16 May 2010

How we learned about Toni's claustrophobia

Two summers ago, when we were just getting to know Toni, I took her on a road trip to visit my dad’s family in North Carolina. Much of the week was uneventful. We introduced her to my parents’ dog Osgood and my brother’s dog Pearl. We took them for walks, during which it was so hot that the dogs would speed up in the sunny bits of the sidewalk and slow waaaaaay down in the shady bits to make them last longer. She tasted bacon for the first time and was fed directly from people plates as often as people were eating (not mine, of course, but who am I to criticize how people express their affection?). As I said, much of it was uneventful.

Chris joined us for the weekend. The day he arrived, everyone decided to go out to lunch. Now, we knew that Toni had separation anxiety, as shelter dogs often do. We had developed a little ritual to ease those first five minutes that we were gone—a Kong filled with biscuits and peanut butter accompanied by the soothing sounds of piped-in music (aka, the radio). We had also learned a very mild lesson in our home: Toni does not like to be shut out of places. In our condo, all this meant was that we had purchased the most inexpensive baby gates we could find on the market to keep her out of our bedroom area when we were away. We put them up twice, only to come home to downed baby gates on the floor like discarded playing cards and Toni curled up into a non-destructive ball on her bed. In my parents’ home, though, dogs are crated when people are away. Since we didn’t have a crate and we didn’t much think she’d do any harm, we finally compromised by agreeing that we would put her in the (closed) bedroom while we went to lunch. After all, we were only going to lunch. It was a whole room to herself, complete with her own bed and all of our clothes to waft comforting Chris-Julie scents around her while we were out. So we put her in the room, shut the door and then went out to lunch. (If you missed it here, I’ll point out that I’ve made no mention of soothing musical serenades nor of delicious peanut-butter-filled cones of plastic. This was our first critical error of the weekend.)

After lunch, some of our group went back to my parents’ while others decided to go on to another activity before heading back. Chris and I were in the latter group…but not for long. My sister called about 15 minutes after she parted ways with us. “You have to come home. Right now.” This is never a great opening to a phone conversation. It’s the kind of opening that means that the rock that just dropped itself into your stomach is the best thing that’s going to happen to you for the next few hours—and that’s if you’re lucky. As it turns out, Toni really, really, really doesn’t like to be confined…in any way. It would have been a good thing to know about her up front, to say the least. 

When we got home, my sister went out to the car to prep us:
  • No, my dad was no longer odd shades of pink or purple.
  • No, my step-mother did not appear to require smelling salts to maintain her consciousness.
  • No, the damage was not minimal and did not necessarily seem to be easily fixable. 
Okay, the first two assessments seemed to be possible, even probable. But the third? How bad could it really be after only an hour? And what could she have possibly done that wasn’t fixable? Isn’t nearly everything fixable? I will tell you this: my sister is a good assessor of situations and does not sugarcoat the truth much. She wasn’t lying when she said that the damage was not minimal. And at first glance, it was indeed hard to imagine the steps that would have to be taken to repair it. The wooden, custom blinds had become toothpicks; the window (the escape hatch is how I imagine Toni thought of it) was smeared in dog snot and blood from where her paws and nails had been torn apart by the blinds (ironically, as she was tearing the blinds apart). The door to the hallway (the master escape hatch) had lost much of its frame. The door itself was gouged and the brass handle now bore numerous rivets made by desperate teeth. The drywall was at the beginning stages of excavation. Even the baseboard had taken a beating in the process. Interestingly (or not, in retrospect), the clothes, bed and furniture were as we had left them. Even the door to the bathroom, which actually did connect with another bedroom and the hallway, was untouched. When we thought about it later, we realized that we had never shown her that way out of the room. She had no idea there was a third way out.

We all agreed the next night when we were to go out that the best idea would be to borrow my brother’s crate and crate Toni. Let’s call this critical error number two. Our (incredibly off-base) thinking was that at least in a crate she couldn’t get into any destructive trouble, and that, golly, even though a good sized bedroom freaked her out, surely she’d find the teeny tiny metal crate absolutely delightful, possibly even comforting. We remembered to fix her an extra-delicious Kong. We turned the radio on for her. We even positioned the crate so that it was near Osgood’s crate, thinking she would appreciate the company. And then we left for five hours.

As we approached the front door that night, the only thing I remember seeing were two glittery eyes and the little Batman silhouette that crop-eared dogs make. The only thing I remember saying was, “Holy crap.” She hadn’t actually destroyed anything in the house that night. The crate, however, and her face were an entirely different story. We’ll never know for sure how she did it, but somehow she managed to bend back a portion of the door and scrape her way out of the now useless crate. In the process, she also managed to pull a bed pillow that was on the floor into the crate. It was a little like the old “pillow in the bed made to look like sleeping teenager who has snuck out the window for late night hijinks” trick that old sitcoms used to use. Except the bed pillow looked nothing like a 75 pound pit bull. Actually, the 75 pound pit bull didn’t look much like herself, either. Her nails were down to the quicks, most likely from her Herculean prying apart of the metal bars. And her muzzle was swollen to about twice its size, most likely from barreling into the crate door with all her might. So, while my step-mother cleaned the blood from the carpet and my dad comforted the now-terrorized Osgood, I spent the evening holding a bag of ice on Toni’s face to help with the swelling. (Chris’ part came the next day, which he spent repairing the door, molding and drywall in the guest bedroom.)

And though we never, ever make the mistake anymore of confining Toni when we head out, it turns out that she learned something from the experience as well. Every once in a while, when she’s looking for a little alone time, we can find her here:

1 comment:

  1. Goodness! I heard the story, but never saw the pictures of the damage. Toni is a complex being... but what person or animal doesn't have issues? The key is finding a friend who can see you through the tough times. Toni has obviously found that in you and Chris! ;)