It is the middle of the night and here I sit trying to understand what demons Isaac fights. Tonight a behaviour I thought idiosyncratic became a full-fledged obsession as he desperately tried to escape the one sound that seems to terrify him - the sound of someone coughing.
From the first week he came to me last August, I had noticed that he would bolt upright and run for the back door, even out of a deep sleep, if I coughed. I thought little of it, assuming perhaps the sound of someone clearing their throat was a part of his previous life in which it heralded the arrival home of someone he loved.
Not so. He is terrified of the sound of a cough. Or of my cough. And I have the flu. And when I get sick, I get a cough. A bad one.
At first, Isaac was just pacing after I went to bed. I thought he was restless because I had been at work for nine hours today - the longest I have ever left him - and then I came home and crawled into bed, so he got little fresh air and exercise.
But when the first bout of coughing started, he bolted. Straight to the back door. Pawing to get out. So I let him out, but then he wouldn't come in. Treats didn't work. The leash didn't work. So, with the philosophy of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" I donned my bathrobe and gumboots and wandered the yard with him at 2 AM.
And that's when I noticed - every time I coughed, he ran from me.
I finally lured him back into the house with the highly-prized liver brownies. As I sipped ginger tea, he lay beside me. And then I coughed again. And he panicked. He not only ran to the back door but immediately started tearing at the molding with his teeth in a frantic attempt to escape.
We have repeated the routine three times now - every time I cough, he bolts to the door and starts eating his way out. I'm hesitant to just leave him outside because (a) there are still bears around and coyotes and other dangers and (b) I realized yesterday that he could, if he wished, push his way through the bungy-corded gate to the back pasture and from there he could escape. And I haven't had time to fix that problem to my satisfaction.
So here I sit, wide awake, fretting about a dog who won't stay inside with me, checking him every five minutes, and frightening him still more when I cough again.
It's going to be a long night. It's going to be a long week. And I leave for work in four hours, so I'm just praying that I can get him inside and that he won't eat his way out of the house while I am gone.
I don't know what a coughing human once did to him, but whatever it was it haunts him still.
4:07 AM - and I just realized this means he definitely does have some hearing. He had me convinced he was a totally deaf dog when in fact he was choosing to ignore me!
MacKenzie is terrified of a thousand different sounds and sensations. We have AceVet (or however it's spelled) for the very worst episodes, but mostly we just keep her safe, as close to us as possible. I used to hope that time would heal some of her deepest hurts, and that, if we tried really hard, loved her enough, reassured her enough, she would not be so often caught in a web of sheer terror over the wind, or lightning, or things that go bump in the night. I now just hope that she is with one of the humans who love and understand her whenever a scary thing happens. My worst fear for her is that she'll be alone and afraid.