First, we had mouse-induced PTSD.  Every time we would come home, we scoped out all the traps, cautiously checking, checking, to see if they were empty, if they were full.  At night, the nocturnal rodents would creep seemingly out of the floorboards and mouldings to skitter along the baseboards.  We wanted to catch them, but more than that, we wanted them just to go away.  At least we couldn’t really hear them upstairs as we slept. 

Now, we have Finley-induced PTSD.  For the first 2 nights we left him downstairs, he seemed either relieved not to have to face The Stairs, or else in too much misery to protest.  However, for the past 3 nights (I’m amazed I can still count that high) he’s decided his evening of contentment has finished by 3:30am.  Without fail, he will now commence irregular intervals of yelping, panting, and crying.  If there were some comfort measure we could offer him, like a pillow, a drink, a pee, or a snack, that would calm the crying, I know we would do it.  But it seems to be an extension of the whining he would do a few weeks and months ago, back when he could climb stairs.  We would be up in the office, and he would periodically yelp from downstairs, as if only to say, “You assholes.  I’m lonely.  Not lonely enough to haul my ass up, but pissed off that you left me.”  Because he’s not in our room at night now, he’s lost his sense of time, in that when we were in bed, it was night-time, and when we woke up, it was daytime.  Now, for him, it’s an endless span of time being left alone downstairs.  So he cries. 

Calling on my high-school study of operant conditioning and grad school study of learned behaviors, I struggle with what to do.  If every time he cries, we come running (again, not that we can offer much, even reassurance), he learns that we will reinforce his crying, and he will cry more.  If we ignore it, it should eventually extinguish the behavior, assuming there’s no underlying reason for it. 

Apparently 3 days is not enough time for a 13-year-old dog to learn a new behavior.  It is enough time to feel sleep-deprived, groggy, and hopelessly irritable.  And I’m talking about myself.  It’s enough we’re now lifting him up from the rear and showing endless patience as he feels out each step, each curb, each change in ground surface.  These are the things we do out of love.  They’re complicated by the small blonde dog who gets in Finley’s face when we’re doing a lift-assist, and pisses him off till he growls.  It’s enough we’re shoving up to 9 pills down his throat and shelling out $50 for a bag of “Health Mobility” dog food, but when he coughs up the pills and tries to bite us – yet won’t touch his foul fishy-smelling food – it’s starting to feel like he’s ungrateful or something. 

In spite of all these measures, and one hopeful day when he seemed to have at least his spirit back, Finley is getting worse.  I fear we’re in the home-stretch now.  I wish it didn’t come with sleepless nights. 

His intermittent yelps, barks, and cries make me dread going to sleep, make me toss fitfully as I fight pregnancy-induced restless legs and anxious bladder.  Once he begins crying, I cannot sleep.  I lie awake, flipping positions, listening into the night, waiting for the next call from downstairs, knowing I can’t or won’t do anything about it.  I do not fall asleep again, instead counting the hours till I can get out of bed.  I cover my ears, I pull up the sweltering blankets, I listen in disbelief that the alarm clock has not gone off yet.  Each half-hour is endless.

It’s different with babies, right?  Sleep deprivation comes with a reason, comes with an end, comes with purpose.  Babies sleep in 2-3 hour stretches, and wake to eat or be changed.  If I knew Finley would be content and fall back asleep for a few hours with a simple routine of a snack and a walk, I might do it, even at 3:30am.  But because his yelping seems to come without underlying cause, I can’t cope with it.   Because I have to work all day instead of devoting myself to baby care, I’m not myself.  I don’t have infinite patience.  I yell at him for barking.  I yell at him for his near-obsessive drinking.  I yell at Molly for interfering with my attempts to lift Finley.  I shove her aside as I try to get him out the door.  I speak to him sternly as I shove my fingers down his throat.  I roughly shove the pills back down after he gags them up, lips foamy with rapidly dissolving pain-killers.  In spite of the fact that he’s just a dog, I speak to him in ultimatums:

Finley, if this continues, it’s going to be the end of you.  I know you can’t understand that all we’re doing is to help you.  But if you keep crying at night, and won’t eat your special food, we’re going to have to put you down. 

For our own sanity. 

And it kills me, too.

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