In June of 2012 I adopted Mia, a three year old black and white female English Springer Spaniel rescue dog. When I went to pick her up from her foster family in Denver she was so frightened of me the foster dad had to put her in the cab of my pickup before I could drive back to the family cottage on Grand Lake.
It wasn’t just me whom she was frightened of, but everyone in which she came into contact. Mia was born in a Missouri puppy mill farm then became a puppy producer, missing a normal puppyhood. She had been in the rescue system for a year but due to her fears she had not been adopted. I felt I might have the answer to her overcoming her constant fear of the unfamiliar and unknown.
On July 4th 2013, Mia and I walked down the lake trail to attend a luncheon with some friends. I was the first guest to arrive so we sat on the boat dock until the other guests began to arrive. I left her on the dock while I asked Marlene if I could bring her in. When I went back to the dock to get her, she was gone. I asked the two grand children on the dock if they had seen which way she had gone. They had not seen her go.
I walked the foot trail both ways for a short distance calling out to her but, no luck. I reasoned with myself that she only knew the trail we had walked and I would probably find her at the cottage, so I stayed for lunch. When I walked the trail home, I called her name. Once again, no dog came. When I arrived at the cottage she was not there either. Once again I started back down the trail to Marlene’s calling her name. I continued past Marlene’s house and to the nearest neighbors but no Mia. Each day that week I drove down to the east end of the lake, walked the area calling her name and talking to the few residents in the area. It was a guilt ridden week for me. I did not understand the panic she experienced when I came up missing to her.
A week later I received a call from Kay, the owner of the first house east of Marlene’s, telling me that Mia was on their property and to come retrieve her. I did and the moment I whistled for her, she came bounding down the mountain side to me. We were both happy to see each other.
I discovered that Mia also had separation anxiety and would not leave my side. I could not leave her home alone. She would stay in my pickup for hours but not home. In her panic one time she jumped onto the toilet in the lower level bathroom and right out through the window screen. Then, trying to get back into the cottage looking for me, she destroyed both wooden screened doors. My solution was to just take her wherever I went and leave her in the pickup with the windows down.
Not much changed that summer and Mia spent lots of time with me and alone in my blue Ford Ranger pickup. In October, we returned to our home in Southwest Nebraska. About the only change in her behavior prior to returning to Grand Lake in late May was that I could change the inflection in my voice and she would not cower. That meant we could roughhouse on the floor. She learned that there were safe places for her to go in the city park with me.
In late August of 2014, when things slowed down around the town of Grand Lake, I decided that she should be around people more and maybe she would learn that people were not something to fear. I would take her with me to the coffee shop, The Hub with an outside eating area with several round tables and chairs. I would sit and read The Brain That Changes Itself while she lay next to me. Eventually she became curious and went looking for dropped bits of food and crumbs under the empty tables. Finally, she started looking under tables which were occupied by eaters and drinkers. Occasionally someone at the table would reach down and pet her. Over time she came to realize that people were safe and she could forage for food scraps and not experience fear.
The summer came to a close and she would actually allow some dog lovers to pet her away from The Hub but she still had not barked as most dog do.
By this past summer, 2015 her whole world changed. Instead of us being outside we started having coffee in the morning with a couple of old geezers, like I am. Mia grew into the unofficial greeter at The Hub. When someone or group would enter, she would walk up to them and request a pat or good head rub. She even started barking when she saw another dog approaching and on several occasions played chase with them. I now consider Mia a normal dog. We take walks without a leash, she comes when I call her and she barks when she hears the doorbell ring or someone knocks at the door. I can also leave her home alone and not find the door or carpet next to it destroyed.
At the time I did not understand the brain mechanics associated with Mia’s fears and transformation. Now that I’ve studied more on the mind and the brain, I understand what happened.