Dante, The DestRUFFer
A rescue dogs journey with separation anxiety.
The Starbucks drive through line crept slowly forward as I wiped away tears. I had driven over from the animal shelter in defeat as I had failed yet again to adopt a white German Shepherd dog. I had actively been trying to adopt one for over a year from various rescues. After no response from several, one who had already been adopted, and one who said no because “I lacked experience” (I guess you have to have a GSD before your first GSD, even though I had experience with other large breeds), I figured my only options were to scour the city shelters, or to look for a breeder. As I am a firm believer in adopt don’t shop, and as I also didn’t have $5,000 laying around, I opted for the first option.
Finding a very specific type of dog who is already a rarity in a city shelter is much like finding a needle in a haystack, while also hoping that nobody else gets to the needle before you. While I like all big mutts and I cannot lie, I was looking for this specific dog for sentimental reasons. It was my younger brothers dream dog. He had always said that when he grew up, he was going to get a white GSD. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to make this dream come true. I knew I just had to do this one thing for him.
I drove an hour and a half to get to the animal shelter thirty minutes before they opened. The previous night I had finally found an available white GSD through a county shelter. I put in an online request for him, but the website said first come first serve. I didn’t think twice about it, I just wanted my dog. When the shelter finally opened, I was first in line. I gave the staff the animal ID number from their website. They then gave me the news that it seemed like a potential owner had called to claim the dog. While happy that someone had found their dog, internally I was crushed. For one shining moment I thought I was finally going to adopt my new best friend. As I drove away from the shelter, I saw the Starbucks and decided to grab a drink while I processed the disappointment.
While sitting in the line I thought to myself that maybe the shelter had confused my internet request with a potential owner as I had mentioned “sentimental reasons”. I drove back to the shelter to confirm if this was the case. The staff informed me that the owner was actually there to pick up his dog. I’m not sure if the woman helping me saw my sadness, but she asked me why I was particularly interested in that specific dog. I told her everything; from my brothers dream to my adoption attempts. She then told me that they did have another dog who was similar if I was interested in meeting him.
Out came a beautiful white and gray dog who looked to be a German Shepherd with a hint of Siberian Husky. He didn’t jump on me or seem enthusiastic, he just seemed confused and a little overwhelmed. Which I could only think, same buddy, same. So of course, I said yes. The shelter gave me a free adoption since my husband is a member of the military, and then set our adoption pick up date, since the dog still had to get neutered.
Three days later, we picked up our dog who we named Dante. Initially, Dante was reluctant to get into the car, even with treats. I couldn’t blame him though, stranger telling you to get into their van that’s a hard pass. Eventually, we got him in and so began his love of being in the car since it broke down two minutes after driving away from the shelter. Several hours later, we finally made it home and the first thing Dante did was take a piss in the middle of the kitchen floor. As we had walked him while the car was being fixed, I assumed he just wanted to claim the uncharted land as his own.
Getting to know Dante I figured out a few things. First of all, he got all the smarts of a GSD with all the pigheadedness of a Husky. Meaning he learns commands quickly, just only cares to do them when he wants to and only if they involve food. On occasion he will decide he’s bored of a specific treat and refuses to do his commands unless I bust out the jerky. (Who’s training who?) He will then proceed to perform his commands perfectly. Second of all, he is emotionally unavailable while simultaneously being emotionally needy. As in, he must follow me around the house and be next to me at all times (he will cry if there is a baby gate between us since he’s not allowed in the kitchen anymore), but if I dare to ask for cuddles or get on his couch (no longer my couch), he scoffs at me in disgust. I guess we can add cat to the list of breeds he may be. Third, he has separation anxiety.
I figured out he had separation anxiety the hard way. I normally stay home since I haven’t found a job (thanks COVID), but one day I had a few errands to run. I had read that newly adopted dogs can feel safe in a small space made for them such as a small bathroom. If it’s on the internet it must be true. When I entered my front door, I saw water leaking out from under the bathroom door. When I opened it, Dante ran out like a wet rat, and for the first time howled some husky obscenities at me. I have no clue how this dog managed to get the water running in the sink, tear out the door frame, gnaw the toilet seat, gnaw into the dry wall, and remove the toilet tank cover. I guess we can add weapon of mass destruction to his list of possible breeds.
After the bathroom incident which cost about $500 in damages, I had many people including my parents telling me they would have just taken him back to the shelter. I don’t know if his anxiety stems from genetics, since German Shepherds are prone to anxiety, or if it was his time in the shelter. We had no clue if he had been abandoned by previous owners, the only information we had was that he had been picked up as a stray. Perhaps it was a combination of it all. While I do admit that a small part of me wanted the easy way out, I just knew I couldn’t do that to him. All I could think about was the heartbreak it would cause him to be abandoned again, possibly increasing his anxiety issues. That’s when the journey to combat his separation anxiety began.
After two different kennels both of which he escaped, (Get a husky they said) we took the plunge and bought a high anxiety dog crate from Impact Dog Crates. This kennel retails for over $1,000 (so much for a free adoption) but we felt it was the best for both our house and Dante’s safety since many dogs can hurt themselves on wires trying to escape. To help soothe him, we tried hemp gummies, CBD oil, and a Thundervest sprayed with pheromones. The CBD oil is what seemed to help the most, but he would still try to fight it. He stopped scratching at the kennel, but he would continue to cry. His trainer suggested covering his kennel to create a dark soothing environment, but Dante was able to pull the blanket through the bars. Surprisingly, we noticed that he did better with the blanket inside. I had used the blanket recently, so perhaps my scent soothed him.
Ultimately, the best option we found for his separation anxiety was a dog daycare. He is a very social dog, who loves to play. When he’s with other dogs he seems to forget about his anxiety and just focuses on having a good time. This is the option for when we plan on being gone for more than a couple of hours. Sometimes I think adopting another dog would be beneficial, but I discussed it with his trainer who recommends focusing on him and fixing this behavioral issue before adopting another dog as the second dog can pick up this behavior from Dante.
It’s still an ongoing journey with Dante, but if I had known at the time of his adoption that he had separation anxiety I would have still adopted him without hesitation. He is smart, funny, kind, and loves me unconditionally. Life as a military spouse can be tough; deployments, being away from family, constant relocation, but now I have Dante. Waking up to his smiling face and wagging tail helps me get through anything. This is why I nominate him as EmPAWyee of not just the month, but of eternity. When his time comes and he joins my brother I know he will still love me and watch over me unconditionally.