Sunday, July 22, 2012

Thunder Dog

Sometimes I wonder why we have pets. My husband and I are dog people. Every so many years some kind of puppy finds us and we just can’t say no. Right away there’s the peeing and pooping in the house, and the whining at night. Then comes the chewing, and then the barking. You always hope you don’t get a humper. You accept that they all roll in dead animals. For some reason, most of them think the furniture has their name on it, but you learn to snap “Get off the couch,” almost before you see them on it, and all that becomes part of the family folklore.

Despite all this, we keep getting them. And it’s not five minutes before they are a part of the family and everyone would be heartbroken if something happened to them. We talk baby talk to them and think it’s adorable when they shake or sit pretty. A ‘high five’ gets them a cookie every time.

Sometimes, there’s a rough edge with one dog or another. Maybe Rover chases cars or Daisy digs holes out back. Every now and again you find yourself with an escape artist. We thought we’d dealt with it all, until we got Chloe. She was a rescue dog. Sweet face. Shy. Pretty. It was eleven years ago that we brought her home. 

Chloe is a medium size dog…weighs about fifty. Gold hair with black saddle back. Hangy-down ears. Outdoors, she acts like she owns the joint, but she’s less assertive inside the house. She is loyal and protective and just figures the couch is there to be camped-out on. She’s pretty good about jumping off just before we walk into the room, so at least there’s the pretense of respect for our authority. All in all, we got us a good one.

The one tiny complaint we might have would be about the Storm Terrors. 

The first storm I remember came up in the middle of the night. I woke to Chloe panting in my face from the side of the bed. It didn’t matter how many times I told her to get down; she wasn’t going anywhere. As the winds increased, she moved further onto the bed. The first clap of thunder and she was up on my pillow, lying on my hair. I was pinned. No amount of scolding or begging convinced her to move.

It went from there. The dogs were out in the yard this one day while we were at work. A thunder storm rose from nowhere. We couldn’t get home to put the dogs in, but they had the carport and their dog houses and they would be fine. Except Chloe felt otherwise.

We have six exterior doors. Each of them has a screen. On that day, Chloe went from one door to the next trying to get into the house. She destroyed each screen from the bottom up. I don’t mean a little tear here and there. I mean ripped to shreds, curled up from the bottom, torn from the frame. We felt terrible that she’d been so afraid and we fixed the screens.

After it happened the third time (that would be eighteen screens), we decided we were tired of the replacement process. We have an Invisible Fence around our property to keep the dogs from taking off. The fence is a buried wire that emits radio waves. The dogs wear receivers on their collars and, if they get too close to the wire, they get zapped. We extended the wire in a loop up close to the house itself so the dogs could no longer get to any door except the one from the kitchen into the carport. As to that door, we got one of those heavy metal guards to cover the screen and figured we were all set.

Another day. Another storm, out of nowhere. We felt the discomfort. Should one of us go home and put her in? No, she’d be okay. And the screens were all protected. Well, not actually. We came home to find Chloe running back and forth in the woods, frantic and dazed. In the carport, the heavy metal guard lay on the ground, twisted and mangled like a bear had come to our house. Needless to say, the screen at the door was no longer intact. We replaced it with glass.

And we started watching the weather. If there was the slightest chance of a storm, we left the dogs in. Yes, it would be a long day for them. They would be much better off running around outside. But, what if there was thunder?

The next time we got a storm, the dogs were in, so we didn’t worry. Unfortunately, we had left all the bedroom doors upstairs shut to keep the dogs off the beds. And, when the thunder roared, Chloe went looking for comfort. She came to the closed doors. Maybe we were behind them, so she dug and scratched and clawed to get in.  I mean, the bottom couple inches of three of our beautiful, seventy-five-year-old solid wood doors were gone. Ripped and torn and gnawed away. How long must she have worked on them? It’s a wonder she had nails or any teeth left.

In our home, thunder has become a scary word. We know it’s on the way before there are any signs, because Chloe tells us. Suddenly she is there, under our feet as we walk, at our feet as we sit. If it’s nighttime, she is lying on our heads or wherever we will let her stay…but it must be on top of us…panting, drooling, beyond reason and beyond reach. Our reaction is always the same. “Damn. A storm must be coming.”

Our best experience was the day I needed to go to the grocery store. It looked like thunder was brewing so I brought the dogs with me. Naturally, I cracked the windows before I left them in the car. The thunder came. I shuddered. By then, it had become the death knell to me. I was in line to check out. At the counter, writing my check, I felt something soft slip by my leg. I chanced to look down. It was Chloe, in a dead run to nowhere in particular. I left my purse, my checkbook–the whole shooting match–lying wide open on the counter, and chased her down.

Back outside, broken glass littered the parking lot around the front passenger door of my car. The window had been shattered and lay in a thousand pieces inside and out. Apparently, Chloe had heard the thunder and turned into Cujo. All we can figure is she grabbed the top of the cracked window and muscled it until it gave, then she leaped out. By a stroke of luck, she ran toward the store, tripped the automatic door and went in, then happened to turn down the aisle I was standing in.

So now, she’s narrowed our world a bit further. We can never go someplace and leave the dogs in the car if there could be thunder. Chloe might crash through a window and escape. Is there anyone but us who has to worry about that?

We are truly without recourse. We’ve become prisoners of every storm. Each morning, we check the weather and plot what to do if there is a hint of thunder in the forecast. Which one of us can take the dogs with us? Who could run home at a moment’s notice? Of course, there is always the transport kennel; we could lock Chloe in that. But deep in our hearts we know she would find a way to get out. We would come home and the metal door would be askew, or there’d be a hole clawed out of the side, or the bottom would be gone all together, with the mouth of a tunnel showing off to one corner.

We got Storm Terror pills from the vet. They didn’t help. We looked into getting one of those Thunder Jackets that you synch around her so she’ll feel safe and secure. I’m thinking waste of money.

Plain and simple, every time it thunders, Chloe goes nuts. If she isn’t sitting directly under our feet, in our lap, or on our faces in the bed, she will be carving something up to get to safety. Or she will be taking off to the hinterlands, wild-eyed and terrified.

None of this is to say I would trade her in. She’s still our Little Miss. I just hate knowing what that place called Wits’ End feels like. So, has anyone heard of a good remedy for canine Storm Terrors?


  1. I have no remedy for Storm Terrors, canine or feline. Our kitty Mocha has her favorite hidey hole under the love seat in the basement office. Since we can't see her, unless she leaves the tip of her tail exposed, she's safe. Of course, if she's outdoors when Thor gets angry, she's hysterical until we let her. Then it's a tan streak until she swoops under the love seat.

  2. My old Doberman would freeze like a stone and quiver at the first clap of thunder and throughout a storm. I always tried to calm him with reassuring pats and a quiet voice, but nothing worked. On a road trip from Texas to Florida in my conversion van, we went through a T-storm. He came right off the back (third-row) seat and pushed against my leg trying to get under the dashboard in front of me. We had to stop for the storm to pass.
    As usual, Donna, I like this slice of your life.

  3. Beautifully written. Gail Schenbaum has been kind enough to provide links to your blog. So happy to be here! We have three dogs at our household.. no storm terrors but all the other dog behaviors we know well.