It had been about four months since I had to say good-bye to my last dog, Yofi, He had had a stroke. Now, I had finally healed from my grief enough so that I could entertain the thought of getting another dog. I began to check shelter web sites because I wanted a rescue dog. It took a while until I saw this sweet and funny looking dog. What made him look funny was his tongue hanging way, way out. It looked as though it were a mile long. He was in the Mendocino shelter in Ukiah, way up north. I decided that Harvey, his name at the time, and I had to meet. I called the shelter and made an appointment to come up and see him.
Dafka's (I changed his name almost immediately) story was extraordinarily sad. He had been found by the side of the road in November. No one knew how long he had been there and it had been a cold and rainy month. Additionally, it appeared that he had been poisoned. The shelter folk didn't think that he was going to make it. With the tender, loving care that he received there, here he was, the following February, ready for a forever family--sort of. He cowered when I very slowly approached him and his tail was between his legs. Still, eventually, he did let me pet him.
We decided that we were meant for each other even though he reluctantly entered the car. He threw up while we were driving and I didn't think much about it. I had traveled with four kids so I just stopped and cleaned it and him up and we continued on to San Francisco. When we got home, he very cautiously got out of the car and looked all around before going up the steps to the front door. His tail was between his legs the whole time and his body would shake off and on.
As a therapist/counselor, one of my specialties is treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I know the symptoms quite well. They can be internal, which another person wouldn't know unless told, like nightmares and/or flashbacks; or they can be external which anyone could see, such as an exaggerated startle response, cowering, and/or fear. I have treated, and still do, veterans and civilians suffering from the aftermath of trauma.
I still didn't think about Dafka's having PTSD even though he shook, trembled; his tail was between his legs especially when we were outside; he had a very exaggerated startle response. It took a while for me to realize that Dafka was exhibiting symptoms of PTSD. Fortunately, I have a wonderful, kind and gentle dog trainer. Brian took Dafka home and trained him. Brian had previously trained me with my other dogs, Mummzer and Yofi. When Brian brought Dafka home,his tail was still between his legs and he had stopped shaking. He still trembled in his sleep and not nearly as frequently as he had done previously.
With love, gentleness and acceptance, Dafka has made a remarkable recovery. He now has many, many human friends. People stop and ask if they can pet him and he loves it. Now, when we're out walking, his tail is waving in the wind. He no longer cowers. He is so happy. He still has the startle response, and it's not nearly what it was. I'm not saying that love and caring by themselves can cure PTSD and it is an important element.
Post traumatic stress is very disabling and no one has to suffer alone. If you or someone you know is suffering from post-traumatic stress, I urge you to get help. It is available. There are many types of treatment that can help relieve some of the symptoms. If you have any questions, comments or feedback, I am available to talk with you and hope that you will contact me.
Zora L. Kolkey, MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist)
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