RSS Feed

The Dina Years – Separation Anxiety

Dina and her shadow

Dina and her shadow

 I was supposed to outgrow my separation anxiety. People expect small children to cling to Mommy, but as you get older, not so much. Except that, I grew up afraid that my mother would leave. My father would yell, and yell and yell some more, until she ran out the front door to get away from him. I could hear the door slam from my bedroom upstairs, and I was afraid that this time she would leave and never come back.

But she always did come back. And when I was twenty-three and she was truly ready to leave him, she took me with her. I wasn’t ready for graduate school yet. I needed a cave to hide out in, and I needed my mother. I was like a little mouse, scampering up and down the stairs, terrified of being caught, and eaten.

Our dog, Dina, a black Labrador mix, was almost eight years old, and Mom wasn’t sure about bringing her with us, but I insisted. I had made a commitment to Dina and I couldn’t leave without her. My father didn’t even ask if Dina could stay with him. I would have said no. I would have screamed and run away with her in the middle of the night. But he didn’t ask.

We left behind most of the things my mother had accumulated over thirty years of marriage, but we did take the living room couch. Mom had picked it out from a charity shop to replace the faux leather couch Dina had destroyed during her rampaging-puppy years.

We found an apartment that accepted dogs, and the couch was now our central gathering place. When Mom and I sat down to watch TV, Dina climbed up to be the glue between us.

My father had refused to let Dina get fixed, even though she’d been having hormonal problems and false pregnancies for eight years, tearing up carpets to create bedding for imaginary puppies. One of our first priorities when we moved was to find a new vet and get Dina her operation. They shaved her belly pink and left a long black scar, but even though she was woozy and sore, I knew we’d finally done right by her.

Within months, something changed: Mom and Dina started to bond. My mother woke up early to take Dina outside for the first pee of the day, now that we had no backyard to let her loose in, and then my fifty-five year old mother would get down on the floor with Dina and pounce and growl and throw dusty tennis balls every which way.

Mom became the fun sister, and I was the fuddy duddy, the disciplinarian. In our new life, I was responsible for cooking and cleaning. I put out the garbage and made up menus and shopping lists and budgets. I made sure Mom ate healthy food and had lunches to take to work. I planned TV watching and other entertainment. I also took Dina out for long walks every day; two or three miles of wandering around the neighborhood, with poopy bags and fresh water and paper towels to clean off her drool.

And yet, when my mother came home from work each day, Dina’s ears perked up, and her tongue stuck out and she made guttural sounds as if she were trying to squeal, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”

I knew that Dina had been out to pee at three PM and again at six, and I knew that she could actually hold her bladder intact very well for eight to ten hours without incident, but Dina’s manipulative brat persona would surface – Bam! “Oh Mommy, I just have to pee or I’ll die!” and then, “Oh Mommy, I am so hungry I could faint!” even though she’d been eating Twizzlers and string cheese with me all day long while I was supposed to be writing. She’d even eaten a few stray chunks of her own dry dog food.

I think that, finally, Mom felt like she deserved to be loved. By both of us, because Dina’s excited greeting was pretty similar to how I felt. I couldn’t begrudge her this joy which was suddenly part of her every day life.

My separation anxiety didn’t go away, though. I still worried that Mom would die. She would have a heart attack on the train into the city, or get into a car accident on the way home from the station. Something would happen while she was out of my sight and I wouldn’t be able to save her.

And Dina started to develop similar separation anxiety symptoms, around me. When I left the house without Dina, even for an hour, she would run up to my room and sit on my bed, releasing hair and drooling until my room smelled like stale dog breath. I wonder if she, too, was imagining all of the awful ways I could die and never return to her. I’m pretty sure her scenarios would have involved squirrels, and cats. An assassin cat and his squirrel assistant were clearly plotting ways to get me as soon as I walked out the door. That’s why Dina had to push past me, and bite my leg whenever I tried to leave. To protect me.

Dina, keeping me safe from the jigsaw puzzle.

Dina, keeping me safe from the jigsaw puzzle.

The fact is that I don’t think I could have handled sitting in an empty apartment all day while Mom was at work. I needed Dina as much as she needed me. Even if all she wanted was to rub her head against my leg when her nose itched.

As a result of her operation, and with the addition of her extended walking schedule, she wasn’t tearing up carpets anymore, and her remaining neuroses were manageable, as long as I never left the house without her. And, actually, I could live with that.

Me and Dina, out for a walk.

Me and Dina, out for a walk.

Advertisements

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

92 responses »

  1. A very touching story. Much loved by your mother and your dog and vice versa. Thank goodness for dogs. Wonderful beings or if you prefer, creatures.

    Reply
  2. Wonderful story, I really enjoyed reading it!

    Reply
  3. Sitting in front of the fire with my good wife and two dogs and reading your story…….. doesn’t get much better than that.
    Terry

    Reply
  4. Thanks for sharing this story with me – it was a great one and you described all things very well – I could see it in my imagination.

    Reply
  5. Aw – sad, funny, cute, sweet and touching all wrapped up in one beautifully written story. A triumph of love, loyalty and strength over adversity. : )))xxx Anne & Monty

    Reply
  6. this is wonderful, and makes me fall in love with all dogs, all over again, like the very first time. which, i think, is a sign that it is really well written, by a really good writer

    Reply
    • Thank you! I keep trying to capture this feeling I have whenever I see a dog, this oh-my-god the world is a wonderful place and I am full of sparkly energy. I need that feeling to keep me going.

      Reply
  7. Reblogged this on MY GARDEN AND IT'S WILDLIFE BY LINDA PENNEY and commented:
    just awesome rachelmank​owitz

    Reply
  8. a beautiful and touching story, so full of insight into what love really means.

    Reply
  9. A sweet story and very touching. AJ, our lab that we lost in December had severe separation anxiety disorders. We tried all kinds of different approaches, and some worked. But from the day we brought home at 2 years old until he died at 12 years old, we couldn’t fix all of his anxieties. But I still loved him dearly and miss him. Thank you for the story.

    Reply
    • We have this idea, about humans and dogs, that everything should be fixable, and if it’s not fixed then we haven’t tried hard enough. I just don’t think that’s true. Dina did her best to heal, and I did my best to help her, and we made as much progress as we could. She lived the best version of her life, and I’m proud of her for that.

      Reply
      • That is very wise of you. I know in my head that you’re right but the heart wishes I could have made everything perfect for him. Sadly life doesn’t work that way.

      • This is very soothing of you to say. I have a lot of separation anxiety issues, and they keep putting me in my crate. Not that I can blame them, because I do tear up the house. But I think I am making progress, slowly, and I’ll get to where I can get to. Thank you for a lovely post. Again!

      • I know you’re doing your best, sweetie pie.

  10. Kaci has separation anxiety-from ME!?

    Reply
  11. The Red Man can totally relate to Dina’s separation anxiety. You never know when they’ll get up and walk out and not come back. My strategy is to bark so loud when I see the old woman Slow pick up the truck keys that she lets me go with her just to shut me up. Give it a try. 🙂

    Reply
  12. Very well written. I think I really like your mom 🙂

    Reply
  13. Awwwww. I super love the picture of you together at the end. Awww.

    Reply
  14. This is such a beautiful and loving post. I love the pictures, too!

    Reply
  15. What a beautiful story. Dogs really do leave paw prints in our hearts *(^___^)*

    Reply
  16. A really lovely story. I love both of my dogs and they are happy and content with me and with each other. The only thing is that when I take the Maltese to the Groomer and then bring back home all bathed and groomed, she attack him – not nasty but more like ” Where have you been? Who have you been with? Don’t lie to me – you smell different”. It’s so funny to watch them – then they settle down and all is well with the world again.

    Reply
    • That’s great! Cricket has always done that sort of sniff test on me when I come home, but she hasn’t done it to Butterfly yet. Maybe I should get some of that strange groomer perfume and spray it on Butterfly to see what happens?

      Reply
  17. Truly a beautiful story. I can so relate to separation anxiety, both with my own and that of my dog, too. I also like the way you write; it’s as if we had just sat down together and you told this all to me. Good read, good job.

    Reply
  18. So sad that an early childhood environment created such fear. I am glad, however, that the two of you moved out and realised you deserved loving.

    Reply
    • I was so glad Dina was able to spend the second half of her life in a good place. When we went back to the old house when it was being sold, Dina refused to go in. She balked at the front door and tried to run back to the car. More than anything, that told me we’d done the right thing.

      Reply
  19. exiledprospero

    I wonder if those tiny jigsaw pieces, desperately wanting to get out of the box, feel separation anxiety from the completed scene… No wonder you need protection from such a hotbed of psychosis!

    Reply
  20. What a heartfelt & personal story. And I can definitely relate to the timeliness of a dog’s presence in my life to help me through whatever I was going through. It sounds like Dinah was exactly the kind of third wheel you & your mother needed 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing!

    Reply
  21. Forest So Green

    What a wonderful and touching story. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  22. I really enjoy reading your blgs and admire your writing, thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  23. Enjoy this touching story , it’s wonderful to have the love of a Dog and Loyal Companion.

    Reply
  24. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  25. I love your story, it’s touching and wise. I can’t imagine being without a dog or two, or three.

    Reply
  26. They really are the best companions anyone can have. Our dog Belle passed on Monday and while it is so hard to fathom moving on without her, I am so grateful to have our other dog Ruby. I am relying on her to help us through this time – even though she is a bit of a scatterbrain.

    Reply
    • I’m so sorry about Belle. I’ve found that I don’t really move on without the dogs when they go. I can still see them and hear them, for a long time. I hope Belle is able to stick around a bit for the transition. Check with Ruby, she probably knows just where to look.

      Reply
  27. Wow, reads like a novel. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  28. Oh I love your story! I cannot imagine not having my girls. Today Fiona goes in for an ultrasound, sonogram…my sister and I never know the difference so she started saying ultragram/sonasound. Anyway….I love your story.

    Reply
  29. So beautiful.You are such a sensitive soul.

    Reply
  30. That’s what dogs do, teach you that you deserve to be loved. Thanks for sharing that insight.

    Reply
  31. Kudos to your mother for being strong enough to finally leave your father, She, you and Dina all deserved to find your little safe haven that could be filled with love.
    I think your bonds are stronger for what you have been though… and you write well about what is a very personal and emotional situation. Bravo to you all.

    Reply
  32. A truly beautiful story that is beautifully written. Thanks for sharing it and for stopping by my blog too. I look forward to visiting here regularly.

    Reply
  33. What a wonderful story Rachel. Mini is a rescue dog as well, and has anxiety. She constantly has to lick. Me, the postman, the water delivery guy, the landlord…hands, feet, face, anywhere she can reach. it doesn’t matter who. She will run out with this loud high pitched bark that makes people think she’s going to bite and then she’s licking you all over. I can’t seem to stop her and I have just accepted that it’s part of her wonderful, loving personality. Unfortunately, others don’t always see it that way. Not everyone wants to be loved to pieces by a mini lickmyster. Thanks also for the like on my Laundry Musings.

    Reply
  34. This is a beautifully and sensitively written story. So many aspects of it ring true and believable. This is lovely. It reads like a piece of well written fiction where a dog bit means so much more than a dog bite, and walking the dog goes beyond a mere shared activity.

    Reply
    • I remember struggling hard with books on meditation and zen and then finally finding something that said I could do a walking meditation. Yay! The dogs force me to do that constantly, whether I know I need a time out or not. They have made my life richer and deeper than I ever could have made it on my own.

      Reply
  35. Beatiful story, thanks for sharing xx

    Reply
  36. What a wonderful, touching story. It sounds like such a pivotal time, I’m glad Dina was there for you both.

    Reply
  37. rachel,

    Thanks for liking my blog and I like yours. This story is beautiful and reminds me of my German Shepherd’s separation anxiety over not being able to even have me out of his sight.
    I’ve pretty gotten much the same, as when I visit my grand children who are 100 miles away. I get so worried about him going into a mournful mood as he did when I was in the hospital several times without him. My husband stays with him while I’m gone but it’s no good. He lays his head down and whimpers over me being gone.

    Reply
  38. hi rahel
    i am gouri…….
    thank u for following my blog !!! ur the first !!!!!! thank u thank u love ur dogs !!!!

    Reply
  39. have you written any book ???
    (sorry for the random question but the thing is, this is the first time i’m talking to an author and i’m super excited !!!!)

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: