A Terrified Puppy and a Life Re-Examined: The Lessons Love Teaches Us

A very anxious dog teaches a couple how love stretches our capacity for compassion and caring.

Edie first exhibited signs of severe anxiety at her first puppy social at the San Francisco SPCA. Unlike the previous two dogs Meredith May had owned, whom she describes as typical goofy, playful, curious, undaunted puppies from Golden Retriever Central Casting, Edie was absolutely terrified of the noise, the lights, the other dogs, the people — all the movement happening in a 360-degree circle around her.

“Her hyper-reactivity set off her fight-or-flight response, so that she ran from practically anything that moved — traffic, pedestrians, children, bicycles, motorcycles, garage doors, plastic bags floating on the wind,” said May, who writes about her experiences in her new book “Loving Edie: How a Dog Afraid of Everything Taught Me to be Brave” (Park Row Books 2022; $24.99 Amazon price).

May, an award winning journalist and fifth generation beekeeper who lives in San Francisco with her wife Jenn, had her own issues. The daughter of a deeply depressed mother, she spent years without getting out of bed and sought refuge in reading, a favorite stuffed animal that she took to college, hiding in small spaces and raising bees.

But she and Jenn didn’t return the adorable puppy, who was only calm and happy when indoors and away from stimulation.

“What this meant for me and Jenn was that one of us had to be with her at all times, indoors, there to protect her,” said May. “Which brought our carefree lives to a standstill and shut us out of the vibrant San Francisco dog culture. Think: dog rooftop cocktail parties, Corgi-con at the beach, dog cafes, pet parades and dog hikes that we had enjoyed with our other dogs.”

Edie also added stress to their relationship in other ways as they kept trying to “fix” her, transforming her into the dog they wanted her to be.

”Jenn, who had never raised a puppy before, kept asking me when Edie would grow out of it, and I was foolishly trying every remedy possible to make that happen so we could have the dog that was going to deepen our relationship and bring us nonstop laughter and joy.”

This might have gone on for a long time, but May fortunately met a brilliant veterinarian who had experience with anxious dogs. The vet shared a story about a mother of an anxious child. To get the daughter ready to go snorkeling in Hawaii, the mother started by having her learn to wear a snorkel and then use it, first in the bathtub and then in the pool.

“Only then, after the baby steps, could the family go to Hawaii and snorkel without any meltdowns,” May said. “This vet’s simple story made me realize that Edie wasn’t here for my entertainment, she was here for me to be her protector. What I had been resisting this whole time was being pushed into a maternal role with Edie because deep down I didn’t think I’d ever make a good a mother to human or animal, because I’d been raised without my father in the home and by a mother who often complained openly about how motherhood shackled her. They say dogs come along at the precise moment you need to evolve in a certain way, and for me the therapeutic part of Edie is unearthing a buried maternal instinct and discovering that it’s not a subtraction of my life, but an enhancement to keep this dog alive and happy. The best thing in the world is when Edie runs to me when she’s scared. She no longer runs blindly in any direction — she knows I’m home base.”

What would you like readers to take away from your book besides a fascinating and heartfelt read, I asked May?

“I hope readers learn that all dogs are different, and all have deep emotions that need tending,” she said. “I did not know how to read canine body language until Edie forced me to research it, and now I cringe at all that I didn’t understand with my other two dogs. I hope readers sympathize with my mistakes in the story. It took a neurotic dog to teach me that I was neurotic about being perfect, about having control, and that I was the one who needed to change, not Edie.”

For more information about May and her virtual book signings, visit meredithamay.net.

Griffin’s Heart: Working Through Loss

               It’s been ten years since actress Reagan Pasternak’s beloved cat, Griffin, died and since then, though life has been very busy with her career, marrying, and becoming a mother, she has missed the pet she calls a “soul mate.”

               To help with her grieving, Pasternak who starred in Netflix/HULU/HBO’s “Being Erica”, HBO’s “Sharp Objects”, Syfy’s “Wynonna Earp,”  and BET’s “Ms. Pat,” began journaling her feelings, incorporating not only the pain she was feeling but also tools and techniques for processing her grief. It took a decade but now Pasternak’s book, “Griffin’s Heart: Mourning Your Pet With No Apologies” (Creatures Align Press $27.99) is available through Amazon.

               Pasternak, in a phone call from her home in California, describes the book as an interactive memoir, keepsake,  and healing journal that she hopes will provide guidance for others who have lost a pet.

               “I feel that animals get so forgotten after giving us so much love,” she says. “I wanted to honor them.”

               Pasternak doesn’t consider herself a writer but says she felt compelled to write about all that she has learned while going through her own stages of grief. That includes reading about the brain and how it processes emotions and information, exploring different ways to heal such as music therapy, and taking up meditation to help with anxiety. Doing so helped with the loss of her other pets as well including another dog who just recently passed away.

               “Everything began accumulating in my psyche, and one morning my husband said that I needed to finish the book,” she says. “I had started it, put it aside, had a baby, was acting—so I was busy. Every morning when I started writing the book, I’d ask myself to whom am I writing. I wanted readers to have something, so they knew they weren’t alone and to know they could get through. Then it just all came together in a cosmic way. I met an editor who thought it was a great idea and we started working together.”

               The book contains exercises, chances to journal, and is a repository for readers to enter their own memories, melding their losses into what Pasternak sees as a keepsake.

               Since the book was published, Pasternak has been receiving notes from readers who share their own stories of losing a pet.

               “My husband and I read them and cry,” she says. “It’s so touching that these strangers are reaching out. I keep getting photos from people showing how they have placed the book next to the urn containing their pet’s ashes.”

This outreach has inspired Pasternak to stay focused on the book and the stories people share.   “I just believe I’m helping change the culture of grief,” she says.

For more information, visit www.griffinsheart.com/

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