No longer wanted by two newlyweds, adopted dog starts over
By Ruby R. Benjamin, Ed.D.
Linus became my next-door neighbor when newlyweds Lois and Jeff adopted him. He was a soft, beige furry Lhasa mix nicknamed by the doorman “The Pirate” because he had only one eye.
Linus was a rescue, and whenever Lois and Jeff left him alone, he experienced severe separation anxiety, barking and scratching the door. When anxious, he licked his paw like a child who sucks his thumb for comfort.
Linus and I bonded, and I gladly gave him the one-on-one attention he craved. He was a sweet, obedient dog who responded to touch, not food, and whenever he passed my door, he would stop, sniff, scratch and sometimes bark to see if I was home to say “hello” and give him a rub behind his ears. During the day, when I was holding psychotherapy sessions in my office, he liked to visit and sit by my feet after greeting my patients.
Lois and Jeff hadn’t had much experience with dogs and didn’t seem to understand his needs. Linus appeared to be more of a pet for their gratification than an integral part of their family.
Left alone when a new baby arrives
Then Lois became pregnant. Linus sensed a change, and he became more needy. Dogs, like humans, have emotions. They sense behavior changes in others and react accordingly. They get upset when their routines are changed and their needs are not met.
As the pregnancy progressed, there were many changes in the apartment. Gone was the quiet of before. More visitors appeared, more boxes and furniture arrived, and Linus found himself getting less attention.
When time came for Lois to deliver, Linus stayed with me (photo left). After a few days, the new arrival came home to great fanfare. But no one had prepared Linus for the disruption of life as he knew it. Parents need to prepare children and animals for this change in the family structure. If done properly, the transition is smooth for all; if not major problems will arise. It is not unusual for a child to regress to acting like a baby to get attention from the parents and others who may be showering attention on the new baby. Worse yet, a child may attempt to hurt the newborn. Dogs, too, can regress when a new baby arrives. A dog who’s properly introduced to an infant can gain a new sense of responsibility. But negative situations can lead a dog to despair. They can crave extra attention, have accidents, and be jealous of the baby. And that’s what happened to Linus.
I had suggested some things to Lois and Jeff that they could do to slowly introduce Linus to his new brother, such as to play the sound of a crying baby before the baby arrives so that he could get used to the new insistent noise, and then to bring something from the baby for Linus to smell so that he could become familiar with it. If they added a treat, Linus would associate the baby’s smell with getting something good. Most important, they needed to pay extra attention to Linus so he didn’t feel neglected or abandoned and to let him adjust to his new family structure.
Instead, when Lois and Jeff brought home the new baby, Linus was put behind a gate and relegated to the kitchen. Friends and relatives came and went, eager to coo over the infant. Linus was mostly ignored, and life changed dramatically for everyone. Lois was now home all the time, a first-time mom tending to the baby. Her mother came daily to help. Linus became nervous, refused to eat, and growled at Jeff. Jeff claimed that Linus would stare at the baby when Lois was busy with him.
One evening, Jeff and Lois rang my doorbell to tell me they’d decided to give Linus back to the foster home he’d come from. They felt that Linus wasn’t happy with them and that he might hurt the baby. They didn’t think he could adjust to the new family. My heart sank. Linus had already been abandoned once.
I offered to take Linus for a few days and to return him only at night to sleep. I gave Linus lots of TLC and we established a routine for eating, walking and loving in an ambiance of calm and quiet. After three days, Jeff announced that Linus was a different dog and they decided to keep him.
I continued to take Linus daily to my apartment while Lois and her mother attended to the baby. In the morning, Linus would wait by his door for me to pick him up.
One day I didn’t pick up Linus. That evening, Jeff and Lois again came to my door. They told me they’d made a final decision to return him. My heart sank. I knew there was nothing more I could say or do to save him.
A stroke of good fortune
Linus with Craig and Meryl
I took Linus the following day and had him in my office while I was conducting a therapy session with one of my patients, Craig.
When Craig told me how nice it was to have Linus there, I mentioned the dog’s plight. Then a miracle happened. Craig said that he and his girlfriend, Meryl, were looking to adopt a dog.
“How about Linus?” I asked. He called Meryl who agreed to meet Linus. It was love at first sight, and in less than 24 hours Linus was in his new now-forever home.
Linus quickly bonded with Craig and Meryl. A couple of weeks later Craig brought him to his therapy appointment. Linus came in wagging his tail, and was more relaxed and trusting than I had ever seen him. It was obvious that he was a happy dog. Craig confessed that adopting Linus had had a positive effect on his relationship with Meryl, and that they were now working more as a team.
And I was a happy “aunt” who would continue to have weekly visits with Linus.
Note: All the names in this story have been changed.
What do you say? Have you had an experience with neighbors and their pets that’s caused you some concern? What did you do about it? Let us know in a comment below or on Facebook.
Dr. Ruby Benjamin is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City with individuals and couples. She specializes in relationship issues with self, others and, sometimes with canines. She is on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Center for Mental Health, the Metropolitan Institute for Training in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy and is a consultant to Doctors without Borders, Peer Support Network.