Me and Isis, we are the same

I have observed that Isis is like me and Leo is like Rob.

I’m not talking about Isis’ amazing athletic ability and jumping/soccer ball catching skills. Or Leo’s diabolical tendency to prefer biting hands, sleeves, ankles and pants over toys designated for that purpose.

Isis is very high-strung. Leo is super mellow.

I didn’t used to think of myself as high-strung. A coworker once told me she was surprised I never got stressed out or pissed off about anything. I was pissed off about most things at that job. Apparently I covered it well. In the workplace, I want people to perceive me as having it all together. Usually, I do have it pretty well together.

But I have all these stress-related ailments, like TMJ and a terminally sore neck. So maybe I’m just really repressed. Guess I don’t give off clear visual stress signals, like panting, licking my lips, sniffing the ground or raising the hairs between my shoulders. The signals are there for me to feel, though. I hold my breath, sigh a lot, my head races, my shoulders tighten, I feel a weight on my chest. I also have a very subtle verbal cue that I think only my mother and Rob have heard. I say, “I’m feeling really stressed and overwhelmed.”

The two things go together. I probably could drop the “stressed and” part. “Overwhelmed” covers it. I think I’ll keep using both,  in case the listener isn’t familiar with what “overwhelmed” feels like to me (there are only two of them; they ought to know by now).

Isis spins and chases her tail when she’s “excited and overstimulated.” She’s also worn down her front teeth (in addition to the canines that have required root canals) from chewing on herself. And she’s scratched sore spots on her chest with her hind legs. She’s obviously very stressed (and possibly overwhelmed). These aren’t new phenomena, but the introduction of the baby brother hasn’t helped.

We’ve put her in detox. She’s not supposed to see Leo except during a couple of brief feeding exercises each day for three days. Already we’ve screwed this up and she’s seen Leo a few times. And barked. And she’s heard noises outside. And barked. Not part of the stress detox.

I have her confined to the library where she likes to sleep when we’re out. No toys. No balls. The idea is that she will have no stimulation and be forced to just sleep for hours. And relax. When I first put the gate up and draped a sleeping bag over it, I sat on the couch with her to help her relax. Even though this is the room where she relaxes 85 percent of her day, and even though I was with her, she spun around, tucked her head under her hind leg, made the gagging “Raa raa” sound that accompanies that move, and redirected by mouthing the couch cushions.

That night, Rob asked her how the detox was going: “Are you having withdrawals from all that barking?”

I stroked her and told her that she needed to just relax harder. That’s when I realized how alike we are. We feed off of each other’s high-strung energy. I’ve seen it with the behavior modification we’ve been working on. I seize up when I see something like a bicycle or a dog that I know is going to set Isis off. It sets me off before it sets her off, which certainly does not advance our goal of being calm in the face of such stimuli.

Then there’s Rob, with his calming energy counterbalancing my mania. I understand what my trainer meant when she said that Leo can be therapeutic for Isis. Eventually. It would be so wonderful if he becomes as soothing to her as Rob is to me.

Like Rob, he’s easy-going. At puppy kindergarten, two Malinois-Husky pups who may be litter mates got in a spat over the water dish. One of them snapped at the other, which provoked a reaction. There was some minor snarling, which bothered Leo not the slightest. He  just walked away. “I have no idea what those two are talking about.”

On our walk this morning, another dog barked at him, and he did bark back, but not in that incessant, aggressive way Isis would have. Isis would have started it.

Leo is still just a baby, so it will be a while before his healing powers are fully developed. I have high hopes.

Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

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