I understand anxiety. I have been learning its language for the past six years, from its obvious, boisterous shouting to its more subtle nuances, all its I-before-E-except-after-C's. I am intimately acquainted with its peaks and valleys, its quiet tiffs and its full-blown temper tantrums. I know it as well as I know myself, but for all I do know, I do not know how to explain that to Duncan, who has suffered it tremendously the past few days.
In addition to the insane weeks-long revelry that has become July 4th, he has had to endure an endless stream of afternoon and evening thunderstorms, the kind that shake the house, rattle the windows shamelessly and knock things off shelves like an annoyed poltergeist. I have watched his body tremble uncontrollably, to the point of exhaustion, while his eyes remain wide and white like a fish caught on a line, alert and fearful. And there has been almost nothing I can do or say to soothe him.
I have learned little tricks, like running all the fans, the dishwasher, the air conditioner and the vent in the bathroom as well as the one above the stove. I have turned the stereo up to insane levels and attempted to distract him by taking out all of his toys and squeaking them. Ken and I have walked him miles around the parking lot, we have pulled him into bed and cuddled with him tightly, have given him herbal drops and treats. I have found him curled up in his kennel under his quilt, his face buried in the pillow, and have crawled into the tub with him, where he lays and pants loudly when the storm rattles the ceiling and sends even the cats scurrying for cover. We have done everything we could think of, even letting him crouch in the laundry room, packed between the washer and drier, the garbage can and the big bag of recyclables, the sketch of Winnie the Pooh and a bumble bee hanging benevolently on the wall above him.
And then there was the Thunder Shirt. After spending hours researching and applying treatment methods for him, including the absurd notion of rubbing him down with organic drier sheets, I finally settled on the Thunder Shirt. During a particularly nasty storm on Saturday we raced to Hero's Pets, where Chelsea was waiting for us with one already out of the package and ready to go.
The premise is rather simple: you put the shirt on and Velcro it around your dog, making sure it fits tightly, like a too small t-shirt. The pressure offered by the shirt soothes the nervous system and alleviates anxiety. I was skeptical but as soon as Chelsea had him securely fitted, his entire demeanor changed. The panting ceased, the nervous pacing stopped entirely and he was able to lay down and relax. I took him home and watched, astounded, as he napped away the remainder of the storm. And in the days that followed, as each new line of thunderheads piled up over the lush, stony peaks to the north and west of us, it took little to no convincing to get him to wear it. We simply offered him a treat and watched as he laid down calmly at our feet or retired to the cool linoleum in the bathroom for peace and quiet.
It is not a perfect thing. I will admit that Monday's firework celebrations all around us were a trial. While the cats slept peacefully on the bed, Duncan paced and whined and refused to stay far from me, but he did not shake and tremble. Friday's celebration was a nightmare and Monday was difficult, but his fear of thunder has been greatly reduced and I have taken great comfort in knowing I have done everything I can to help his anxiety as much as he helped mine. And watching him sleep calms my spirit more than I could ever explain.
I can only hope to be half the friend he has been to me. It is the least I can do.