KALIS: A friendly reminder: Animals have feelings, too

Life changes don’t just affect people, they affect animals as well. I know firsthand that this is true.
Jun 17, 2014

When I was younger, our family cat broke out into a full-body rash. My mom took her to the vet, but a thorough examination revealed no answers.

Then the vet asked a question­­: “Has anything changed in your home?” My mom explained that I had just went away to college, and the vet exclaimed, “That’s it!” He prescribed my cat with medicine that she took in my absence, and curiously did not need when I was home.

Years later, when I was first married, I had taken in a stray cat who was very well behaved — until suddenly he decided to dig up all of our house plants. I had read somewhere that this could be a sign that your pet is trying to tell you they don’t feel well. So, I gathered him up and took him to the vet.

When tests all came back negative, that familiar question was posed again: ”Has anything changed in your home?” My husband and I wracked our brains trying to think of what it could be, but couldn’t come up with anything.

Then, one day, we witnessed our cat unsuccessfully trying to get in the window. Ah-ha! We had replaced the old curtains with new wooden blinds. They looked great, but clearly they blocked his ability to sit in his favorite spot. I started raising the blinds before I left in the morning — and, what do you know? The digging stopped.

I had all but forgotten those two incidents, up until recently.

Our dog started acting not herself. In fact, she became an absolute pain on our daily runs. She lagged so far behind that I lost sight of her. She seemed to be completely ignoring me when I called her name. I became increasingly irritated every time I had to stop and wait and call her over and over again. Our run was always an enjoyable part of our day, but now it had become more frustrating than anything. I mean, running is supposed to reduce stress, not cause more!

When the behavior continued, my frustration turned into concern. I started to worry that something was wrong. I then went into mom-mode, desperately trying to figure out what the problem was so that I could fix it for her. Was she sick? Was the weight she gained over the winter inhibiting her? Was the temperature change causing her to overheat? Or was it something more serious?

It was right about then, when I was contemplating taking her to the vet, that I thought of the question I would most likely be asked: “Has anything changed in your home?” Boy, has it ever!

After years of being at home, I had recently gone back to work. I knew it was going to be a difficult transition for our family and hard on all of us, but I never once considered the profound impact it would have on one particular member of the family — our dog. Not only had her early-morning runs been pushed to late afternoon, but I was no longer home to give her attention and affection throughout the day. I wasn’t there to let her in and out, or toss toys for her to retrieve.

She was used to following me around while I did yard work, hanging her head out of the car window when I ran errands and sharing my last bite of lunch. Suddenly, she was all alone, all day long, in a quiet house, confined and surely confused. Why hadn’t I realized it before?

With my kids at school and my husband at work, besides a very noticeable reduction in overall cleanliness and snack selection, no one seemed much worse for the wear, except me. Or, so I thought.

I was so wrapped up in my own world of trying to cope that I never stopped to think about how it all affected my poor, sweet dog. With a new sense of patience and understanding, I looked into her big brown eyes and I told her I was sorry. I promised her that when summer came, we would be able to run in the mornings again and the kids would be home to let her in and out and toss her the Frisbee, and that it all would be almost like normal — almost.

She is still not completely her happy old self, but at least now I get it. I understand that change can be hard — even if you happen to be a dog.

— By Kelly Kalis, Tribune community columnist

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