Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Road Less Traveled

When we first embarked on our journey with Abby a little over three years ago, I had no idea the things that I would come to learn.  First and foremost, I've learned more about trust from one little yellow dog than I ever could have learned in a lifetime.  Her ability to put total faith in us for everything amazes me.  She trusts that we will always be home, that we will always do what is in her best interest, and that we will never ask more of her than she is capable of.  The ways I've defined bravery and courage have changed in some ways.  As I watch my reactive dog try to live in a world that makes no sense, I'm often humbled by how far she has come since the early weeks of chaotic walks in which every sight and sound seemed to be overwhelming.  And most importantly I've learned about unconditional love.  My husband and I like to believe that people who say dogs don't know emotions have never had an Abby.  Every single thing she does is so fueled by love that you can truly understand why she does the things she does.  

Along the way you learn the basics that apply to most dogs.  You figure out how to potty train a dog, and the proper equipment to use when walking your furry companion.  You learn about the newest toys to stimulate your dog mentally, and exhaust them physically.  You develop a sense for what toys your dog will rip to shreds in under 5 seconds, and which ones she won't play with at all.  

But people with a reactive dog begin to learn a whole new language.  You learn to read your dog's signals.  We've all heard that dogs can communicate with their body language, and those who live in a land of reactivity will find themselves reading the subtle queues of not only their dog, but of all of the dogs you're likely to encounter in your every day activities.  You learn where to walk, what to avoid.  You learn that your dog probably hovers a bit above threshold as compared with most other dogs, and that certain things can cause a reaction where they never effectively return to a calm state but an even more elevated state than before.  And for some of us with reactive dogs, you learn that sometimes you and your dog need a little bit of help.  For most this comes in the form of finding a trainer and confidant who helps to guide you on the adventure of raising a reactive dog.  And for some of us, there is the type of help that comes in the form of a prescription.  

I've never been shy about saying that Abby is on a prescription medication for anxiety.  At first there was some shame in admitting to this, either because most people aren't aware that such a thing exists, or because I felt judged as an owner - as if I was not enough of an awesome pet parent to do things on my own.  Whatever the reason, I think sometimes people have a hard time admitting that maybe your pet needs a little bit of help to allow them to relax enough to be receptive to all of the wonderful things you want to teach them.  That certainly was the case for Abby.  Abby's trip has been a difficult one with stumbling blocks along the way.  But through it all I would not change a single thing about the road we've been on and we're at with her presently.  

And so it is with that that I tell you we are starting a new fork in the road.  Today marked our annual recheck appointment with our vet behaviorist.  It is a time where we all come together to talk about Abby and what she's been up to behaviorally within the past year.  Much like with our own physicals with our physicians, it is also a time to assess the course of treatments we have been doing to see if they're helping or not making any impact.  We have always had discussions over what the medication is doing for Abby and what relief and benefit she receives from it.  However, recent production issues with Novartis have had a direct impact on the availability of her medication, Clomicalm.  For the past year we have been utilizing a compounding service for giving her a twice daily dosage of Clomipramine.  However, even the generic has gone up to such an egregious price that it has left our behaviorist questioning the ability to receive the medication long-term.  

So what does that mean for Abby?  It means that we are slowly going to lower her dosage of the Clomipramine with the end goal that she will be weaned off of it, and then we will begin a new medication that is more widely available with a good success rate, Prozac.  It is a scary thought, the idea of your pet coming down from a medication that had such great success.  But with it comes the opportunity to truly assess your pet's behavior and discover what benefit they're truly receiving from it.  The coming weeks will probably see more blog entries as I attempt to document and assess the changes we may see in Abby's behavior as a result of this change.  But I feel confident in the work that Abby has done and our ability to know our dog and her behavior that we'll be able to monitor the changes we see and work with our behaviorist to tailor this change to her needs.