Thursday, March 17, 2005

Dixie's Depression

You know, it’s always like this: you feel sick, finally get around to making an appointment to see the doctor and then start feeling better. By the time you actually see the doctor you’re on the road to recovery. Then, loaded up with medications, prescriptions and test results, you get the bill and feel sick all over again. Taking your pet to the vet is no different, except that they don’t see the bill.

Dixie, the Airedale dog, and I moved up to Waltham, MA in February. Admittedly, February was a rough month for the both of us. In the early part of the month we moved north 400 miles, going from a 3 bedroom house on a corner lot with grass all around us to a one bedroom apartment in an old building that sits on a corner surrounded by sidewalk. Then, after a week of being there, we drove back to Baltimore where I went to South America for a week and Dixie stayed with a dog sitter. Then, a week later, we both drove back to Waltham. A week after that, I started work. The day I started working everything changed. Just like that.

Overnight, Dixie stopped eating, put her tail between her legs, hung her head down low, growled when I got too close to her, and walked very slowly far behind me. I didn’t even need to have her on leash; she had lost all interest in going anywhere. She began limping on her front leg and would stop and scratch herself mid-walk. You could almost see a dark cloud of depression hanging over her head. She went from being a happy, almost four year old to an old, broken down dog. I found a school field where people took their dogs to exercise and started taking her there every evening.

Unfortunately, most evenings we were the only ones there, and, like the rest of Waltham, it was covered in over a foot of snow. Dixie would walk, sniff and then lie down in the snow. Occasionally, another dog would show up and would want to play; Dixie would mostly mope around and maybe want to get patted by the other dog’s owner. I had also found a dog park in Cambridge, which I wrote about in another posting, but that was too far away to go to regularly. There was another “unofficial” dog park I took her to in Newton, but hadn’t considered going there regularly as it was also a drive away, though not too far. In the meantime, Dixie was going downhill.

She would come into the apartment after having gone out, regardless of where or for how long, immediately flop down on her bed and not move for hours on end. When it was time to go out, she would lie there and look at me until I was fully ready and had the door open. Then she would get up and slowly walk out. Her toys lay unused in the toy box. I spread some of her favorite ones out on the floor in front of her. I’d look over or come home from work hours later and could tell they’d remained untouched. She seemed to have lost all interest in life. My dog was slipping into the depths of depression, I thought. The vultures had gotten to her. Somehow I needed to bring her back to being the happy, leash pulling, tail up and wagging dog she always was. I needed to take drastic measures.

We had a long talk. I did Reiki on her. Andrea did distance Reiki. I sat and meditated to try to hear her. I sat in front of her and looked deeply into her eyes. I stroked her head. I kept up the two a day walks. I made an appointment with a vet.

I decided a couple things. Maybe there was something going on medically for which I needed to get her to a doctor. I also needed to get her back to having as close to the former environment as possible that she’d previously enjoyed. And, I needed to do it ASAP. I even stopped going out myself, especially to the Friday night dances, to stay with her (whether it was out of guilt or concern, I’m not sure). It didn’t help that there was already several feet of snow on the ground and that last Saturday it snowed, literally, from about 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., dumping another 10” of snow on the Boston area.

I kept up the morning walk and I started taking her, every night, to the unofficial dog park in Newton, since there were always, it seemed, other dogs there and even if no one else was there, I reasoned there would be the smells of other dogs that would attract her. I thought that maybe if I took her to the same place at about the same time every night she’d eventually start to get involved with the other dogs, or at least sniff around. I also took her out later on in the evening for a final walk around the neighborhood. I figured that with more exercise maybe she’d get so hungry that she’d start to eat again. It was for sure that it built up an appetite in me!

At the unofficial dog park we would walk around a field, following along a path that went in a large oval. I guess the regular walking area is like walking around the edges of an area the size of a football field. There was also a woods to explore and a part of the Charles River that I learned the dogs, in summer, would go in. Most of the dog walkers walked around the oval like it was them getting the exercise; some walked with a purpose, others with a dedication to get the damn dog walked. There were people disposed to being friendly and used the time to talk to friends and acquaintances. Regardless of the type of walker, their dogs romped, played and generally ran around with each other.

The first night there, Dixie shuffled around slowly, tail between her legs. She would occasionally stop and watch the other dogs play. When they would come up to sniff her she’d just stand there with this look on her face that seemed to indicate “poor, poor pitiful me.” The dogs would then go away and play with others. It seemed that Dixie was isolating herself. The dog walkers who were more socially oriented would engage in conversation with me and I’d explain our northern journey and my theory about Dixie’s Depression.

They would nod their heads in agreement and give Dixie extra pats. I would fall into place with them, wanting socialization myself, and walk with them around the endless loop a few times. Dixie would mope along behind, as if to say, “Well, I’ll do this but I don’t have to enjoy it. And I want you to know that I don’t.”

After the third night, Dixie started to come around. She almost played with a couple dogs, getting into the play position: front legs mostly down on the ground, rear end up in the air and tail wagging. It was as if, almost in spite of herself, she started to lighten up to have a good time. We also went off alone a bit, on the second and third nights, to explore the park a little more. She started to perk up.

This morning, before going to the vet and while taking our morning walk, we met up with Thunder and his owner, Cicero. Cicero and his wife, Bridgid, were the first two people I met after moving to Waltham. They were very helpful and told me about the school field and also about some good places to food shop. They’re good people and I’m glad I met them. Anyway, as I had the day off and so could afford to let Dixie have an extended walk, the four of us went over to the school field. Cicero and I let both dogs off leash. Thunder, a six month old German Shepard puppy, was ready to play. He tried to engage Dixie as best he could, and Dixie almost allowed herself to play. Then again, Thunder’s a puppy and Dixie’s a four year old – teenagers don’t play with little kids, do they?

At the vet’s, Dixie had the royal treatment. The vet pulled, probed and poked Dixie. She took blood tests, a fecal test, gave Dixie some shots she needed and others she hadn’t had – “Dogs in New England need these shots. It’s different up here.” She gave Dixie a full physical. Dixie had lost two pounds. Her heart murmur was not to be worried about; the Lyme disease test came back negative. She pronounced Dixie healthy and gave her a milk bone. The vet gave me Cosequin pills to administer to Dixie twice daily to keep her joints loose, a giant bag of special low-salt dog food, an appointment to come back in early April to have Dixie's teeth scraped and cleaned and to have another shot, and a bill for $365.00. Dixie’s healthy but now I’m sick.

We left the vet’s office, Dixie with her tail up in the air and me with my tail between my legs. No, only kidding. I’m glad she checked Dixie out as thoroughly as she did. I think she's turned the corner. At least I hope so.

Yesterday, as part of my new employee orientation training, I completed the module “Community Integration.” People with mental retardation, we learned, can become valued members of their community and can interact effectively, given sufficient exposure and integration. We had explained to us the four tenets for integrating a person into the community. Take the consumer to the: Same place; at the Same time; to be with the Same people; and, for the Same staff person to take them. In that way, they’ll eventually fit in, participate and develop relationships that will be beneficial to them as well as to society at large. “Hmmn,” I said to myself. I think there’s a correlation here.

So, I have decided to take Dixie to the unofficial dog park in Newton every night at about the same time (depending on when I get home from work) to have her (and me) meet up with the same dogs (and people) to, hopefully, enjoy the same activities. I think there’s something to this community integration stuff. If it’ll help people with limited cognitive abilities get along with others and participate meaningfully, then certainly it’ll help a person and his dog who’s just moved to the area be able to do the same. Smart people, these human service workers. So that’s my plan to eradicate Dixie’s Depression: community integration. I think we both have something to offer and, in return, we’ll be better off for it.

1 Comments:

Blogger Edward-xzsoj3a2q said...

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12:31 PM  

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