Thunderstorm season is upon us. We’ve had some here and there, but the past week or two has seen them increasing in intensity and length. It used to be I dreaded the storm season because SP was pretty severely storm and noise phobic…
July 4th was always a struggle, but because it was fairly predictable, we learned how to handle it. Well, better than thunderstorms. There’s no way to predict storms, both before or during a storm, so it was terribly difficult to help SP with her issues. She would pant and drool and tremble and pace and try to climb on our head. We could see her eyes glaze over and panic ensue. She was having a doggy panic attack, I think. Initially, her phobia was manageable, but as the years progressed, so did her phobia. At some point, after trying everything we could, we resorted to medication. With her increasing age, the noise phobia turned into a more general noise issue which lasted year round. We moved from medicating her during the storm season to keeping her on a low dose of the medication all year. The medication helped take the edge off, both during storms and all year, but it didn’t take away all the symptoms. Later in SP’s life, the Thundershirt was developed. We tried to replicate it with a tee shirt and ace bandages, but it was a struggle to race her into the “outfit” when the storms were approaching. So we finally broke down and bought the Thundershirt and gave it a try. It was actually surprising how well it worked. No question, she still had symptoms of the fear, but they were lessened by a great amount. We kept her on the medications, but the Thundershirt was an adjunct, and putting it on became secondhand to me. We used it so frequently during storm season that muscle memory allowed me to wake up at 2 in the morning and put it on her without even opening my eyes. With the Thundershirt, I felt reassured that SP was handling the storms more easily.
When SP passed, we packed the shirt away with the rest of her things. We have not re-used any of her items for Le Moo. Neither hub nor I could bear it.
We got Le Moo in November (Moovember?) of 2011, so storm season was past. Le Moo is not nearly as delicate or sensitive as SP was. When it rained heavily during SP’s old age, she needed her Thundershirt or she would progress to semi-panic mode. With Le Moo, rain didn’t disturb her at all. Storm season 2012 seemed okay with Le Moo. She sometimes gave a little bit of a cry, and sometimes she tried to dig at the carpet a little. But she was distractable and the distress was so mild that we hardly saw any issues. This season, her distress has seemed to increase somewhat, though again she can be distracted (SP would never ever ever take food during a storm, and there was no way to distract her…she was “gone”, disappeared into her panic) most especially with frozen peanut butter and/or pumpkin mush in a toy. But without distraction, she cries and hides and will dig at the carpet. SP required constant contact with one of us somehow, but Le Moo seems to prefer to hide somewhere…preferably the basement, which we don’t usually allow her in alone because of all hub’s stuff scattered all over. Anyway, I figured we should go ahead and order Le Moo a Thundershirt so we can try to catch this distress early and help her deal with it.
The Thundershirt arrived before yesterday’s (short) thunderstorm, but we hadn’t had a chance to acclimate her to the shirt. Le Moo doesn’t wear clothing, and some animals don’t understand the idea of it. So it’s best to introduce the shirt slowly, and have the dog wear it initially when he or she is calm, so they associate it with good, calm feelings. So we went through Tuesday’s storm with the prerequisite frozen treat and some basement time. Today, I figured I’d better get her into the shirt, so she can get used to it.
After I have lunch, Le Moo gets Cheerios in a treat dispenser toy in our bedroom. It was initially a “bribe” to get her to come upstairs with me during the day (my office is up here), but now it has become her routine. Sadly, she rushes upstairs to get the toy and O’s, but once she’s done she disappears. She’s really independent… So I watched her like a hawk with the toy today, and when she was done I went over and began wrapping her in the shirt. If you’ve never seen a Thundershirt, you’d be surprised at how complex it looks with all the “arms” and velcro and stuff. And apparently, the version I purchased (pink and embroidered with her name!) is a bit different from the original. But muscle memory did take over somewhat, and I had her in the shirt without too much trouble. At least, not physically.
The act of putting the shirt on her was incredibly difficult for me. It brought back such distinct memories of SP, and how much she needed me during the storms. I used to sit with her during storms, not really talking but just giving her the physical contacted she required. There were many times I sat on the floor in the middle of the night with her, even when my body protested the idea with pain. It could take hours to get through a storm, and day or night I was with her. Didn’t matter to me if it started at 2am and lasted until 6am…or if it went from 3pm and lasted until after dinner. I stayed with her. Hub and I changed our life for her, hardly going out during the storm season so she never had to be alone and afraid. The one time we had to be out of the house–both of us–was for a family wedding, and we hired someone to come sit with her because there were storms predicted.
When we adopted Le Moo, we thought our days of watching the weather maps were over. I hope with the Thundershirt that will be the case, but it remains to be seen. Even so, just the act of putting on that Thundershirt and seeing Le Moo in it is painful for me. Even though SP’s Thundershirt was the original gray color, and Le Moo’s is hot pink and orange, the visual is the same for me. I thought the different coloring would help, but it has not. The grief is gripping, strong and painful, reminding me of the years we had with SP, the things that will never be again. When it storms, I still talk to SP in my head, telling her I’m sorry I can’t be with her to comfort her.
I’m not sure how Le Moo is going to take to the Thundershirt. She seemed perplexed when I put it on her, but after a minute of a minor bit of massaging (and butt scratching–her favorite kind of petting), she trundled down the stairs as usual. We’ll see if she’s still enrobed when I go looking for her in about an hour. I don’t want her in it too long the first time, but the shirt is meant to be worn all the time if necessary. Though honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it outside on a hot day just because it is another layer for them. But in the house (and especially our nicely cooled house), she would be perfectly fine.
It is kind of surprising to me how much the Thundershirt has triggered grief for me. I am resisting curling up in a ball to cry because I know it would do me no good. But my heart hurts with the loss of my Sweet Petunia.