Many of us are all too familiar with medications such as Xanax, Prozac, Valium and Ativan - anyone who has suffered with, or known someone, with depression, anxiety or PTSD will recognise them. Those little magic pills that boost serotonin levels and balance the stress hormone to help people better manage their mental disorders, or mental disease. Such an ugly term, mental disease. But it is exactly that - a "dis-ease" of the mind. The causes are often undiagnosed; the outcome, however, remains constant, and it's not shy in crossing the species.
Domestic animals are now being diagnosed on a frighteningly regular basis with ailments that were previously reserved for their human counterparts. And as animals do not have cognitive thought, it stands to reason that these ailments are originating in our subconscious, or instinctual, minds.
Think about it. Animals that are forced to interact with humans are no longer living the lives which they are hard-wired to survive. Think about zoos, circuses, amusement parks. Think about the degrading tricks and repetitive daily routines they are forced to endure, against their natural instincts. They are kept on farms, in stables and laboratories, live in cages, pens and crates. Even the ones that are cosseted in our homes spend much of their time confined indoors when every scrap of their DNA they possess is screaming at them to be out in a field or a forest.
And so, they go nuts.
Some reported incidents are the likes of chickens on industrial farms who peck each other to death; the killer whale that drowned his trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld in 2010; the polar bear who spent his life swimming in robotic laps in a small pool from which there was no escape, until his death in 2013.
However, it is the domesticated animal that we are more familiar with, and with today's society of such expensive housing, more and more of them are being confined to live in apartments or flats, with no outdoor space, and often left alone for hours on end each day whilst their owners work. Parrots tear out their feathers, cats lick themselves repeatedly until their fur reduced to raw skin, abused dogs cower in terror at the sight of a human hand.
It is this fact that I have become more aware of first hand, as I recently adopted a beautiful Cairn terrier. I do not know her full story; the fosterer tells me she was found thrown down a drain, and she took her in when she was about six months old. Now the ideal period for socialising a dog is regarded as being very early on in its life - approximately 4 to 8 weeks of age. If this period of a dog's existence is filled only with terror and pain, it may leave irrevocable scar tissue behind - and not necessarily physical, but mental.
So what has my experience been thus far? Prone to nervous urination (which I was aware of at the time of taking her on) proved to be fact. If you looked at her, she peed. Not a full bladder, just a little wee which shouted very clearly, "I am afraid of you!" Petrified of doorways for some reason - would not pass me if I was near the door, which made me wonder had she ever been kicked out of one? Had to be lifted in and out of the front door, and although we have now progressed to her exiting it just fine - she's mad to go on her daily walks and knows now that the open door means a car drive and a long run - re-entering it upon our return is another story.
When I first started throwing the ball for my other dog, Kandi the rescue would scuttle away, tail down. Any sudden movement of the arms meant danger to her, and she would run. Cower. Had she been hit? Kicked? I don't know.
Now? After two months of regular walks and ball throwing, Kandi now jumps up at me to get on with it, throw the damn ball, woman! Slowly, very slowly, she is emerging as a beautiful, brave little girl but the scars are there to see and I fear they always will be. She is different to Keela. Keela is shy, submissive, but not afraid. Keela has trust, she is the friendliest little girl ever. Kandi, however, is like a baby if she's tired or hasn't slept enough, her fears re-emerge. She can be flighty, and mistrustful of even me at times, although I am happy to report that this is lessening every day. The urination has stopped. At feeding time, I have to make sure she is in a safe spot to eat, because any sudden movements from me and she is heading for the garden - where she disappears into the bushes. I have learnt to leave her, and she comes out now of her own accord, she's too nosy to stay gone too long, and the temptation of a cuddle on my cosy bed is too hard for her to resist.
She also chases her tail, and although this was funny to begin with, I have coaxed her into not doing it - it is a sure sign of OCD. The trick with a damaged dog, as with a damaged human, is to know when to advance, and know when to retreat. It's a delicate dance of love, predictable routine, and safety. These are paramount to the recovery of any wounded mammal, be it dog or human. Broken trust, it seems, covets a broad range of species.
Service dogs in armed forces suffer with PTSD. The smell of blood, or loud noises, can result in exhibiting jumpiness, anxiety, loss of appetite, and poor sleep. And at the end of the day, the damage is usually done by us humans. What lovely things, us people.
Just as with human brains, animal brains have their levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and you better know what you're dealing with before you take on an animal, let alone an abused one. It has no voice. YOU are its voice, its protector, its leader. I'm not sure on the facts, but I think it takes 7 years to become a medical doctor and 9 years to become a vet. Why? Because animals can't tell you what's wrong, or what they're feeling. It's up to you as a vet or an owner, to learn to read the body language and signals your pet is giving you every minute of every day.
Exercise your pet - allow it to smell the grass, mix with other animals, roll in the mud, chase a ball. All these things serve to build a happy and safe environment where your pet will learn to thrive. It's part of your family - treat it as you would a child. There is no difference. My dogs are my children, seeing as my own has grown and flown. I love them with all my heart. In my darkest moments, they have been right there next to me. I lost my best friend last year, and she has now been replaced by Kandi. Who is afraid of people, but not of animals. Now I wonder why that is?
Other symptoms include a condition called pica, which involves a compulsion to mouth or eat inedible things. Kandi has that. She chews and eats everything she finds, despite having sufficient bones and treats on a daily basis. Yesterday I found a wicker drawer shredded; toilet rolls have been snuck out of the bathroom; she ate a sponge; she demolishes any ball she finds; she steals things which is quite funny, and something the fosterer had told me about before I took her on. She takes my socks outside and hides them in the grass. She has a particular penchant for the tops of spray cans, nice hard plastic ones that she can chew. Today she chewed the zip on a jacket I'd left within reaching distance. Thankfully she has not yet attempted to chew the legs of my table, but I keep a close eye on her just in case.
Kandi has learnt to trust, albeit bit by bit. She knows me. She knows my family. She is respected, loved, exercised and fed. The discipline is another matter - you can't reprimand a damaged dog like you would a normal, naughty one. Raised voices or, heaven forbid, a raised hand, is an absolute no-no. They regress immediately, and all your hard work can be undone in an instant - and so a gentle hand and a loving environment with a few buckets of patience is vital to a rescued dog's ability to socialise itself. And it takes Time. Patience. Devotion. Consistency. Truth.
Keela is a gentle little thing, but sometimes she gives out a snap to warn Kandi that she's not in the mood. Kandi takes not a blind bit of notice, turns her bum to Keela, and peers at her over her shoulder - the whites of her eyes showing her mischief. After our daily walks have finished for the day, the evening routine begins. After dinner, Kandi goes upstairs and tears about the place for a good twenty minutes - you can hear her paws like thunder on the wooden floors. Then she comes down and taunts Keela. Followed swiftly by a good ten-minute grand prix around my garden, her back legs trying to overtake her front ones. She makes me laugh, and raises my serotonin levels to a natural high. Then she collapses on the couch with Keela and me, curls up, and snuffles in contentment. Such bliss. Such joy she brings, until finally the three of us traipse upstairs to bed. In fact, Kandi so knows the routine by now that when I turn off the TV she's first up the stairs.
I have to mention her fosterer here, a lady by the name of Shauna who spends her life and devotes all of her time to caring for, and rescuing, as many animals as she can. She has been doing it for ten years, and she's only 26. When I spoke with her, she had seven dogs. If she heads out for a night, her friends all tease her because she can't get home to her babies quick enough.
Since Kandi, I have been following her on FB. She's taken in kittens which she had to bottle-feed every few hours, right through the night. She has just taken in a little terrier heavily pregnant with pup - she sat up with her, and after giving birth to the first pup, Shauna realised she was in trouble. Cue a taxi, a trip to the vet, and a C-section to deliver the other little babies, and now starts the long journey of caring for, and later, weaning, these little ones before seeking out suitable homes for them all.
I paid her a compliment; I told her that despite us all saying "aww", none of us are doing what she is, and that she is to be commended for her dedication. And her answer? "It's simple - I just love them." Ain't that the truth.
To all the animal welfare workers out there, all over the world, I salute you. We all salute you. It says a lot about the people you are, the kindness and empathy you share, and the devotion and dedication you give to all the animals.
I can't take on loads of animals. But I've taken one. And my intention is to make sure she has the best life she could ever wish for. People tell me she's a lucky dog to have found me. I think I'm the lucky one. She reminds me why being kind is so very important, and affordable to anyone.
All you need is love, right? And more animals. Because we learn far more from them than we do each other.