One year ago today, my life changed. This handsome fella came into my life:
Today is Fletcher’s one year adoption anniversary. I first came across his adorable face when searching a local dog shelter’s website. When I saw his photograph, I immediately fell in love with Fletcher’s golden eyes. We made an appointment to see Fletcher, but were warned by the shelter that he was extremely shy.
Shy didn’t even begin to describe him. He was petrified. Fletcher wouldn’t make eye contact, wouldn’t sniff us, wouldn’t even look in our general direction. I felt an instant connection with him, and while I’d love to tell you it was mutual, it wasn’t. He was terrified of me. Even after we brought him home, he would try to get as far away from us as possible for the first few days. His anxiety and discomfort was obvious. The shelter had warned us that he had lived on the streets for a bit, but it quickly became obvious that he had suffered abuse as well. He seems to suffer some lingering post traumatic stress, especially when loud noises or stick-like objects are present. Initially he was afraid of most people he met, and at his first few dog park visits he ran away from the other dogs and hid under a table.
We set out to prove to Fletcher that we could be trusted by using lots of positive reinforcement and being patient when he showed signs of stress or fear. Fletcher slowly opened up to us and began to trust us. I remember vividly how it felt the first time he wagged his tail when I came home from work, the first time he let me rub his belly, and the first time he let me hug him. I know most of those come easily for most dogs, but with Fletcher they were hard earned. That made them all the more meaningful.
Having a dog with some PTSD isn’t easy. He’s exceptionally fearful of the rollator, or a broom, or laundry hanging to dry, or when our water dispenser makes a gurgling sound. When I accidentally drop something and cause a loud noise, he doesn’t get over it easily, even with lots of positive reassurance. And with my brain fog and poor circulation, I’m always dropping something. It can take 3 days before I can get him to go back in that room. With all of his anxiety and lack of confidence, he will never be a therapy dog.
He doesn’t know what postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) or mast cell activation disorder (MCAD) are. He has never awaken me at night when I get bouts of SVT or when my blood pressure drops. If I was to somehow go into cardiac arrest, he isn’t going to call 911. But he can tell when I feel shitty, and he stays by my side.
And, somehow Fletcher’s anxiety has been like therapy for me. Working with him, training him, helping to build his confidence and reassuring him when he’s anxious seems to help control the anxiety symptoms of my POTS. I think somehow when I calm him down, I’m inadvertently helping to calm down my autonomic nervous system.
He serves as a wonderful reminder that we don’t ever truly know what someone else has been through, and it’s not our place to judge whether someone else’s overwhelming fear of a lunchbox is rational. All we can do is rub their belly, scratch their butt, and love them unconditionally.
Sometimes I find Fletcher sniffing the flowers, or gazing off at the mountains behind our house. He constantly reminds me that I’m lucky to be able to sniff flowers or gaze at mountains beside him. I love that he’s existential, like his mama. I’m trying to help him to understand that with 30 minutes of reassurance and me by his side, there’s nothing he can’t do. Maybe he’s teaching me that with 30 minutes of reassurance and him by my side, there’s nothing I can’t do.
And, no matter how bad I’m feeling, how scared I am that something might be seriously wrong, when he lies next to me and puts his head on my thigh, I can’t help but smile.
Happy adoption anniversary, Fletch. I’m glad you’re my dog.
Although Fletcher would make an awful service dog, many people with dysautonomia do use service or therapy animals to help with daily life. If you would like information about service or therapy dogs, there’s some great information here and here.
Friends, tell me about (or show me!) your pets.
“The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog.”
― M.K. Clinton
Smell ya later.