Anxious Cookie Wasn’t So Sweet

“Bye bye, Daddy, I love you.”

Closing the door behind me, I paused for a full 10 seconds then slowly peeked back into the house. Staring back at me was my daughter, her sad expression turned into a big smile. This happens Saturday mornings when I leave for work.

In my profession, we would describe this as separation anxiety. Pets are no different. Many times they will sit and wait at the door till their owner comes home. For some, however, this is just the beginning.

Mrs. Crabtree came into our hospital one day and plopped down with a defeated look on her face.

“Doc, I just don’t know what to do anymore. Cookie is just too much for me and my husband to handle. We followed all your advice. We take Cookie out for long walks in the morning and evening. We tried all the behavior-modification techniques. When we leave, we give Cookie several dog toys with food hidden in them to keep her busy.” Mrs. Crabtree shook her head. “Nothing works.”

Looking down at the adorable 2-year-old Springer spaniel, it was hard to believe the turmoil she created.

Whenever left alone, Cookie would tear up furniture, urinate and defecate throughout the house and howl all day long. Separation anxiety was the diagnosis, and she had it bad.

“It’s time to start her on some medication,” I replied. “Continue with your behavior modification training and give this medicine daily. You have to remember that Cookie is not trying to be difficult. She is suffering from severe anxieties whenever she is not with you or your husband.”

“I know, Doc,” replied Mrs. Crabtree, “and that’s why we’re trying so hard. I just don’t know how much more we can take.”

Three months later, Mrs. Crabtree returned to our office. When I entered the room, she had a very relieved, peaceful expression on her face.

“Where’s Cookie?” I asked. “She’s in a better place, Doc.”

Suddenly I was the one experiencing anxiety. “What do you mean a better place?”

I think Mrs. Crabtree realized my stark expression was in response to the notion of euthanasia.

“Oh no,” she replied, “I wasn’t referring to doggy heaven. I meant she is literally in a better place. We gave her to a person we met at the dog park. Cookie seemed to get along with the three other dogs the lady owned, and after hearing our story, this person offered to take Cookie for a few days to give us a break. Cookie immediately adjusted to her dog pack and no longer suffers from the anxiety attacks. She’s been there ever since and she’s happy. I just came by to let you know and thank you.”

With raised eyebrows and a quirky smile, I replied, “I’m glad I could help.”

Cookie’s anxiety is shared by many dogs. Behavior training, doggy puzzles and mood-altering medication are options to help them with their problem. Unfortunately, my training ends there, and I am not equipped to address my daughter’s anxiety. What do I do for her separation anxiety? Well, I’m not giving her to a lady at a park, that’s for sure. For now, I just hand her an iPad as I leave for work.

Yes, I’m one of those parents.

Dr. John Kaya is director of the Windward Community College veterinary technician program and associate veterinarian for VCA University Animal Hospital.