Shell Shock



I wish you could see him as I do.

He is staring at me with intensity, which is quite unusual. He doesn’t often just stare without breaking eye contact. It’s as if he is trying to communicate what he is feeling through his eyes.

He trembles uncontrollably. It reminds me of the terrible shakes I had when I had malaria, caught in SE Asia as a boy. I got the recurring kind. I remember chilling so hard I couldn’t stand. That’s what he deals with now.

There is no place for him to hide. There is no way to reassure him he will survive what must feel like The End to him.

Jack is the first dog we’ve owned that has a terrible, uncontrollable fear of thunder and fireworks and it is a pitiful thing to witness.

He didn’t used to have this fear. One Fourth of July a couple of years ago, our neighbor celebrated by firing several M80 fireworks. They produce a huge, inordinately loud explosion. Jack has never been the same.

We’ve tried cannabinoids from our vet, which we have to administer by placing a couple of drops behind a bit of ice cream in a spoon. Loving the ice cream, he also takes the medicine, but it must be given before the thunder to have any chance of helping, and even then, it seems minor. He still pants frantically, as if he’s just run miles at his top speed.

She wrote Jack a prescription for a tranquilizer which we have to offer in a ball of cream cheese to get him to take it. Again, it has to be given at least an hour before thunder begins – which is not always knowable. If we give him a full dose (one pill), he will go to sleep but not deeply enough to sleep through bad thunderstorms and definitely not fireworks.

He would take neither last night, too frightened to swallow anything, even water. He began panting and trembling around 5pm and had not stopped when I finally slept, around midnight.

Today, I will try to give him a half dose at about 5pm, and another half dose about 8:30pm, hoping to ease his suffering. I will strap on his “thunder shirt,” which he does not seem to mind, but which we aren’t sure offers any real comfort.

In our neighborhood, last year, we discovered a military veteran who suffers from PTSD, and so, as a neighborhood, we have all elected never again to fire M80s or use firecrackers at all. But on the Fourth of July it is impossible to escape the terror surrounding our little island of sparklers-only celebration.

And so he, and Jack, will suffer tonight, and tomorrow night, despite our best intentions, despite the medications, despite the interventions and the holding. Jack will crawl back into our darkest closet and begin trembling violently, until he can’t stand it, and then he will come to me, or Shannon, and lean against us for support, begging us with his eyes to stop his fear.

If only we could.