficult life with Ramona had begun.
Our first few months together were amazing. I was a teacher at the time, and on summer break. Ramona came everywhere with me! She "didn't like" being left home alone, so I just caved in and took her along. She was extremely trainable, and very well-behaved in public places, so it was easy. But once school started up again, Ramona had no choice but to be left home alone during the day. We had tried crate training, deconditioning, videotaping, confidence boosters like obedience and agility training, and even medications as severe as prozac and zoloft. Nothing worked. Ramona had the most severe separation anxiety, thunderstorm anxiety, firework anxiety, and loud airplane noise anxiety all of our trainers had ever seen.
When she was triggered (by a loud noise, or being home alone), she would shake, pant, and drool severely. She'd bark and whine nonstop, and would claw and bite at any exit to try and escape. In a year she destroyed 3 crates (2 hard plastic, one metal), 2 windows, one front door, and her teeth in the process. She even figured out how to open doorknobs with her mouth! I remember coming home the day she tore a hole in the front door. The carpeting had been pulled up and she had dug at the floor in front of the door to the point that you could see the dirt under the house. The floor was covered in wood and there was a Ramona-sized hole right through the bottom of the front door, but Ramona herself was gone. I was so frustrated and upset, I couldn’t do anything but sit in the middle of the wreckage and cry. Luckily a neighbor caught Ramona and called me, or she probably would have run far away and been back at the Humane Society yet again.
It took 4 years before I could leave her alone without (much) fear. I wish I could say definitively what helped Ramona, but I think it was a combination of things that lead to a basic trust between us. We did hours and hours of training, and I think it was that devotion and bond that helped her finally realize that when I left her at home, I would come back. She still doesn't like when I leave her at home, and she will sometimes regress and claw at the floor near the door, but we haven't had any major issues in a long time.
My life today is completely different from the day I adopted Ramona. I used to be a teacher in Hawaii, now I own a holistic pet shop called BONeJOUR in Philadelphia. That pup has been through so many huge life changes with me, and we’ve come a very long way together. She’s taught me the true meaning of unconditional love - loving someone NO MATTER WHAT. Unconditional love comes naturally to dogs, but people sometimes need some help understanding it. Ramona taught me by example, and I’m a better person because of her - broken teeth, anxiety, and all.