I’ve been staring at the blinking cursor on my computer for about an hour. Also during that time, I’ve been on and off my phone scrolling mindlessly through Facebook… or doing just about anything else that doesn’t require thinking, feeling, or actually typing this post.
So, here it is:
I glossed over the big issue in my last post. I promised honesty in this blog. The post was truthful. But it was a part truth, a sugar-coated version of the stress, struggle, and sadness I was feeling.
As some of you might know, my husband and I adopted a beautiful 6-month-old spaniel in late September. She’s equal parts sweet and sassy, insanely intelligent, obedient, and simply gorgeous. In the time we have had her, our life has been filled with countless walks and lots and lots of love.
And, let’s be honest, this now-47-pound goofball has us wrapped around her paw and has been running the show since the day she stepped over the threshold. Most noticeably in the last few weeks, some of the “equal parts sweet and sassy” sass has melted away, and this puppy warmed up to us. It’s clear she’s truly become comfortable with us and in our home. Once rare kisses are now almost a daily gift.
The parts that are missing from the story between the day we signed the papers to give her a “forever home” and today (5 months later) are the countless incidents, episodes, and the constant struggle of us dealing with her severe separation anxiety.
I’m the first to admit that I’ve heard people say their dogs had separation anxiety and thought it was a bunch of bull. There had to be something that person did wrong in training the dog, or they were simply too doting and attached to the dog, leaving it (obviously) prone to anxiety when its owner eventually left its side.
We trained her right from the start in a way that was firm and in charge but never cruel. We gave her space to teach her independence but never refused her affection or belly rubs if she asked for them.
It turned out to not be enough.
Both my husband and I work Monday through Friday, 8-5 office jobs. During that time, we knew the dog would have to be left home alone in a crate. Since she was a puppy, we agreed that it was fair to her (and her little bladder and boundless energy) that we would come home on lunch to let her out and take a walk. We have the luxury of working close to home, so that was possible for us.
From the start, crate training was impossible. She would howl and bark and scratch at the metal cage, desperate to get out. We were standing in the same room as the crate, and it didn’t ease her panic one bit. Everyone told us it would just “take more time” and eventually our dog would loveeeeeeeeee her crate because their dogs just loveeeeeee their crates.
Even still, we pushed forward and put her in there while we were at work. We settled her in with a Kong filled with peanut butter, a toy, and a small blanket. Two days in a row, I came home on lunch and she greeted me at the door. She had figured out how to unlatch the door from the inside.
So, we tried to be the smarter species and lock the door closed with a carabiner. That would hold her.
My husband came home from work one day to see the top metal bar of the crate completely bent. Her anxiety levels had caused her to pull at the cage with her teeth and try to push her way out with her nose/muzzle. She had also cracked the plastic “tray” at the bottom by pulling it up from the corner. Her nose was pink and swollen for days. We gave her ice cubes, which she loves as a treat, to try to ease her pain in her mouth and make her happy.
So we bent the bar back into shape, covered the crack with her blanket, and hoped it was all a fluke. And we went back to work. My husband came home at the end of the day that week and found Tessa at the door again. But how, you ask?
This time, she rocked the cage so hard that it tilted and rested on our coffee table at a 45-degree angle. The cracked tray came loose, and she crawled through the space between that and the bottom.
We came to the conclusion that she just hated being confined. Maybe she would prefer to be in our 3 seasons room? It was bright and spacious with plenty (read: squirrels and birds) to look at through the windows.
The 3 seasons room quickly got destroyed as well – first, it was just little tufts of carpet that got pulled up, then more carpet, then it was the wooden handles on the sliding doors were chewed, then random peeing accidents in the room (which never happened otherwise), then destroying the furniture.
The other parts that are important to fill in between all these incidents, my husband and I were scouring the internet looking for answers. We reached out to trainers, vets, and other dog owners. We tried countless bits of advice and remedies – from putting pieces of our clothes in her kennel/room to Kongs to doggy Xanax… even calming hemp oil.
None of it worked.
We thought that maybe she needed obedience training to understand how to communicate with us, so we invested (greatly) in an incredible 2-week board and train program. She came back a whole new dog who was obedient and took commands and direction.
Yet it still wasn’t enough. She continued to destroy her space or try to escape anytime she was left alone.
My husband took the bulk of the “lunch potty break” duties since his work is extremely close to home, but we continued to take turns coming home on lunch to let her out. It was always a struggle to get her back in her room when we had to leave. For me, I was starting to push the limits at my old job because running home on lunch was regularly taking more than the allotted hour-long lunch break. It was stressing me, and I know it stressed my husband that he had to plan his busy day of meetings around when he could come home to take out the dog.
That stress inevitably started to seep into our relationship. I felt more impatient and on edge all the time. I snapped at my husband who was just trying to help and always took on the bulk of the work. We love this dog, yet her issues were starting to create issues in our marriage.
That stress inevitably started to seep into our relationship…We love this dog, yet her issues were starting to create issues in our marriage.
Fast forward: we tried countless other ways to acclimate her to being alone. The one consistent method we saw in our research was to “build up” time in a crate or kennel. You have to start as small as 30 seconds and then let the dog out. You add about 30 seconds each round and try this a few times a day. The trick is this: you can’t use the kennel for any time longer than your current milestone. This means, she couldn’t be left alone at all. She had to be constantly supervised.
We gave ourselves 2 weeks. We would send her to doggy daycare and build up time in the crate. If we didn’t see improvement that was truly our last effort.
Tessa was definitely improving after 2 weeks and we were feeling great. She loved daycare, and we got to about 60 minutes in her kennel. Then, we got a call from her daycare: she got into a scuffle with another dog and had to be put in isolation away from the other dogs for the day. When she came home that day, she wouldn’t go near the kennel. We forced her in there and she cried before we even walked away.
We had just lost 3 weeks of great progress and 3 weeks’ investment at the daycare.
We didn’t have time to find another solution, so we had to break down and keep her in the kennel while we went to work the next day.
This past Friday, was the worst day.
I got home at 11:45am to take her out on my lunch break. I walked into the basement to find her 150-pound kennel pushed all the way across the basement and turned 180 degrees around. She was still inside and looked terrified. I got closer and saw that there were drops of blood all over her bed and the floor.
That broke me. I dropped to my kneels and starting sobbing. This sweet, incredible dog has such terrible anxiety that she injured herself trying to break out of this kennel. Why couldn’t I help her?
This sweet, incredible dog has such terrible anxiety that she injured herself trying to break out of this kennel. Why couldn’t I help her?
I love her. I love her more than I love most people, honestly. But I love her so much that I know I can’t see her like this. I can’t continue living in fear that every time I leave her, she might injure herself while I’m gone. I never know what I’m going to come back home to.
When it comes to the selfish side of this problem, I am just starting my marriage. As strong as our relationship is, this has been a true test. This is the part that sounds “terrible” to some people: We cannot allow ourselves to go broke over a dog. We can’t constantly bicker because of a dog. We can’t put our jobs and careers in jeopardy for a dog. We can’t forego our already minimal social life and be on house arrest because of a dog.
So, after countless attempts, hours of prayer, and buckets of tears, we came to the most difficult decision: Tessa deserves a family with another dog to ease her anxiety. We are not in the place—financial, space availability, or time commitment—to take on another dog, and so this is really the best option for her. And for us.
I honestly can’t help but sob every time I picture putting her leash into someone else’s hands and driving away without her. It’s such a vivid, punch in the stomach, suffocating feeling and I hate it.
I have spent the last few days in constant prayer asking for reassurance that this is the right thing. Questioning if we really have tried everything. Asking for peace and calm in my heart and mind.
The voice I hear is loud and clear: This is what is right for her and for us. It’s the hard choice, but it’s the right choice.
I wanted to write about this because I felt alone. My friends and family have been supportive in encouraging me and helping us to find solutions to fix Tessa’s issues. But nothing I found in my research or heard from anyone said to me, “You know what? I had to give up a dog once. We weren’t the right fit for him, and he got adopted by a great family. It was hard, but it was the right decision.” I never heard that.
I had felt this whole time like I was giving up on the dog.
But I know better now. I’m not giving up on her. I’m giving her the greatest gift of all — the chance at true health and happiness with a better-fit family.
We will always love her and have a very special place in our hearts for our Tessa.
Our little Tessa’s adoption profile is officially posted online here. Please share so we can find her the very best home possible.
Thanks for reading my long post. I appreciate you all and your beautiful hearts.