Mudra stands at the baby gate, eyes a soft almond shape, tongue lolling in a spoon shape, filling his lungs like he just ran a race. Like he is overheated. Like he has been playing.
In actuality, he just awoke from a brief nap, and sometimes this upsets him.
When people talk to me about dogs with anxiety, I used to think of my old crew: Chen, Dougal, and Midas. Three dogs so completely different, but all lived happily and safely to ripe old ages (16, 13, 12) with emotional and mental disabilities. Dogs that were considered in the field to be extreme cases, and scheduled to be euthanized before they found their way to me.
Now a days when I talk anxiety, my old pack are my “severe” examples. Mudra, when not managed or cared for appropriately, is my “1%”. “1%” is a classification I have met four times in my life, with the inclusion of Mudra. All dogs these dogs had a genetic makeup that drove them to mania and impulse control disorders. All dogs that could not shut it off easily (or at all) on their own, which was then compounded by negative or a total lack of life experiences.
As I write this, Mudra stares, and waits. He has been out to potty before said nap, we had a play session earlier than that, and he is currently having a minor version of one of the explosive panic attacks that once plagued our household. Naps and other forms of inactivity are his biggest trigger, and he wants me to fix it. Now.
When I turn to look at him, it’s slow. Disinterested. My eyes are also soft, sleepy almond-shaped. I blink once and take a full three seconds to complete that single blink, ending it with a deep inhale through my nose, exhaling it the same way. After about another four seconds, I repeat the blink, breathing normally, and look back to my computer.
I have told him that I see him, and am busy. My closed mouth shows him that I want space, that I am not going to play right now.
Five minutes later, Mudra leaves the gate and enters Bowie’s crate, scratching the bed.
“Mudra. Off.” comes out of Ian’s mouth before mine. The scratching intensifies for a second, and then stops, as he doesn’t hear us coming to engage with him.
Sitting, panting in the open crate, Muds takes another two minutes to walk out into the middle of the living room and lay down.
Once upon a time, Mudra could not sleep loose. He would spin, bite himself, claw walls, screech, hyperventilate, and methodically destroy things. Every animal in sight would be harassed, panic would be pushed on everyone in his vicinity. A single look from us led to play bows mixed with warning teeth as he would fight his own internal conflicts of “Come here play don’t touch me get away”. This was his life, and our life with him.
Once upon a time, Mudra could not self-soothe in nonharmful ways. Now, he’s my emotional support dog.
As I write this entry, Muds has finished up his breathing exercises on the floor, which he does for himself, by himself, when he knows he needs them. When I pass by him to get food or water from the kitchen, I’m met with a glance from him as he lays flat on his side on the floor, breathing slowly, eyes alert but softening again. The most I possibly do is give him a thumbs up as I’m heading out of the room, if that. I don’t do more than glance at him, because by now I know when he needs me to let him concentrate. I can not be a distraction to him, if I want him to succeed.
As I close this, he’s now curled up in bed, having gotten through another panic attack thanks to a combo of Settling/Calming behavior mods, and a prescription medication that allows his mind to slow down enough to think properly (instead of in a 24/7 manic state of sleep or panic). A medication we hope to one day minimize, but accept that he may be one of those rare dogs that need it for life.
I live with a dog who succeeds every day despite obstacles and quirks that would leave him homeless.
I live with a dog with emotional and mental disabilities.
Over the next few months, one of our topics will be Mudra's story, as we highlight animals living with emotional and mental disabilities.