Posting day: Sunday, and, sometimes, maybe, extra bits in between.
Sunday January 5th 2020
When I last reported on Hairy One’s table manners, all was going swimmingly. No ear splitting screams. No air shredding screeches. No snarling, snapping, barking or leaping up the wall. Just a normal, calm, little dog eating her meal.
But, suddenly, out of the blue, as they say, everything changes. The hour goes back, the winter sun sags low in the sky in the day time and in the early evening headlights flash past.
For a while stupid Human doesn’t understand what’s turned her quiet, contented diner back into a fraught, barky pest.
First port in a storm is always the ‘bark and your food is removed’ response. To be fair, for a day or two, after her dish has been whipped from under her questing spotty nose three times each sitting, on three consecutive days, Isis does try very hard to suppress the barks. For a day, they emerge as little, subdued ‘oofs’.
But then, instead of responding positively to the retraining, as she usually does after relapses, Isis deteriorates rapidly. Each time her food is removed, she becomes more hysterical, growling, screeching, spinning and biting herself; alternatively, she just leaves her breakfast uneaten, and has only one meal a day.
At last it dawns on her dim-witted housemate that something is very wrong. It must be a relief to poor Isis who has for weeks, I now realise, been standing stiffly over her dish continuously casting anxious glances over her right shoulder towards the front door.
Ah, yes. Near the top of the front door is a sizeable oval inset of textured glass. The large window adjacent to the door has the same kind of glass. The morning sun strikes the panes, and the glass fractures its wavering beam into a thousand jiggling shards. What must that be doing to poor Hairy One’s damaged eyes?
I experiment with numerous possible solutions: I feed her in the back room; I cover the glass of the kitchen door with a blanket; I switch off all the lights in the house while she eats, and creep off in the dark to another room; I stand in the kitchen with her, patting her gently while she eats. At least she is calm enough to eat when I comfort her, but the barking continues spasmodically.
The kitchen is where she’s always eaten, and it occurs to me that moving her food around and changing the dining room arrangements is probably confusing her and making her more anxious.
Fear that my dog will return to her previous chaotic dining room habits has clouded my judgement. (To be candid, I was never over endowed with common sense anyway.)
Come on. Isis is not about to regress: she is genuinely distressed by the light. Soon, the sun will return to its rightful position in the sky, and all will be well again.
I feed her in the kitchen every day. I am completely calm and laid back. I’m never impatient with her. If she leaves her food, that’s fine. She’s unlikely to starve herself.
This helps. She continues to bark each morning when she has her breakfast. Sometimes she doesn’t eat. She barks in the evening, but less. I notice that on Saturdays and Sundays, when there’s no stream of motorists passing on their way from work, she is much more relaxed, and often doesn’t bark at all.
I apologise to her. Because she will now walk at night, despite the headlights, and will always leave the car when we reach the park, even when the sun is bright, I overlooked how very deeply embedded is her anxiety around eating in the face of any perceived threat.
Christmas day jolts my complacency. When Y. and Blitzi visit, the humans eat vegetarian, but Y. brings delicious special dinners for the dogs. Their dishes are filled with a tempting layer of Sainsbury’s Turkey Dinner for dogs, and topped with chunks of chicken freshly cooked by Y.
We feed Blitzi first. He gollops down his tasty meal, and licks his chops appreciatively. I can’t wait for Hairy One to have hers. She’ll be delighted.
But she’s not. Although Blitzi is with Y., behind the closed door of the front room, Isis refuses to even approach her dish. Instead, she slinks out of the kitchen and onto the day bed.
I’m sure she’ll eat when the our guests have left.
She doesn’t. When I depart to bed in the early hours, her meal is still untouched.
In the morning, her dish is licked clean.
Many years ago I adopted a little border collie, whom I named ‘Rush’, I think because she rushed away and hid when approached with food, or when a stranger came to the house. Her food dish had to be left in a room devoid of other animals or humans. She was one of only two survivors from a litter of six or seven pups who were tied up behind a caravan and thrown handfuls of food when their owner thought about it. Thankfully, someone reported him, he was taken to court and banned from keeping dogs – for life, I think.
Little Rush never became a confident dog, but gradually she learned that it was safe to eat around people and animals.
I am almost certain that Isis will never achieve this.
One can only imagine what she went through before she was taken to Aeza.* Poor little creature.
Hey! Isis! That doesn’t mean that it was O.K. to nip Blitzi’s bottom.
*Isis came from the Aeza cat and dog rescue and adoption centre in Aljezur, Portugal. For information about adopting an animal from the centre, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or www.dogwatchuk.co.uk