eileenanddogs

In Zani’s Honor: Help Your Dog Get Close

I made a mistake. I did Zani wrong.

I’m not looking for reassurance. I’m not down on myself, just very sad. And as usual, I want to share my cautionary tale.

This is the second time I’ve made this mistake, and I plan to never make it again. I’m going to begin by telling you about the first time I made this error, long ago with different dogs.

Cricket and Gabriel

I tell the story of getting Cricket from a rescue in my book Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. She was a middle-aged dog when I got her as a companion for my slightly older dog, Gabriel.

Gabriel in 1995, about a year old

Gabriel was a rat terrier or a mix. He also resembled a Teddy Roosevelt Terrier. He was an easygoing guy with a ton of personality. He got under the covers of the bed every night with me. He would look at me and paw at the covers, and I would hold them up. He would go under and cuddle with me. In the summer he was the first up in the morning, wanting to go check the yard. But in the wintertime, I had to coax him out from under the covers. I would sing to him, “Oh Gabriel! It’s time to get up!” and he would snuggle down further a few times before finally emerging.

I picked Cricket from a rat terrier rescue online because she looked retiring and “demure” (that was the word I used then) in her rescue photo. I fantasized about having these two cute terriers who could hang out. Her fosterers were so crazy about her that even after the rescue approved me, I had to launch an email campaign to get them to let me have her. They reported that she got along with the other small dogs in their home. When I saw Cricket for the first time in a parking lot in the small highway town where we met I was smitten, and by the time I got her home she was my dog.

She hated Gabriel.

It turned out Cricket was neither retiring nor demure. She was a strong-willed little bitch, and one of her goals in life was to have me all to herself. The first and most dramatic thing she did was to tell Gabriel, dog-to-dog, that he could no longer sleep under the covers. I did not see her do this, and to this day I don’t know what element of doggie language she used. There was never a lunge, never a growl or curled lip. There was probably a lot of stink-eye, but I didn’t see it. In any case, once Cricket was there, Gabriel never got under the covers again, not once. Even though Cricket would be on one side of me and I would invite him under on the other side, he refused. They also fought regularly. I would not allow this now. I didn’t know the dangers of that then. Scuffles can escalate.

My little fantasy idyll of two terrier buddies didn’t happen. But worse than that, Cricket bumped sweet Gabriel from one of his favorite things: sleeping under the covers with me. I hated it, but I had no idea what to do about it, so I let it happen. Gabriel did benefit from Cricket’s arrival in many other ways. After I adopted Cricket, I decided I needed to step up my dog caregiver game—it was even in my contract! So I took Cricket on a walk down my street every day. And Gabriel, too! Separately, of course. And it was lovely to have a normal walk with Gabe after being dragged by Cricket, the tiny draft animal, down the block. It also meant more toys and more chewables. So Gabriel’s life wasn’t ruined, by any means. He had another member of his species with common interests in the house. He had more stuff to play with and chew on. But I will never stop feeling that I betrayed him.

Gabriel in 2003

Zani, Clara, and the Other Dogs

This is harder to write about.

When I got Zani, I already had two dogs: Cricket and Summer. They hated each other too, but that’s another story. The focus here is that I had intense love affairs with each of them. Cricket was…Cricket. My little feisty darling who I picked out of a lineup. And Summer and I went through hell together and came out the other side. She was my crossover dog, calm and patient with me, the one who brought me to this world of dog training.

Frenemies Cricket and Summer

So in 2009, here comes this beagle/terrier mix with the sunniest disposition in the world. She wasn’t afraid of anything and was ready to love every person and every dog. I almost didn’t know what to do with such a charming, easy dog. But she wasn’t a pushover. She let Cricket’s stink-eye roll over her, and she pestered Summer the Grump endlessly into playing with her. She carved a niche in our household, including that, over time, she claimed her chunk of me. Oh yes, she got my heart. And she sat in my lap, sat behind me in my chair, solicited play with me, and yes, got under the covers in the bed. (I don’t remember whether this was before or after Cricket stopped doing that. As her dementia progressed, she stopped getting under the covers.)

Zani in my lap in 2015

Two years later, Clara arrived. My first puppy, and one with extreme needs, to boot. This is not where the story gets sad. I didn’t neglect anybody (and never have). We again settled into niches. Cricket maintained her niche, even as she sank into dementia. I kept her separate from both Summer, who hated her, and Clara who was hulking and careless. I introduced Summer and Clara very slowly, since I was concerned that Summer wouldn’t grant rambunctious Clara a puppy license. And Zani became Clara’s nanny, helping me raise her, while still remaining friendly with everybody else.

Zani is mildly Internet-famous, being the dog in an educational video I made who didn’t want to be petted. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t affectionate. She sat on my lap when I was in a big kitchen chair or on the couch; she pressed up close to me in bed, on top of or under the covers. She didn’t always want to be petted, but she enjoyed being close, and would claim her space with me.

Zani was sound phobic. And in 2016, she also got generalized anxiety and suffered strange panic attacks, whose trigger we never discovered. With the help of a great vet behaviorist, she bounced back well, but her mental health was always a little tippy after that.

Moving

Fast forward to 2018. In February, Clara ran Zani into a fence when they were both chasing a squirrel. Zani suffered a spinal cord concussion and was temporarily quadriplegic. After she was able to walk and navigate again, we moved, combining households with my close friend and her dog. All of us benefitted, but Zani probably most of all, as sociable as she was. She adored my friend and built new habits, hanging out with both of us.

As she aged, she got eye problems, a very acute case of keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye), which didn’t respond well to the standard meds. She required a lot of care (many eyedrops per day). Her anxiety re-emerged with a new set of sounds to deal with, but she stayed mostly steady, with a lot of management and situational meds. She slept with Clara and me in our area of the new house.

But in 2020 she got scared a couple of times of something in my room, probably a sound outside, but I’ll never know. She started acting anxious and wanting out of my room. I set up the baby gate so she could get out, and at night she started sleeping first in the living room, then later at the far end of the house, away from everybody. This saddened me, but it was not the first time she had exerted this much independence. Zani, as sociable as she was, also valued her alone time. She slept separately sometimes at the old house, too. I remember that after Cricket died, I gave Clara and Zani more freedom in the house, and Zani promptly started sleeping in the den for a while. I’m not playing down the fact that she was scared in my room in the new house, but sleeping elsewhere seemed to address it. She was happy every morning when I got up and she would come from the other end of the house, wagging her tail.

Clara could also have played a part in Zani’s ceasing to sleep in bed with me. Clara resource guards me, not in any kind of aggressive way. She does it by proximity, body blocks, but also by means invisible to me, similarly to Cricket. In day-to-day life, though, Zani was a match for her, even though so much smaller. So if I had to guess, Clara didn’t play a big part in Zani’s exodus at night.

I saw to Zani’s health needs, which were extreme in this, her last year. Meds, eyedrops, and cleaning up her eyes and nose, all multiple times a day. Brushing her teeth religiously so as to prevent or delay her from having to have a dental treatment. I stepped up the care even more as she became ill with lymphoma.

She continued to sleep in the other part of the house. I put one of her favorite beds and my own baby blanket in the area of the pantry she had chosen.

It was only a few weeks after she died that I realized something. I’d been going through my old digital photos. My photo library is large, and I wanted to make sure all my dog photos were tagged and searchable. (Only about 5,500 out of 25,000 to go!) Going through my photos of Zani, I saw all these selfies that I had taken of Zani and me. Zani on my lap, Zani between my feet, Zani pressed up against me on the couch.

I had forgotten that she used to like to spend time pressed close to me before me moved. I had forgotten.

Why didn’t she do it now? Because I had ceased giving her the opportunity.

I had let the environment change my behavior such that Zani no longer had a chance to sit on my lap or settle in next to me during the day. We have couches, which the dogs spend a lot of time on, but I don’t. During the day I hang out at the kitchen table, which has chairs that are less dog-friendly than Zani was used to.

One time recently when I did sit on a couch, Clara immediately jumped up and got on one side of me. Then Zani got on the other, pressing herself companionably by my side. One time. I even remember thinking, “That’s unusual!” But I rarely sat on the couch, so the opportunity to hang out with me and have pleasant physical contact was gone from Zani’s life, and I didn’t even realize that I had changed my behavior. I didn’t remember that she had formerly been affectionate in that way.

I wasn’t freaking giving her the chance anymore.

I could have done something. The situation with Cricket and Gabriel would have been hard to address, even with better training abilities. But it’s likely that I could have enriched Zani’s life—and mine—merely by sitting on the couch sometimes.

First World Problems

Tragedies abound in our world. People are dying needlessly and cruelly in the pandemic. My standard of living, even as I live in these currently dangerous United States, is good. We are safe and have shelter, enough to eat, and I have work I love. I’m immensely privileged. That being said, Zani was part of my family and always will be. I think I’m permitted my grief, and I think others may benefit from my sharing it. I won’t forget this stupid, unmindful mistake I made, a mistake that deprived her of one of her simple pleasures in life. She didn’t ask much, even though she was medically high maintenance. She lived her little parallel life in my house, going her own way. One of my nicknames for her was Different Drummer Girl, a play on Thoreau’s comment about marching to the beat of a different drummer. She was mightily independent.

But that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have readily snuggled up to me, if given the chance.

I debated posting these pictures. I was worried that it was some kind of self-flagellation. But I gained some peace going through them. I just wish they had continued after 2018.

Again, I’m not looking for reassurance. I know I gave Zani a good life. But this realization about the lack of closeness was a blow to me. I don’t have a chance for a do-over with Zani. But I needed to write this. Of all the things I could write about my life with Zani, this is what came out. Perhaps it will help one of you.

If your dogs enjoy being close, facilitate that. If one dog is hogging you, or there are other circumstances that prevent a dog from having all the access to you she might want, do something. I wish I had.

Copyright 2020 Eileen Anderson

14 thoughts on “In Zani’s Honor: Help Your Dog Get Close

  1. I have followed your blog for years and always admired your ability to view the world from your dogs’ eyes. That’s what makes you such a loving teacher and dog companion and it’s also what’s causing you pain now. I have had the same regret about a past dog. You have just acknowledged that my feeling was valid which helps, but the woulda, shoulda, coulda still haunts me. Bless you, you make the world a better place.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. It’s particularly meaningful to me right now after losing one of my boys and adding an older puppy to our mix. I’ll be more mindful of behavior changes in the group and remember to encourage cuddles (we all love them). 😘

  3. Thank you, Eileen. You’ve just prompted me to pay closer attention to be dogs’ subtle ways of interacting with me. I have 2 dogs and one is reserved about making herself available but she does have her moments and I’m going to investigate those circumstances so I can increase them.

  4. Thanks for this, Eileen. I have just moved into a new home with my daughter and Grandson, previously living alone. This article prompted me to really look at the ways my dogs lives have been changed, and to do some serious work on trying to recreate some of the opportunities for cuddles and interaction they may have lost. I know they have 2 more people now, but I’m sure it isn’t the same as it was with just me. The furniture is different, and I don’t spend time on the new couch like I used to. Wow, what a revelation. Thanks for opening my eyes.

  5. Thank you for sharing this.

    I can think where I have done something similar. It isn’t always easy when we think back and realize what we did.

    It takes courage to talk openly about mistakes we made.

  6. I appreciate you sharing this Eileen. As a wheelchair user, I find it difficult to reach over and pat my Labrador. I use a lot of food reinforcement instead of touch. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like having cuddles. He actually leans on people while they pat him, and I always feel bad that I can’t enrich his life by doing it more often. He has never wanted to sleep in my bed with me, and the last few times I got on the lounge with him, he only humped me! So I stopped doing that. I will have to find a new way to get close, so important for him and probably mine too. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Now if only I could get on the floor and rub his belly!

  7. I have followed you for years. When I adopted a JRT rescue, even fostered her for two weeks to see how she did with my loving certified therapy dog. She didn’t show they she was a resource guarder of food and toys. Even if she imagined the golden was looking at something that may want, she would do a full attack. No injuries but scared us and the golden. This happened 3 times. I tried behavior mod. I could give them treats sitting together. But times she would just attack her. The JRT was sweet other wise. My golden’s personality was changing causing her to be fearful..My solution was to move out of the house. Drastic Yes. The JRT was happy with my husband the the Golden went back to being herself.

  8. Eileen – as always, sharing your mistakes cannot be easy, but is so helpful for the rest of us. Thank you for the difficult posts as well as the joyful ones. Those photos are to be cherished!

  9. Thank you for humility compassion and insight. That is why you reach out beyond your dogs all over the world to needing human guardians. I us a walker for mobility – it is difficult to bend and spontaneously and immediately reinforce – but dogs are highly connected to us in ways beyond our comprehension – my two Papillons understand.
    I have noticed the competition between the two boys for my affection – sometimes I feel like a cake being sliced. I’ve noticed dogs negotiate, bully and steal slices of Robyn whenever mI happen to be available. You’re right Eileen we have to remember to be available and wise when we are.
    Thank you so much!
    Robyn Youl … from Downunder .. Australia

  10. Thank you Eileen for an insightful (as always) and particularly poignant post – and for the beautiful photos of you and Zani. It’s often the subtle things that we overlook. You have provided much food for thought here.

  11. Eileen, you need to forgive yourself (as I do). Actions we didn’t think of in time are lost opportunities and they are gone forever. But they give us information for the next time, and the time after that.
    My heart is breaking for you, and for all the dogs that didn’t get quite what they needed and wanted, when we could have given it. But we didn’t, and it’s not our fault. We’re humans. We’re fallible, we make mistakes.
    You are a wonderful, kind, decent person. Please try to treat yourself as gently as you treat dogs!

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