Today marks the end of week two with my buddy Archie, a cerebellar hypoplasia dog that I’ve been fostering. Nah, this has nothing to do directly with trauma... but it's definitely a crash course in dealing with my own shit while I tackle someone else's.
If you’re not caught up, Cerebellar Hypoplasia, or CH, in dogs is a neurological disorder that starts in the womb. There are multiple reasons why a dog might have CH, including malnutrition, traumatic injury, or just developmental errors. If you want to cry happy tears - go Google that shit and watch some baby animal videos now.
In short, I’ll just say that CH dogs and cats have poor motor skills and coordination. They often have tremors and head nods that occur to various severities. In general, they cannot coordinate themselves enough to walk or climb at first, but with practice, the prognosis for learnign to compensate for their diability is quite good.
They require time and patience to make a recovery, and professional therapy services like accupuncture and hydrotherapy help too... but if you’re creative and persistent, they will usually respond well to the efforts. They can go on to lead full, happy, functional lives.
Obviously, special needs means making adaptations. Two weeks in, I’m still learning a lot about caring for a CH dog. Here’s what I’ve realized in the past 7 days.
Despite moving like one, they are not babies
I’ve been guilty of this, myself. When I picked up Archie from his former foster mom (number 3 or 4), I wrote it in my planner as “Baby Archie Day!” It’s hard not to see him this way, between the playpen, the diapers, and the general inability to feed/drink/care for himself.
But the fact is, he’s a dog. He’s not a child or an infant. He’s a puppy who needs to grow into his big dog lifestyle, as best he can.
Unfortunately, in some prior places, Archie was babied quite a bit. It’s obvious from his refusal to eat unless you’re hand-feeding him on the floor… the way he’ll act incapable when presented with obstacles he regularly passes… the penchant for whining to get his way.
Yeah, this dog was not treated like a dog.
I get it, I do. He’s a sweet puppy and he has special needs. But it’s not helping him to adapt to real life when you can’t hand him a bowl of food or water and walk away. When he stares at you and waits to be carried over imagined mountains that are composed of garden hoses or divots in the lawn. When he thinks that it’s A-Okay to pee in a diaper instead of going outside.
No fucking way. Not going to fly, no matter how adorable and special he is. You’re really a dog, time to learn to act like it. The way he rolls around on the floor, toddles in no particular direction, and wants continual attention makes him seem very childlike, but in the end… your boy’s gotta learn how to act like an animal, too.
I think it’s natural for good humans to care about animals and want to help in any way possible, but you’re not helping if you’re stunting their development and teaching them to be helpless. \
Teach a man to fish... Teach a CH dog to walk and eat on his own.
Sometimes you have to let them fail
In line with the prior header… he’s not a baby and he needs to learn the hard way sometimes.
Constantly catching him and supporting him when he’s being too lazy to use his legs? Not helpful long term. Sitting 6 inches away the entire time he squirms while eating and drinking? Not teaching him how to maneuver his mouth and body himself. Keeping him contained in a playpen 24/7 instead of letting him roll around in the grass and test out his balance? Not showing him what he can and can’t do with his four paws.
Is it absolutely cringe-worthy and heart-wrenching when he’s having a flaily moment on the floor or losing his balance and toppling on his snoot? Fuck yeah it is. But he needs to figure out how his legs actually work, how gravity plays into it, and what the consequences are when he doesn’t try to keep himself upright.
Is it really challenging to watch him get interested in food, bop his nose on the ground once, and then give up? Yep. It’s worrying and frustrating at the same time when he puts his nose up in the air and refuses to touch his food all day. But that’s his choice. He can’t be spoon-fed forever.
Again, I think he spent too much time in his wheelchair and playpens in prior places - he has no idea that there aren’t magical straps to catch him if he flings himself forward on his nose or shoots backwards with a stiff back. He has never had to find a position that works with his limited stability to get food and water into his face without drowning. He just didn’t have to go through the trials of doing it himself.
It fucking SUCKS to sit back and let his dramatic moments happen… but I think this is his only way to figure out how the world works for the rest of us. There aren’t harnesses floating in the sky, keeping us safe from our own wild paths of destruction. No one feeds me kibble by kibble.
Whether he stays with me or goes to another family, he’s going to need a few basic skills to live.
Besides, I can’t take care of him if I can’t take my eyes off him for 5 seconds to take care of myself. At some point, I have to have faith that he’ll be alright if I take a shower or feed myself, because the alternative is being too exhausted and rundown to give either of us what we need. Cut to scene; me falling over while trying to put him in his chair the other night. Happened.
Too much helicopter parenting means no progress for him and no life for me. Neither is fair or sustainable.
People will say strange, offensive things
Am I sensitive? Fuck yes, we know that I am.
That being said… Am I irrationally bothered when people look at him and say, “Awww… Poor thing…”? Fuck yes, you know it.
Here’s the thing; Archie is happy AF. He’s not a “poor thing,” he’s an excited puppy who doesn’t know life any differently. He’s not down about his goofy legs, so why are you? He’s not in any pain, besides when he hits his nose on the ground.
The thing is, this furry dude has no idea that he’s not a normal dog. Archie doesn’t know what he’s missing. And because of his special brain, he gets to grow up with a fan club. Children love him, adults cry when they see him scooting along, and he can teach everyone a thing or two about perseverance.
And for some reason, I take offense to that pity-party statement. I would never let an animal suffer if it was preventable. If this guy wasn’t flourishing, I wouldn’t advocate for him to keep trying. I’m the first person to believe in compassionate euthanasia - for dogs, humans, or any animal that wasn’t able to have a quality life.
Don’t put your “aww poor things” on me, asshole. He don’t want your pity and either do I.
Trimble and Twitches’ mom told me that people on the internet will regularly ask, “Why don’t you put them down already?” To which, she told me she responds, “How about we put YOUR dog down?” Right. Don’t judge their situation and I won’t talk about yours. These aren’t suffering animals. They aren’t giving up on life. They want to run and play like everyone else - they just need help learning how.
“Get ready to be a bitch online when people say rude things,” she said. “Trust me. No problem,” I said.
Plus, maybe I’m overreaching… but, in a way, I like to think that Archie is a lot like us Traumatized Motherfuckers.
He’s not damaged or doomed because of his condition. He’s figuring out new ways to do things without the same support as other dogs have, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do it. He just needs the right tools. He might struggle to walk on the same timeline as his peers, but maybe someday he’ll run with his own unique style. He falls on his fucking face all the time, but that just means he ain’t no bitch when it inevitably happens again.
No matter what, he’ll leave an impression. And he’s definitely not going to stop trying.