“Hi Heather. It's your neighbor, Denise. Luna got out. She's on Frank's roof. I can't get her down. Please call me back . . . like right now!”

Meet Luna. Luna is a beautiful White-Shepherd mix with a nose for fun and a Husky’s share of exuberant energy. Unfortunately, this magnetic three-year-old is on her seventh home. And on this uncommonly sunny Seattle day, she’s on her neighbor’s home.
Luna’s new mom, Heather Duncan, laughs freely when she tells this story, and it doesn’t take long to notice how remarkably sunny and confident she is when discussing her “little angel’s” spotty past. “She’s so happy and well-adjusted now,” Heather says of Luna today. “One thing I know for sure is that nobody took the time with her.”

The Reality
It did take time. Heather fell in love with Luna instantly when they met at the Kitsap County Humane Society in Silverdale, Washington, but the calm affection and mutual understanding they have today would be a longer sell. As often happens in multiple-adoption cases, the “foster record” Heather received on Luna was a mix of facts and educated guesses. Heather could be relatively sure, for example, that her two-year-old pup had been in not one or two, but six previous homes. The causes of that cycle, however, were less clear. The diagnosis offered by the shelter was common enough—separation anxiety—but it was offered with shades of gray. “I’m afraid you’re just going to have to crate her,” they sighed.
Back home, Heather dutifully found a sturdy crate for a dog of Luna’s size and began acclimating her to it. But on her first full day at work with Luna home in the crate, Heather discovered where Luna had got her reputation for separation anxiety (SA)—she came home to a “crate walking” scene littered with the stuffing of several throw pillows and quite a smell in the air. 

Undeterred, Heather booked appointments at the clinic, researched standard SA treatments and started making changes—many of which (like her anti-anxiety meds, midday breaks and nightly walks) are still a part of Luna’s life today. But all was not well. Just a look at the crate was enough to set Luna off.

More messes, clawed entranceways and torn blinds followed, until Heather’s boyfriend Wayne asked the million dollar question: “Are you sure it’s separation anxiety?”

The Research
With the prior diagnosis in doubt, Heather got back online and saw some of her sources with new eyes. Apparently some dogs will respond to time alone with SA-like symptoms (destructive behavior, excessive barking, soiling in the house) but not suffer from the “hyperbondedness” problem that is the emotional root of  true separation anxiety. According to one site, “There are two flavors of this behavior. The most common is ‘isolation distress’ whereby the dog simply cannot bear to be alone. The second type is ‘separation distress’ in which the dog cannot bear to part with a particular individual even when left with other dogs or humans.” Heather gasped. It’s not me.

If Luna’s condition was isolation anxiety, not full-blown separation anxiety, that meant Heather’s departure wasn’t the trigger for Luna at all. It was being left alone, tied up, boxed in. Through inaccurate diagnosis, Luna had been set up to fail. “I’m afraid you’re just going to have to crate her,” they’d said. Who knows how many of those six families received similar advice? Well, seventh time’s a charm.

Two big changes followed on this revelation: 1) Since Luna evidently needed someone during the day, Heather’s saintly neighbor agreed to come spend 10 to 15 minutes with Luna every weekday, sometimes twice. 2) Luna also needed not to feel trapped when she was alone. This inspired Heather and the team at her local Invisible Fence Brand dealer to begin a process of customizing the containment system they’d installed during Luna’s first week. “It was six months of patience for all involved,” said Heather, “but I knew from working with the Invisible Fence team at a previous house that I could trust them to stick with Luna for as long as I would.” Among the solutions they implemented was an automated pet door which would give Luna all-day access to a play area outside with the added security of an electronic pet fence. 

The Road Trip
That was Heather’s epiphany. Luna’s epiphany, though, would have to wait until weeks later. What Heather intended to be a fun family road trip, Luna was registering as yet another painful goodbye: “I didn’t put it together at the time, of course, but as soon as I started packing, Luna just got so mopey and sad. As it dawned on her over the next couple days that she was on vacation with me and that she’d be going back home with me, it was a total turnaround in trust. She’s been my little angel ever since.”

The Routine
So what advice does this never-say-die shelter dog mom have for fellow adopters? Routine!

  1. Stick with what works. Staying sane is job one: “I’ve always tried to keep things in perspective. What’s the worst that could happen? I come home from work and my house is destroyed? In all my time looking for ‘remedies’ for Luna, I didn’t take anything out—I just keep adding on. Keep on trying stuff until it works!”
  2. Daily meds.  Today, Luna has a minor regime of calming meds that includes a daily dose of Rescue Remedy serum (administered with a dropper) and a couple calming chews. (Luna’s currently into Sentry Good Behavior chews, which have a nice blend of pheromones, chamomile, l-tryptophan, and thiamine . . . Her daycare friends are now hooked too.) She just graduated off her half-dose of Trazodone anti-anxiety tablets after only a year.
  3. Outdoor access. Luna’s isolation anxiety makes free access to the back yard a critical part of her daily routine. Heather had a Doorman™ Pet Door installed, and in her words, “It’s worth every penny. Luna absolutely loves being outside, and with the door she can have as much time as she needs.”
  4. Comfortable accommodations. No longer confined to a crate, Luna handles her solitary time inside the house much better than before with the help of a Thundershirt (when Mom’s out late), a dozen chew toys and a dog-operated treat dispenser that she absolutely loves. (What’s in it? Heather laughs: “Luna eats one-half to three-quarters of a cup of peanuts every day!”)
  5. Company. The days can still get long for Luna while Heather’s at work. That’s why a neighbor stops by to see Luna five days a week for 10 to 15 minutes with a bouquet of peace offerings including belly rubs, yard games and frozen peanut butter.  Here’s to good neighbors!
  6. Day care and dog parks. Weekly social mixers at doggy day care supply a huge boost to Luna’s mood. “Day care is once-a-week for Luna, almost without exception—and the dog park is absolutely every day, seven days a week.”

If all that sounds  like a lot of work to you, you’re right. “You can’t give up,” concludes Luna’s mom, “If you can’t give 100% commitment, don’t get a dog—or at least don't get a Husky!”

Tags: Forever Home, Home, Invisible Fence Brand Pets, Stories, Total Solutions

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