Separation Anxiety: My Dog’s Story

Five years ago today, this dog changed my life.

In honor of Escher’s Adoptiversary (aka Gotcha Day), I would like to give back to the dog community which has given so much to me over the last five years. I would also like to address a common problem faced by dog rescuers, fosters, and parents here in the New York City area: Separation Anxiety. You don’t have to be in an urban environment to find advice in this four-part series, but I will be addressing some of the unique challenges that come with apartment living when you have an anxious dog.

The topic of separation anxiety in dogs is very personal to me because it is deeply intertwined with my life as a dog parent, my experience as a city dweller, and my choices as a business owner. If you’re here just for the advice, skip to part two of this series. If you’re curled up in the fetal position and crying on your kitchen floor because your angry neighbors are outside with their proverbial torches and pitchforks, I suggest you continue reading about my personal experience with my dog’s separation anxiety. I have been on that kitchen floor and I am here to help you up. But first I am going to sit down next to you and tell you my story.

How we got here

In January 2014, my fiance (now husband and #1 photo assistant) Jon and I moved to a 600-square-foot one bedroom apartment in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Prior to that, I had been commuting two hours from New Jersey to my shared office space at the ASPCA. Along with our two cats Atlas and Lola, we quickly grew to love the city life. But I knew (and I’m sure Jon knew, too) that I couldn’t work down the block at the ASPCA much longer without adopting a dog. So on May 20th, 2014, we brought home a sweet, timid, 5-year-old, 60 lb. shepherd mix and named him after one of our favorite artists: Escher.

Photo by Ashley Chengerian for the ASCPA (August 2014)

Escher’s original ID tag

My sister joined me the day I picked up Escher and took this photo of my “I’m finally adopting a dog!” face

Finally got my dog

Thanks ASPCA!

Not a shelter dog anymore!

Home sweet home

Dad’s home!

Escher always slept in the middle of the apartment where he could see everything and everyone.

Escher on his first full day at home

Escher on his first full day at home

The first time I saw Escher relax and let loose during a walk in the park

Photos above: Our first family photo shoot, Escher’s adoption day, and his first few days at home.

During the first two months, I worked from home a lot and we taught Escher the basics of being a pet dog: how to go up and down stairs, how to walk on a leash, how to eat knowing another meal would be coming soon, and how to snuggle. These are all hurdles we expected to face. We even expected and accepted the hurdle of his dog reactivity which posed a real challenge on the busy streets of the Upper East Side and the parks where off-leash MDIF dogs roam free (but I’ll save that for another blog post). And just to complicate everything, we dealt with Escher’s extremely sensitive stomach which limited the types of high value treats we could use for training lest we turn his then-normal “fartarrhea” into the unpickuppable “firehose”, which are words you make up to describe to your spouse what you scraped off the sidewalk this time. Yes, Escher was quite a project, but we purposely adopted a dog who needed some extra help and none of those hurdles seemed insurmountable.

We were stopped in our tracks sometime in July when two neighbors left notes on our door:

Yes, I still have the notes!

We were actually away in Colorado celebrating our first engagement-iversary (more on that later) and attending a friend’s wedding. A friend stayed at our apartment to care for our pets, but he had to go to work everyday and Escher had become used to me working at home. The white note says “I’m an artist and his howlings are affecting my concentration. He is louder now and seems to howl with more urgency and wolf-like howls, but with more pain in the sound.” The same neighbor later told me that “the sound of his howl goes into my ear and travels down to my heart.” This dog-loving neighbor ultimately became the most understanding and supportive over the years, but unfortunately neighbors like him are very rare.

That brings us back to the kitchen floor. The place I found myself on multiple occasions, crying and panicking about how we would have to return Escher to the shelter and then I would have to quit my job because I couldn’t go there and see him everyday. By this time, we knew Escher’s siblings (the dogs who were in the abandoned van with Escher when the NYPD rescued them) had been transferred to the ASPCA’s Behavior Rehabilitation Center after a failed adoption. They spent another year or so there overcoming their various fears before finding great homes in suburban New Jersey. As I’m sure you already know, we didn’t return Escher. My husband scooped me up off the kitchen floor every time and together we found the light at the end of that dark, scary tunnel.

Snuggle break on the kitchen floor during Escher’s first week home

Snuggle break on the kitchen floor during Escher’s first week home

Photos above: My first snuggle with Escher, which happened to be on the kitchen floor.

I’m not going to lie, rehabilitating a dog with separation anxiety flipped my life upside down for a good 2-3 years and my day-to-day life is still dictated by his anxiety today. Jon and I even put our wedding plans on hold and celebrated two more engagement-iversaries while our lives were consumed by Escher’s anxiety. But as we celebrate the 5th anniversary of Escher joining our family, I can say without a doubt that it was all worth it..

My goal with this four-part series is to share some tips based on my experience with Escher. My hope is that this helps someone who is stuck crying on the kitchen floor. My dream is that this inspires someone to foster or adopt a dog with separation anxiety. In any case, please feel free to send me a message on Instagram if you have questions, want to talk, or just need someone to listen. You are not alone and it does get better.

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Note: This series contains Amazon affiliate links to some of my favorite products and I earn a little money from qualifying purchases. You can view all of my recommended products (for dogs, cats, and photographers) on my Amazon Influencer page.