I have never wanted to have children but have always wanted a dog of my own.
After 13 years of marriage and never-the-right-situation for pets, my husband and I found ourselves living in a nice three-bedroom house with a backyard. The subject of choosing a canine companion came up but became more of a reality once our house was robbed and we decided we needed a watch dog.
We browsed shelters looking for the right mix of what we both wanted in a pet—something short-haired, mixed-breed, friendly-but-wielding-a-big-bark, and due to our own inexperience, well-trained and beyond puppyhood.
When I put the word out to a friend deeply involved in dog rescue, she shared that she’d just heard about someone about to relinquish his dog to a shelter due to the fact that he was getting divorced, selling his home and working crazy hours.
We met Deedah in her then-home where she bowled me over with kisses and charmed both of us with her perfect leash-walk and curb-sitting behavior. Her owner, a big German guy, surrendered her to us a week later in our home through conflicted tears, leaving a bag of dog food and some blankets behind as he taught us her commands (most in German).
She sat curled in a ball for two days, not eating but occasionally checking the windows for his return.
With a lot of love and coaxing, Deedah -- whom we took to calling "Dee Dee" -- livened up. We took her on long hikes through the mountains and she lost a little of her extra weight from the new exercise regimen (and so did we!). I work from home so Dee Dee was rarely alone, and when she was, she roamed the house without incident.
Three months later, our landlords sold the house, so we had to move. We quickly discovered how difficult it is to find a rental in Los Angeles that allows dogs over 25 pounds, but finally landed in a one-bedroom apartment in a small dog-friendly building with a gated front yard.
Two days into our move, we left to run errands for an hour, and came back to find that Dee Dee had chewed the screen out of the front window. Another time, we came back to a few of the bedroom blinds ripped down. I hated those yellowing vertical things anyway, but dreaded paying to replace them. The next day we came home to a pee-filled kitchen, with Dee Dee panting and drooling uncontrollably. An attempt at crate-training left her cut from the steel wires she’d chewed, and the behaviorist at our local Humane Society suggested we discontinue the training.
Our vet suggested giving her Benadryl and possibly anti-anxiety medication every time we leave the house, but I wanted to explore all other possible options first.
On the advice of other dog owners, I tried flower essences and anxiety wraps, neither of which did anything. Deedah was so much fun on our morning three-mile walks but my husband and I began to feel like prisoners in our own homes. At our wits’ end and seriously wondering if we should surrender her to someone more capable of handling her issues, I remembered a woman I’d met at acupuncture who had mentioned she was an “animal communicator.” I was fascinated with the term and idea, so I took her business card well before ever even meeting our dog.
Through my tears and my husband’s worries that he “married Nancy Reagan,” I emailed Joy Mason for help. I could almost hear my east coast friends howling with laughter when I shared that I had a pet psychic coming over.
“Oh yeah, you do live in Los Angeles,” said one. But I didn’t care about the razzing—Los Angeles is full of ridiculous things (which is part of why I love it) and I was desperate.
Joy explained ahead of time that even though what she does seems “oo-ee-oo,” she sees herself as a telephone for animals to communicate to people, thus giving them better tools in their hands.
Most of her business is usually done over the phone, but she agreed to meet us in person and came over with a bag of ideas (she’s a licensed veterinarian, too). Dee Dee greeted her in a friendly but not-overly-excited manner then flopped on the floor next to us while we sat on the couch and reviewed some natural remedies.
As Joy was writing a list (Valerian, chamomile tea, essential oils, a Chinese medicine treatment called Shen Calmer, the Tellington Touch method, a pheromone collar), she suddenly burst into tears and fanned herself, saying, “It’s not me—it’s her. She’s saying ‘I’m sorry, I’ve tried to be a good girl but when I’m alone my head is spinning from all the changes.’”
This made sense -- in a matter of three months, the dog had lived in three homes and had new owners after knowing the other ones for three years. They’d adopted her from a shelter when she was three months old. I’d explained as much to Joy, so this was not a huge surprise, but I suddenly felt like a horrible person for losing my cool and raising my voice after discovering the destruction.
Then the dog said (via Joy), “You don’t speak my language.” Dee Dee’s previous owner was German and we’d changed her name and stopped using some of the German commands he had used.
Joy started speaking to Dee Dee in German, addressing her as Deedah (turns out Joy’s ex was German), and Deedah jumped up, rolled over on her back at Joy’s feet, and appeared to be smiling. Now it was my turn to cry.
Despite all we felt we’d done for this dog, it became painfully clear that we failed to empathize with all of the changes she’d endured.
The psychic suggested learning some German words, reverting back to Deedah’s original name, and leaving German music on for her when leaving the apartment. She also said that Deedah feared my husband would “take me away forever” (which corresponded to the fact that her anxiety was worse when we left together) and that she was afraid he didn’t like her. (Deedah adored him but he is less a “dog person” than I am, and he had also been extremely stressed by the move and work issues at the time.)
She added that we might appeal to Deedah’s German upbringing by telling her she has a very important job to do—that she is to guard the home while we’re gone and she can’t do that if she wastes her energy with pacing and panting.
There were also a few funny moments -- Joy said Deedah blamed the guy we got her from for his divorce (“It was his fault”), and she said Deedah said “Hunter is stupid," of the dog in the building who'd been picking on her.
We wrapped things up with Joy showing me some acupressure points and demonstrating how to massage the dog in order to release endorphins, which Deedah seemed to love.
Over the next few days, we experimented with leaving Deedah alone for longer periods of time (five minutes, 30 minutes, two hours, four hours), always leaving German folk music playing for her (our neighbors might think we’re insane) while praising her in German phrases we’ve learned from the Internet.
A friend of mine also offered to do a “healing code” for Deedah, which she explained to me is “energy medicine designed to heal stress on a cellular level.” She gave us a mantra to say on Deedah’s behalf: “I trust that Rich and Shawna will always come back to me and I choose to be confident every day.” We have been using it over and over each day, you know—just while washing dishes or checking the mail. Deedah looks at us like we’re crazy.
Deedah seems to have chilled. I don’t know if it’s because she now feels “heard,” or that she’s adjusting to the apartment or what, but things don’t seem so hopeless anymore. We’ve all signed up for obedience classes, too, and coincidentally the trainer is German. We’re learning hand commands and using positive reinforcement, so the language is not much of an issue there.
I guess I have become one of those people I once made fun of—someone who will try anything to alleviate suffering, even if it’s unscientific, even if I sound stupid saying “Ich liebe dich, mein Schatz.”
We humans ask our animals to learn so much in order to harmoniously live with us in our so-called civilized society. It makes sense to think we have lots to learn, too.