When we let it all go - it all gets done" - Lao Tzu
Last summer I adopted a dog - an impulsive decision, inspired by one of my
clients. His name is Ben. I call Ben or Benjamin, Benis the Menis, Handsome Boy
or whatever “puppy nick name” that seems fitting in the moment. My friends call
him Benny and sometimes Benji (more on this later). He's a Poochon (half poodle,
half bichon) - with long white curly hair mixed with a touch of grey in his
ears, whiskers and tail. I saw his photo on an animal shelter's website, and
called to check his availability. He was there, so I decided to meet him. When
I arrived however, someone already snatched him up.
Despondent, I gave the shelter my phone number –“just in case” he got returned.
“That probably won’t happen”- the adoption specialist told me as she tried
to return my number.
“Keep it” I responded –in a desperate attempt to cling to some scant hope of
I left the shelter, went home and sat silently for a while contemplating on
the stars. Restless inside, I remember thinking to myself as I gazed into the
dark sky, “something is just not right in the universe…he’s supposed to be my
I then practiced “vairagya” which means “non – attachment” in yoga, and let
And guess what happened?
The very next day the shelter called me because Ben was returned.
He growled at the new owner's landlord, and well, back to the shelter he
went. So off to the shelter I went “just to meet him", I told myself. He then
cocked his little head and smiled at me -and that was it- he became mine.
Ben was 1 1/2 years old when I met him. He and his brother Timmy were
initially purchased from a pet store (and most likely came from a puppy mill) by
a mother and son. The mother had Timmy, and the son had Ben. As the story goes, the son really didn't take care of Ben, so the mother got stuck with both dogs. Overwhelmed, she surrendered them to a shelter. She then missed Timmy, reclaimed him, and left Ben to fend for himself.
When Ben arrived at the shelter he was covered in flea dirt, and tested
positive for Lyme disease. Neglected, abused, and abandoned, he awaited his
fate. Then along came me and Fate's master plan for both of us, was set into
At first, his sweet snuggly demeanor masked his trauma. However, within a
month it was clear to me he needed help. He had horrific separation anxiety and
I couldn't go anywhere without him. His mighty growl proved him distrustful of
most strangers and other dogs. Any time I left him alone - even for just 5
minutes, he'd distress bark (a high pitched bark dogs use when they want their
mothers' to return) and salivate all over himself. If I crated him, rather than
eat the treats I left for him, sleep and or try to relax, he'd try to scratch
his way out of the crate. And don't ask me how, but one time actually he did!
“Houdini” became his new nick name. I was fortunate to find an affordable dog
sitter who could watch Ben while I work. She’s an elderly widow who groomed and
boarded dogs for over 30 years until she was forced to retire after a fall that
broke her hip. Watching him gives her a sense of purpose, and me a sigh of
relief. She also just so happens to have a poodle named Noelle, and once again,
Ben has a “sibling”.
As a psychotherapist who specializes in treating anxiety, trauma and
addiction – I was more than up for the challenge of helping Ben “figure this
I researched and did my homework.
I read all the literature on how to treat dogs with separation anxiety.
I watched countless Cesar Millan (the Dog Whisperer) videos and
I consulted with my vet- who ironically, I know from high school.
I picked the brains’ of every psychiatrist I knew.
I sought advice from every dog owner I ever knew.
I even asked for help from my mother.
And so the journey began. We joined a "puppy and me” dog training class, and
I worked hard to socialize him at the local dog park. I also met some great
people there who understood my woes and took an avid interest in helping
He made progress - house training and learning to sit came easily.
Socializing with small dogs and children, who wanted to pat him, began to happen
as well. But being home alone, and behaving around men – just wasn’t working! He continued to growl and nipp at some of my neighbors (who were very
understanding), and bark and cry every time I left the house without him. One
time, he jumped into the shower with me, because he couldn’t tolerate not seeing
me behind the curtain. When I'd try to put gas in my car, even though he could
see me through the window, he’d panic. It got to a point where my neighbors
complained about his barking – and I felt defeated.
To make matters worse, he then he ate my yoga matt.
It seemed that no matter how much love and training he got, it wasn't enough
to turn off the panic switch in his brain. He was suffering. And I knew it was
time to do something I desperately wanted to avoid. (Part 2 next week).
Maura Matarese, M.A. LMHC, R.Y.T is a psychotherapist and yoga instructor.