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Fit to Be Tied: Doggone Storm’s A’Coming!

by Fred First

Even though, growing up in Alabama, I have had plenty of exposure to and an inordinate fascination with thunderstorms, today I get prickly heat when I see the red blotches on the radar moving closer and closer to our corner of Floyd County. And so you can imagine this has been an especially prickly spring so far, and we have months of towering cumulus ahead of us.

The problem is our storm-distressed yellow lab, and I’m not sure how to explain or alter this behavior. His reaction to thunder may be hardwired into his brain by the cosmic consciousness of his ancestry. It may be an irrational fear based on Road Runner cartoons he’s seen about other canines being charred to a pile of ash by a lightning bolt. I have also considered the possibility that he’s just jerking our chain because he enjoys watching the wild dance we do as we begin stressing in anticipation of his storm melt-downs.

But I really want to enjoy summer thunderstorms from the porch again, and so we have begun to think of ways that thunder and lightning can come and go without the whining, the drooling, the clawing at the door, and the panting––not to mention the odd things that the dog does.

I have seen the large, wild beast meets chatty-outdoorsy-man shows in which a rifle propelled, chemical-filled syringe is fired at the beast to sedate it. I have wondered lately where one might get such ballistics. But working from a distance is hardly necessary, as our pony-sized storm-dog is flush between our legs, starting a half hour before the first peal of thunder. A strong barbiturate inside a finger-full of peanut butter would be all that was needed. Safe dosing is an issue, however, as is the fact that some of our storms last for days on end.  A week of IV sedation seems over the top, so on to Plan B.

We are not the only people in the world to have this problem. You can buy CDs of obnoxious pet-disturbing noises that include fireworks, machinery noises, babies crying, other animal noises, traffic noise and of course, thunder. The idea is that if you play the offending sound loudly and repeatedly in the same room with your paranoid pet for a couple of weeks, eventually he or she becomes “counter conditioned and desensitized.” Seems to me this might be an expensive form of treatment, since surely the pet owners are compelled to stay with relatives for the duration of such a process. The cure might just be worse than the disease!

But finally, we have hit upon the solution: the Thundershirt ®.  I am not making this up. It comes with a 45-day, money–back guarantee. The jury is still out. We have a few weeks left to decide its effectiveness, and are hoping this is not the magic beans, pet-rock, Brooklyn Bridge for gullible, wit’s-end dog owners. The explanation for the purported effectiveness of this product is that the snugly-fitted garment has a swaddling, pacifying effect on the creature. The testimonials are gushingly appreciative.

If you watch the demo, putting the garment on your beloved pet when the storm is on its way is oh so simple, if, like the instructional video, your dog is a small, stationary manikin. However, if your dog is a twirling, slobbering, panic–stricken, 85 pound real dog, you will likely become the one wrapped inside the Velcro straps, while your unadorned and laughing dog spins in circles just out of reach.

So I think we have arrived at an action plan that will work for all of us. When the next storm approaches, if you should stop by our house just then, you will discover the wife wearing the Thundershirt (lord knows she might enjoy some pacifying.) I will be exceedingly tranquil under the influence of the Valium we got for the dog; and you’ll find said animal kicked back and basking in the glorious cacophony of the storm, free at last from the frantic antics of two overly-protective and neurotic humans.

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