Can’t She Just Get Along (Part VII): Reality Check

Just about any living person can describe the terror and dejection of a life event that shoots us down from an emotional “high” or a personal triumph. We console ourselves with the fact that we were not traveling in a passenger plane or hot-air balloon at the time!

Those of us who have furry children - plus or minus the human kind - know the many and varied altitudes of hope and pride at which we fly. Our hearts soar when our babies pounce on their first toy or learn that the mailman is no one to fear (or eat). With the same speed, our hearts sink with news of an unforeseen medical or behavioral issue.

Many of you have followed our blog series, “Can’t She Just Get Along,” which has chronicled the behavioral trials of Lilly, the Boston terrier my wife and I adopted three and a half years ago. In part VI, I reveled in how seamlessly Lilly took to her new pit bull bestie, Willie Wonka. To me, their meet and greet was incontrovertible proof that Lilly had turned a corner when encountering unfamiliar dogs; her whirling-dervish days were over.

Not quite.

My “re-entry” to earth happened about a month ago while my family of three was concluding a visit with one of my parental units visiting from Chicago.

We had just returned from a relaxing walk with Lilly and had begun packing the car for the trip home. It was twilight. Several minutes earlier, a couple and their small, fluffy dog (possibly a Maltese) strolled by. Lilly assumed her “Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon” pose (her signal of emotional overload). I had no treats with which to distract her, so I scooped her up into my arms as the couple passed.

Drama averted.

Until about 20 minutes later. We were about to leave when I remembered what I forgot to pack. At this point, we usually have Lilly harnessed in the car. This time, we did not. As I walked away to retrieve the item, the couple and their dog suddenly appeared from behind our car, apparently walking home. Lilly bolted across the street toward the white ball of fur.

The two dogs tumbled on the asphalt for what seemed like an eternity (all of 10 seconds) as their respective pet parents looked on in horror.  My wife sprung on Lilly like a ninja and mustered all her strength to pull her off the other dog by her hind feet. Fortunately, neither dog was hurt. But, in the moment, our parental pride was as mortally wounded as the Hindenburg. We sheepishly offered profuse apologies. The other dog’s parents mumbled their scorn and walked on.

On the way home, my wife and I processed the event. Her “aberrant” outburst came of nowhere.

Really?

The week before our visit was marked by a host of physical disruptions to routine and a daily confrontation of personal issues, including the reality of aging parents. How could Lilly not pick up on this?

We humans have the benefit of (sometimes) being able to intercept our feelings before they reach a fever pitch, sparing others our flying fists or rapier wit. For better or worse, dogs don’t share this level of processing and reflection.

Our takeaways from this experience are:

  • Unless Lilly is in a monitored (and contained) environment with other dogs, she cannot be off-leash.
  • Pets, just like people, can be adversely affected by their environment (all the more reason to strive for a harmonious home).
  • Disturbing events or rapid-fire change is inevitable at some point. We need to be extra sensitive to our pets during those times. Even pets can get "moody."
  • For whatever reason, there may always be dogs that set Lilly “off.” While we can’t control this, we can be ready with diversion and desensitization.
  • “Progress” of any kind in life is not linear.

Okay, addressing Lilly’s behavioral issues may indeed be a lifelong process.

Then again, so is mine.