I’m no fan of thunderstorms.
This is unfortunate, as I live in a region where thunderstorms arrive as soon as the snow thaws and continue with regularity until winter begins again. I love the lush greenery that surrounds my home, but I can’t seem to extend that love to the frequent storms that deliver the rain needed to support it.
My husband isn’t rattled by them at all. He takes them in stride, enjoys them even. Our children have adopted his attitude, and I’m happy that they are able to greet storms with his same low key mindset. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for our family dog.
Have you ever been nervous about something, but you tried to maintain an outward attitude of nonchalance? Have you then ever had someone else near you start freaking out about that VERY SAME THING, causing your mental state to leap from minor apprehension to a barely contained anxiety attack?
This describes my dog and me every time we have a thunderstorm.
Gertrude is brave in so many other ways. Every single day she rushes the door, wildly barking and snarling, when she hears the letter carrier dropping the mail into our box. She chases every rabbit, cat, or stray dog off our property with authority. Even Brian and I have to remain mindful when rough housing with our kids. If she mistakes their squeals of fun for yelps of fear, then she will charge into the mix and remind us with loud barks not to mess with the puppies in her pack. Exceedingly sweet tempered, she is also loyal and protective. She would never hesitate to protect our family if she felt any one of us was in danger.
Just one loud crash of thunder, however, and she will dissolve into a whimpering puddle of drool.
Loud storms cause extreme anxiety for Gertie. She begins pacing around the room several minutes before a storm even arrives, panting and shivering in fearful anticipation. If I leave the room, she follows. If I sit down, she crawls under my feet. By the time the crashing thunder is overhead, she is a hot mess. If she was human, I imagine she’d be curled up in the fetal position underneath a blanket, weeping softly and popping Xanax like tic tacs.
Although I also don’t like storms, I have the supposed benefit of being human; thus I should be able to allay my fears with the ability to engage in a logical thought process. I know from experience most storms will pass quickly, and uneventfully, and that my nervousness is unfounded. If a storm is severe, I can check the local weather report for information. I am mindful of severe weather watches and warnings, and I know I can hang out in the basement if the weather service advises me to do so.
But in Gertie’s world every single storm is cause for a heightened state of alert. Unlike her, I have the ability to know that isn’t the case and so I should be able to keep it together. Unfortunately, as a storm grows in intensity, I find that I allow her fear to get into my head. I start to remember every sensationalized news report featuring people who swear that their pets alerted them to the danger of a tornado or earthquake, and my own brain starts to mess with me.
“Maybe she knows something I don’t,” I think to myself, and before I know it I have allowed the family dog to pull me down into her private abyss of irrational fear. I find myself scanning the horizon for funnel clouds, and obsessively checking the Weather Channel every five minutes. Meanwhile, the dog is watching me with unchecked doggie hysteria in her huge brown eyes. I expect her to fall over in a dead faint at any moment. Certainly, she must have a reason for being so horribly wrought up – and that reason can only be our imminent and unavoidable doom. WHAT IS IT, GERTIE? WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME? She doesn’t answer me, so I lie down on the couch and try to take calming breaths. (This is very hard to do while a hyperventilating dog shoves her wet nose on your face and whines pathetically in your ear.)
In those moments I fail to remember a key piece of information: Gertie’s reaction is the same steady paranoia no matter what the level of weather activity outside. The rumble of a mild afternoon thunder cloud creates the same clutching fear for her as does pounding hail and violent gale winds. She can’t differentiate between a pleasant summer soaker and hurricane event. They all elicit the same response in her, complete and abject terror.
And I, the supposedly more evolved creature, allow her to influence me. I take my cues from a neurotic mutt who thinks eating used Kleenex is a culinary treat and for whom rolling in deer poop is a day at the spa. She enjoys sleeping with her face on top of my son’s stinky sneakers. I can trick her into running to see who is at the front door by simply rapping my knuckles on the table top. My kids have been trying to teach her to “shake” for five years, and she has only achieved a fifty percent success rate on this command.
So, I ask you – which one of us is the really the dumb animal? Is it her, with her irrational canine phobia of thunder, or is me, the human who willingly follows her down that dark rabbit hole of terror during every summer storm?
I think we all know the answer here.