(This post previously appeared on Betterafter50.com and The Huffington Post.)
One of the hardest things about relocating from West Coast to East Coast, from house to apartment, from suburb to city was not my adjustment... it was dealing with the adjustment of Dashiell, my dog. As crazy as it sounds, that almost had me running for the hills... yes, the hills of Beverly!
I know that owning a pet is supposed to be good for you... in fact, just last week the American Heart Association released a statement claiming that owning a pet, a dog in particular, was "'probably associated' with a reduced risk of heart disease," and I get that. You have to walk a dog, thereby getting some exercise yourself, but the article never mentioned how having a dog might also be harmful to your mental health!
I realize now that it was pretty unrealistic (and somewhat unfair) of me to assume that Dashiell would just adapt to any new situation, regardless of how different it was from his old one. Why wouldn't he?... When we first rescued him, didn't he boundlessly race at us on the heels of a 17-hour drive from Utah to California? Didn't he seem deliriously happy with us, even though he had just met us?
Why would I think a six-hour plane ride in a crate would send him into a tizzy? Why would I think that getting on an elevator, while strange people would continually be coming in and out, would cause him to growl and lunge at said strangers?
Why would I think that being left alone in a unfamiliar apartment with the door closed while I went to the market or the movies would cause him to chew the door and eat an entire leather purse?
Silly of me to just assume that everything would be copasetic. After all, I didn't exactly chow down on some leather and wood, but my adjustment wasn't what you might call a "piece of cake," either.
Historically, dogs have been looked upon to be servant-soldiers, combining the attributes of a best friend with that of a true guardian. I began to realize that in his new situation, Dashiell was not being allowed to perform his old doggy duties -- guarding the back yard, front yard, upstairs and downstairs of our lives, so he was adopting new roles for himself. The problem with those new "soldiering" roles was they were not going to fly in a high-rise in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Relocating with children in tow has its own challenges, but if they are old enough to communicate their fears, and ultimately make new friends, that's half the battle. We had done that once before, and it all worked out perfectly. When it became clear to me that Dashiell was trying to communicate his fears, in his own destructive and scary way, I realized that if he was to remain a part of our family, a trainer would be needed.
That trainer, and time, have considerably improved his situation, and thus mine. Yes, he still lunges at (some) neighbors, but I always have a snack on hand and that usually diverts his attention long enough to calm him down. He's learned to sit and wait at stoplights and he is now used to all the city sounds that used to make him wince. The crowds no longer bother him, and the elevator no longer gives him the heebie-jeebies.
He doesn't mind being left alone at home. (He knows that once I'm gone he can sneak into our spare bedroom and sleep on the bed-I'm onto him, though.) No other purses or leather objects have suffered the same violent death as did the first purse, although tissues and toilet paper have to still be kept out of sight.
Awhile back, the two of us were on the elevator and a neighbor came on and asked how he was doing. "He has some good days, and some bad days," I remarked. And since we are in MIT territory and amongst the most erudite of erudites, her reply was not merely, an "Oh, I see," but,"Your dog is a metaphor of life."
And you know something, she was right. But taking it a step further, I would say, Dashiell is a metaphor of me. I have not totally adjusted to my new situation, but my attitude has definitely improved. Some days are better than others, and when some neighbors (or on a VERY rare occasion, my husband) annoy me, a nice snack does help. I've made some very interesting friends, as has Dashiell, and going to doggie day care every once in a while has really helped him become more sociable.
The relocation road has not been an easy one, for either of us, but with a little training, a rub behind the ears, and lots of love, we both will make it through.