When We’re Gone

I always cry when reading stories about dogs guarding their deceased master’s graves, or lying hear their caskets at the funeral and refusing to budge,  or like the Akita, Hachiko, waiting at the train station for his master to come home for 11 years.  (His master had a heart attack at work and died.)  The story I just saw posted on FB about Tommy, a GSD who kept returning to the church where he followed his owner’s casket at her funeral, probably wouldn’t have made such a big impact on me, if I hadn’t just returned home after an absence of nearly 4 hours to be met by my own GSD mix, Kita. 

My girl, Kita, has a true case of separation anxiety.  This isn’t the usual looking-out-the-window-occassionally-with-whines-and-a-couple-of-sighsbehavior that all dogs do when they miss their owners.  Kita has full-blown panic attacks caused by any barrier between her and me.  Those panic attacks escalate into destructive behavior like eating through walls, chewing through plexiglass, gnawing on window jams and trying to dig through concrete. 

Though she was always a little “clingy” — GSD dogs are notorious for being “velcro” dogs– Kita was able to be left alone for many years with or without another dog or person.  Then, my job changed from a job at an office with fairly regular hours to a stay-at-home job where my absences were much fewer and far less predicatable.  On Easter Sunday a few years ago, I drove up to the house thinking, “That looks like blood on the windows.”  It was. 

Kita had had a melt-down and if I hadn’t just replaced the windows she’d probably have broken out and been severely injured  doing so.  Instead, she’d broken off all her canine teeth trying to chew through the windows and  jams.   She’d bloodied her paws tried to dig her way out near the door, and shredding the doormat and carpet down to the cement in the mud room.  The aluminum frame around the window in the mudroom door still bears the indentations from her jaws.

We’ve worked long and hard to get her to accept my absence for a four-hour absence, even with another well-known human like my mom staying with her,  Just getting Kita to be calm while I’m in the bathroom or taking out the trash has taken a lot of ingenuity, training, and patience.  So, to come home to a dog that clearly missed me, but wasn’t salivating and panting heavily, whose pupils weren’t blown wide open from a panic-adrenaline rush, and who’d done nothing more than look out the window a lot during my absence made me feel really good.

I don’t know if Kita would follow my casket or sit by my grave or wait on a train platform for years for me.  I don’t know that it would make me feel happy knowing she would.  It DEFINITELY makes me happy when Kita asks to go outside and spends 15 minutes in the backyard on her own.  I am delighted when she chooses to leave my side as I’m at the computer and go lie down on the living room couch.  Seeing her remain calm  when I take out the garbage or go downstairs to put in a load of laundry means Kita is feeling confident to face life on her own, at least in a small way.  And that means the world to me.  

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