Adopting a sweet, skittish rescue dog has taught me how to manage my own fizzing brain | Patrick Lenton

AAfter a week of Basil running through my house — the tic-tac sound of a weird, long dog on all legs and a suspicious side eye trotted down the hall — I came up with the pea theory and couldn’t stop thinking about it. The pea theory helped me understand their world a little bit better, although it mostly specializes in greyhounds, mainly their weird little adorable brains. It also expanded my own tiny, weird brain.

Basil suffered for a few years as a racing dog. The effects of that time are clearly visible physically – a handful of racing accident scars on his lustrous black coat, his dirty green branding tattoo, a bare bottom and bare legs brought on by the unnatural stress of being forced to race. He’s almost the archetype of a greyhound – black with prominent salt and pepper spots on his long snout, big and long and awkward, the world’s gentlest eyes. A friend once described Greyhounds as “an old bag full of hangers” and having one in my house only makes that description more impressive and true.

But as with most rescue dogs, the true consequences of abuse show up mentally. Compared to other rescue dogs I’ve trained, Basil is a dream – hardly responsive to other dogs, loves people, doesn’t suffer much from resource protection (territorial behavior around food/beds) which is common with ex-racers. But what we discovered is that Basil primarily hates situations.

This isn’t an official diagnosis – technically he suffers from anxiety, which manifests itself in a number of ways – but my partner and I have found that Basil, broadly speaking, hates recognizing and enduring situations. A situation can be anything – leaving the house, being near a pigeon, dealing with people in two different rooms, being served food at the “wrong” time, having someone knock on the door – and it becomes him so much upset that he’s going to be stressed and soaked for the rest of the day.

The adoption agency’s behavioral scientist, Gumtree Grays, told us all about stress and cortisol levels, pointing out that cortisol lingers in their brains and that stress can be cumulative, so after they were scared of a carrot falling off a bench three hours later While out for a walk, he might freeze on a street corner and not move for 15 minutes, staring into space. His brain is still flooded with cortisol.

Not being a scientist, I found the description of cortisol levels hard to follow, so after a few weeks I settled on the pea theory instead: Basil’s brain is a bunch of frozen peas floating in Coca-Cola. It just takes a little stress for the coke to start fizzing and the peas to start bouncing around like popcorn in a pan. Of course, he can’t make rational, calm decisions – his peas are popping! We’ve learned that once a situation is over, it’s a matter of calming him down, taking him out of the stress if possible, and waiting for those hectic peas to calm down before asking him to do something requires even a touch of concentration or discipline.

I love the pea theory because it helps us understand the special needs, wants, and fears of this creature that now lives in our home. Greyhounds can be almost alien. I’ve had dogs all my life and I’m still amazed at the differences. They don’t sit because they can’t; they express affection by large leanings; You essentially sleep all day. Add in the trauma of an exploitative and violent racing life and it’s no wonder they’re left with the soda and legume situation.

But I also love the pea theory because it helped me overcome my own terror of situations. I recently came back from a minor day surgery and couldn’t concentrate on work. I realized that cutting a huge chunk of meat out of my throat had made my own peas falter. So I sat down with a cup of tea and a romance novel and let her calm down. When I can feel my own Coca-Cola brain starting to heat up and the peas are spinning, I try to be kind to myself.

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Adopting Basil was something of a situation in itself. My partner and I were well prepared. I had previously adopted two rescue dogs, I have a good background in training reactive dogs and we had sunk our life savings into beds and toys at Petbarn. We were ready for the work we had to do to help a dog that had lived a terrible life, that probably hadn’t experienced much kindness, that had been through a bewildering series of foster homes, and we believed in the importance of it do. The first night we set him up in his bed in our room and when we turned off the light to go to sleep he was crying – not crying or whimpering but actually sobbing like a lost, abandoned child. In that first week, getting to know his limitations and his fears and anxieties was enough to make us stressed and anxious, worried that we wouldn’t be able to take care of this frightened snake dog. We just sat and watched him, tense, our own peas a tornado of worry.

So it was a surprise when we fell madly and sickly in love with Basil. It’s been two months now and it’s more than rewarding to see him emerge from his shell to become a goofy, loving dog who loves his routine, who learns how to play with toys, who becomes a local celebrity who compliment old people as we walk past the nearby retirement home in his chic outfits. I’ve never met a cuter, gentler dog.

My worries about the work ahead, about the disruption to my life, about the responsibility of owning a traumatized dog have all calmed down and I couldn’t imagine life without this weird bag of bones leaning against me , without a snout in the crook of my arm as I type, without his beautiful tiny brain hissing and bursting.

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