Saturday, June 21, 2014


I love a good thunderstorm. It's why I had a screen house added on the west side of the house, so I/we could safely sit and watch them approach. It also keeps the gazillion skeeters at bay, but that's actually secondary. (At least until you step outside.)

I had to deal with Jordan's fear of thunderstorms when she was young and I got Grandma visitation weekends. Her mother feared the storms, and Jordan took that example to heart. One day I picked her up and headed homewards at the start of a corker of a storm, and she started cowering in the back seat. I decided she needed a new role model, so I started telling her how much I loved thunderstorms. I even made a game of it for her, suggesting she watch the lightning strikes and discover what colors the lightning bolt really were. I suggested they only seemed white because they were so bright, implying she'd know something most people missed if she only paid attention. I, of course, had to drive, and couldn't watch so much, so after each bolt, asked her what color that one was. "Yellow." "Green." "Purple." (Who knew? I thought they were all white!)

Afterwards, when a storm rolled in during a visit, we adjourned to the screen house and watched them together. I never knew her to fear storms after that.

It's different with dogs. You can't suggest to them that there's nothing to fear. You can't explain that they are inside and dry and safe. You can't explain that the abuse which made them insane around thunderstorms in the first place will no longer happen.

When we adopted Ellie, we didn't realize just what the "fear of thunderstorms" notation on her records actually meant. Koda had been a bit nervous during the heart of one. He'd howl along with the sirens. He might tremble slightly, ask for cuddling. We naively thought that was what we'd have to put up with. We dismissed the effect of something else noted on her form: when she was not being petted inside with her former owners, she was kept outside. In a crate. Not, mind you, a big fenced kennel with a snug doghouse. Just a crate.

I learned the first day that crates were not going to be an option with her, much as I believe in them for housebreaking and other issues. In her case they had been abusive. She'd try to dig her way out of one to the extent of bloodying her paws. So the crate stays in the basement. A harness and leashes keep her under control. They work most times, along with tenderness, firmness, and lots of petting and treat rewards from everybody in the house.

Well, except from Fred. He mostly ignores her, particularly when she's playing dominance games. Occasionally he participates, but from him it's more typical to throw a look over his shoulder while otherwise remaining unmoving, as if to ask what kind of insignificant mosquito is trying to bother him now? If he is playful, the two of them mock-fight, a gentle game that gives them both moderate exercise. Fred is getting slimmer, so it's good for them both.

It's different when the rumbling starts. Ellie can pick it up well before we can. She starts getting restless, running up and down the hallway, jumping in and out of chairs. She sticks her muzzle in the dog food dish, swinging it back and forth and tossing the dog food out in all directions, then repeating with the water. What a mess! If Paul's door is closed with him on the other side of it, say with Yuki, she tries to dig her way through the door. She won't settle, won't be held, trembles hard and tries to run away from a storm where there is no place to escape to.

That all happens when I am home and awake in the living room. If the storm starts at night I know it, not from thunder waking me - I sleep through that all the time - but from Ellie. She is accustomed to sleeping at the foot of my bed or on the floor next to it. The bedroom door will be closed and the allergen filter fan will be on. The white noise helps me but seems to do nothing for her to hide thunder. In a storm she jumps onto me, wherever she happens to land. It might be on my head. Once on the bed, she tries to cover my head, dig under my head, go to the other side of my head and back again. I'm lucky that so far she's done me no actual damage, but then again this stuff wakes up even me pretty fast.

Scolding her does no good. Pushing her down to her allowed spot, anywhere below my waist, say, does no good. I can push her down with my hand, hold it there to keep her placed, and she'll dodge around it and back up to my head. Hugging her to my chest in a cuddle does no good since she squirms out of the hug and crawls back up to my head. I do gather the information on how hard she is trembling during the process, but that's not exactly conducive to sleep either. It simply means I switch from irritation at her behavior to sympathy for her fear.

Giving up on sleep, and in an effort to at least protect my head, I'll head out to the living room with her, plunk down in the recliner with a blanket, put on the TV to help cover the noise, and try for some sleep. About the only thing I accomplish is protecting my head. She won't jump up that high when I'm in the recliner. She does, however, jump in and out of my lap, often enough and vigorously enough that sleep is still impossible. Fred, by the way, just sleeps through it all unless she makes that momentarily impossible.

Other dogs I've had would find the kennel crate a safe haven. If they were scared or needing to be separated from, say, sleepers, that was always an option. Not with Ellie. I can't kick her out of the bedroom and shut the door because she'd start digging through it. We can't disengage.

It's been a stormy couple weeks. We haven't had to deal with flooding here. It's high ground and the drainage is just fine. The sump pump is working hard, and thus far, successfully. But we have Ellie. New behaviors have begun to emerge. She has figured out she can fit under my bed despite the storage totes under it. I hear her rustling papers under my head through the mattress and box spring, and no, I haven't bothered to check on possible damage. Then I hear her trying to dig through the flooring. That's the part that usually inspires me to actually invite her up onto the bed, despite my previous experiences with her there.

I phoned our vet the other day. I heard about doggie tranquilizers before, dismissing them as being for lazy owners with behavior problems owning dogs. Now I begin to see their point. It wasn't my behavior problems which did this to Ellie. But the vet said those meds need to be taken over several months to do any good. For now, she suggested melatonin, the hormone that assists in sleeping. It might make her sleepy enough to calm her during a storm, and can be given morning and/or night when storms are expected. Plus, the stuff is cheap, OTC, and if it doesn't work out for her, humans can use it too. She takes it easily, so long as a bit of chicken is wrapped around it. Snap! Swallow! Gone!

I think it helps a wee bit, but the storms have simmered down at the same time. It's hard to really tell. While she may be a bit calmer, it's not a cure-all.  The thing that has really helped is Steve, hearing an early morning storm, offering to stay with her in the living room while I head back to my bedroom and grab a couple more hours of undisturbed sleep with the alarm turned off.

What a guy!

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