All animals do not start their lives in happy, loving homes. But many are lucky enough to be adopted by loving people — if not at their first home, then later in life. To survive the difficult circumstances some animals find themselves in, they often develop behaviors that can be baffling to their adoptive families and challenging to overcome.
One such dog is Rags, a female lab cross, who was adopted by a loving couple — Taryn and Mike. All the couple knew about Rags when they adopted her was that she came from the southeast USA, that she was brought to the northeast by a rescue organization — and that Rags really, really needed a home. Taryn and Mike were happy to adopt Rags so she could finally have a loving, happy home.
But a year after they adopted her, Rags still seemed depressed and unhappy much of the time. She was distant and never wagged her tail. She also displayed a variety of challenging behaviors that the couple had been unable to resolve.
Food aggression with their other female lab, Calli, was a big problem. Taryn and Mike described a recent incident to me . . . Rags and Calli were both lying on the floor. Mike put a strawberry down between each dog’s front feet. Calli, who had eaten strawberries before, immediately ate hers — but Rags only sniffed hers and ignored it, as though she did not recognize it as food. Calli looked over, saw the uneaten strawberry and promptly ate it — at which point Rags went after Calli very aggressively.
Rags also had a severe phobia of cars — which was triggered when she was walked near cars or when she was in a car. This made fun walks — not to mention trips to fun places or necessary visits to the vet — a complete nightmare for the couple and for Rags.
But the most challenging issue was the severe separation anxiety that Rags experienced every time the couple left the house. While Calli was completely fine when they left — Rags literally could not be left in the house unsupervised for more than a few minutes before she began destroying things.
The couple loved Rags despite her behavior issues, but that didn’t solve the issues. They sought the help of an animal behaviorist at a major veterinary college, received guidance on behavior modification, which they followed to the letter and started Rags on prescription meds — but these measures did not solve all the issues. In desperation, they decided to try animal communication — they didn’t know where else to turn to help the poor, tortured dog they loved so much.
I talked to Rags about her life before she was adopted by Mike and Taryn. Rags showed me that she grew up in a pen crowded with other dogs. She had to fight for every morsel of food. I asked Rags if she got all the food she needed now. She confirmed that this was true. Rags confirmed that she and Calli each had their own food dish — she said that Calli did not eat out of Rags’ dish. I told Rags that Mike and Taryn would make sure that Rags always had enough food and make sure that Calli didn’t eat Rags’ food. Rags said that she understood and would try to remember. Mike and Taryn said they would be sure to feed the dogs only from their bowls, so it was clear whose food was whose.
I asked Rags about her fear of cars. Rags showed me that she would cringe and crawl on the ground when she had to be near a car and that she was terrified of getting in a car. Once she was in the car, she would drool and vomit in panic. Mike and Taryn confirmed that this was true. I asked Rags to show me what her experience with cars had been before she was adopted. Rags showed me that she had been tied to the bumper of a car and forgotten — then the car had started to drive away with her still tied to the bumper. Rags had also seen a dog run over by a car. No wonder she was terrified of cars! I asked Rags if anything bad had happened to her in the car since she had been living with the couple. She admitted that nothing had. I asked Rags if she trusted the couple to take care of her — she said she did. I encouraged Rags to remember when she had to be in the car that she was safe and taken care of. I showed Rags what it would be like to relax in the car — to lie down, to look around, to be quiet and relaxed. She said she would try.
Next we tackled the issue of Rags’ separation anxiety. The couple said they had tried crating Rags and leaving Calli loose when they left the house. Rags was the one who destroyed things and keeping her in a crate made sense. But that just made the situation even worse! Rags became completely panicked in the crate. I asked Rags how she felt when she was crated — she showed me that she was terrified and that she would do anything to get out of the crate, even if she hurt herself in the process. I asked Rags if she could suggest something that would work better for her. Rags suggested that Calli go in the crate, so Rags could see her, but not have to worry about her. I checked with Calli — Calli didn’t mind going in the crate at all. I suggested to Rags that she pay attention to Calli — if Calli wasn’t worried when they were alone, Rags didn’t need to worry either. Rags said she thought this would work for her.
At the end of the conversation, Mike said he had one more question. He said they really wanted Rags to get better. Taryn and Mike both loved Rags SO much, but it was so hard to watch her suffer — and there was no doubt that she was truly suffering at present. They could see how unhappy Rags was and how controlled she was by her behavior issues. With a catch in his voice that could only be tears, Mike said, “Ask Rags if she would rather go to Spirit than keep trying — we don’t want her to suffer.” The fact that Mike asked this question showed me how desperate the situation was for both the couple and for Rags. I asked Rags if she would like to work on getting better or if she was ready to cross to Spirit. The anguish of her emotion was intense — if she had been a person, she would have been crying as she told me, “I love them. I want to try to get better.” We were all crying as I relayed this information to the couple. But we all agreed — we had to give Rags time to try to get better.
Six months, five communication sessions and two energy work sessions later and Rags was doing so much better! Her food aggression was a thing of the past. Rags was able to make trips in the car with relatively little distress. At times, Rags still had issues with destructiveness, but even that had improved dramatically.
But most importantly, Rags was now a happy dog! She had become affectionate with her people, liked having her tummy rubbed, wagged her tail and happily curled up next to the couple on the couch — none of which she’d done prior to our first communication session!
Update on Rags . . . Since my first conversation with Rags in 2011, I have talked with her — and her other furry family members — many times. She still has occasional issues — like the time she kept trying to get into a floor level kitchen cabinet. She told me that she heard something in the cabinet — but when she showed me, it seemed like it was coming from the outside of the wall of the house, which was at the back of the cabinet. Her people couldn’t figure out what she meant — until one day they saw squirrels running down the wood shingles, right against the wall that abutted the cabinet! Whatever is happening with Rags, we talk it over and figure it out.
Rags still becomes stressed with changes at home, but explaining what is going on and when it will be over, some distance energy work from me and essential oil application by Taryn and lots of love from Taryn and Mike — and Rags is able to cope.
I am so grateful that I was able to help this special dog. But Rags is the one who did the hard work — letting go of her past and learning to trust and love her people.
“I honestly don’t know where we would be right now — especially with our dog Rags — without Sky. We thank Sky and I know Rags does too!” — Taryn H., NJ
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