|In the beginning of January, our family took in a foster child. This boy is a 3-year-old retired racing greyhound. His behavior over the last 6 weeks has reminded me of my own journey of healing and teaches us about the biologic nature of psychological symptoms. There is no doubt that this poor boy suffers from PTSD. Furthermore, the PTSD has caused depression and has prevented him from being able to enjoy his life.
As part of a conscious program to teach empathy and caretaking to the children, we’ve fostered many dogs over the last 4 years. Although each dog had a sad story to tell, none came with the combination of symptoms Mr. Goodstuff suffered. I have never seen a dog as fearful and yet as placid as this animal. In some dogs, fear might be associated with aggressiveness and self defense. Although Mr. Goodstuff is fearful, he lacks completely the ability to defend himself. He even runs from our dachshund who is an eighth his size. I think this shows that anxiety can manifest differently in beings with different temperaments. Since the greyhound is not by nature aggressive, he does not become defensively aggressive when anxious.
|Most striking of all was that with all this anxiety, Mr. Goodstuff could not tolerate being alone. He followed us around the house and if he could not see one of us, he immediately began to howl. If we left him alone, he became so distressed that he had diarrhea in his crate. I believe this represents the dog version of Stockholm Syndrome. It is clear that even though humans are the source of his distress, he feels compelled still to seek us out to calm his fears. It is good that we are loving and affectionate, otherwise he would be seeking to have his anxiety relieved by a tormentor. Sound familiar?
I also have never before seen a dog with clinical depression. When he first arrived, Mr. Goodstuff was unable to experience any pleasure. Although he anxiously sought to be near us, he never wagged his tail and showed a complete absence of play behavior. Although being around us made him feel less anxious, we were not a source of pleasure for him. Looking back, it is apparent that his anxiety depleted him of all pleasure and caused his depression. I have seen this picture in humans many times. The fact that dogs experience the same shows us how biologic these symptoms are. They are not related to a psychology that is uniquely human.
All social beings that form attachments are subject to developing PTSD and depression when abused by another who is the object of the attachment. The job of foster mom here is not mine, I am more the foster grandmother. My 14-year-old daughter is the dog whisperer of the family. I am pleased to report that her treatment program has produced much improvement in the symptoms of anxiety and depression. He has gained about 10 pounds and no longer looks emaciated. Seven days ago there was a hint of a wag in his tail. Over the last 3 days he has started to play. He also tolerates being alone and does not mess on the floor when left.
What kind of therapy helped Mr. Goodstuff? He has had a good healthy diet and vitamins. He has been showered constantly with love and affection, and just as important, he has been walked several miles a day.
I write about Mr. Goodstuff for two reasons. First, to encourage you to adopt a retired racer. Mr. Goodstuff is a great dog. Even though he is large, he is no trouble and is very unobtrusive. It is easy to forget he’s here. If you suffer from PTSD yourself, helping rehabilitate, or taking in permanently, a retired racer might be therapeutic for you. You also need companionship, affection and exercise. You can get all of these from a greyhound.
The second reason I write about PTSD and depression in dogs is to demonstrate the inter-related nature of these conditions. Treat one and the other will also respond. Both respond very well to exercise.
Those of us who have suffered at the hands of an aggressor can uniquely empathize with the plight of other beings who have had similar experiences. It is therapeutic for us to put that empathy to action and do good for another, even if that other is not a human.