Packing all of your belongings into a U-Haul and then transporting them across several states is nearly as stressful and futile as trying to run away from lava in swim fins.
I know this because my boyfriend Duncan and I moved from Montana to Oregon last month. But as harrowing as the move was for us, it was nothing compared to the confusion and insecurity our two dogs had to endure.
Our first dog is - to put it delicately - simple-minded. Our other dog is a neurotic German shepherd mix with agonizingly low self-esteem who has taken on the role of "helper dog" for our simple dog. Neither dog is well-equipped with coping mechanisms of any kind.
When we started packing, the helper dog knew immediately that something was going on. I could tell that she knew because she becomes extremely melodramatic when faced with even a trivial amount of uncertainty. She started following me everywhere, pausing every so often to flop to the ground in an exaggeratedly morose fashion - because maybe that would make me realize how selfish I was being by continuing to pack despite her obvious emotional discomfort.
When the soul-penetrating pathos she was beaming at me failed to prevent me from continuing to put things in boxes, the helper dog became increasingly alarmed. Over the ensuing few days, she slowly descended into psychological chaos. The simple dog remained unfazed.
Unfortunately for the helper dog, it took us nearly a week to get everything packed up. By the time we were ready to begin the first part of our two-day journey to Oregon, she seemed almost entirely convinced that she was going to die at any moment. She spent the entire car ride drooling and shaking uncontrollably.
But the simple dog seemed to enjoy the trip.
Even though she threw up seven times.
She actually seemed to like throwing up. To the simple dog, throwing up was like some magical power that she never knew she possessed - the ability to create infinite food. I was less excited about the discovery because it turned my dog into a horrible, vomit-making perpetual motion machine. Whenever I heard her retch in the backseat, I had to pull over as quickly as possible to prevent her from reloading her stomach and starting the whole cycle over again.
But as far as the simple dog was concerned, it was the best, most exciting day of her life.
It wasn't until we stopped for the night in Umatilla that the simple dog became aware that there was any reason for her to feel anxious. But at around two o'clock in the morning, the simple dog finally realized that something was different and maybe she should be alarmed.
This particular dog is not anywhere near the gifted spectrum when it comes to solving problems. In fact, she has only one discernible method of problem solving and it isn't even really a method.
But making high-pitched noises won't solve your problem if your problem is a complete inability to cope with change. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the simple dog did not understand this concept and she went right ahead and made an interminable amount of noise that was just invasive enough to make sleeping impossible.
After an hour of failed attempts at comforting the simple dog, her constant, high-pitched emergency-distress-signal became a huge problem.
I tried to communicate my displeasure to the simple dog, but communicating with the simple dog usually goes like this:
She was going to make that sound forever if she felt it was necessary. We tried everything from spooning her to locking her in the bathroom, but none of it was even the slightest bit effective.
The simple dog made the noise all through the night and was still going strong the next morning. When we were loading the dogs into the car, the constant, high-pitched sound emanating from the simple dog finally broke the helper dog. The helper dog wailed in anguish, which alarmed the simple dog. In her surprise, the simple dog let out a yelp, which further upset the helper dog. And so it continued in a wretched positive-feedback loop of completely unnecessary noise.
When we finally arrived at our new house, the dogs had calmed down considerably. Unfortunately, it had snowed the night before and there was still snow on our front lawn, and that was enough to catapult both dogs back into hysteria.
The simple dog had either never experienced snow or she'd forgotten that she knew what it was, because when we let her out of the car, she walked around normally for about seven seconds, then she noticed the snow and her feeble little mind short-circuited.
At first, the simple dog was excited about the snow. She started prancing around the yard like she was the star of a one-dog parade - her recent personal crisis overshadowed by a haze of enthusiasm.
The prancing turned to leaping and the leaping turned to running chaotically in stupid little circles. Then she just stopped and stared at the ground. There was a visible shift in her demeanor as she realized that she didn't understand snow and it was everywhere and she should probably be scared of it. She started making the noise again.
Not surprisingly, the helper dog interpreted the snow as a sign of her imminent demise. But she was so exhausted from worrying about all of the other signs of her demise that she just gave up and accepted her death. She peered up at us, half-buried in the snow. Her eyes were filled with pain and helplessness, as if she thought we had summoned the snow for the sole purpose of making her sad.
We decided that it would probably be best to bring the dogs inside.
As a condition for allowing us to have dogs in our rental house, our landlady made us promise that we wouldn't let the dogs scratch the wood floors. We didn't anticipate it being a problem because it hadn't been in the past, but as soon as our dogs set foot in the house, they morphed into perfectly engineered floor-destroying machines. They started sprinting as fast as they could for absolutely no reason - skittering around in circles to avoid running into the walls.
We finally corralled them in the bedroom and shut the door to give ourselves a little time to regroup and come up with a plan. Until we could get some rugs or convince the dogs that it was unnecessary to sprint around chaotically for no reason, we would need to find some way to prevent them from scratching the floors. What we ended up doing was going to the pet store and buying two sets of sled dog booties. It was the only way.
It is easy to imagine that a dog who has recently experienced a dramatic upheaval of its formerly safe and predictable life might not react well to suddenly having strange objects attached to all four of its feet. This was most definitely the case with the booties.
The helper dog panicked and started trying to rip the booties off with her teeth.
I scolded her and she reacted as if I'd ruined her entire life.
But at least her immobilizing self-pity kept her from chewing the booties off.
The simple dog just stood there and looked at me in a way that would suggest she didn't realize her legs still worked.
They had to wear the booties for two days. Those two days were filled with the most concentrated display of overemotional suffering I have ever witnessed. The simple dog spent most of her time standing in the middle of the room looking bewildered and hurt and the helper dog refused to walk, instead opting to flop her way around the house like a dying fish.
The entire ordeal was punctuated by the simple dog's high-pitched confusion alarm.
We were beginning to think that our dogs were permanently broken. Nothing we did helped at all to convince the dogs that we had only changed houses and our new house was not, in fact, some sort of death-camp and we weren't actually planning on killing them to fulfill an organ harvest ritual. Despite our best efforts, they continued to drift around in a sea of confusion and terror, pausing only to look pitiful.
But while we were unpacking, we found a squeaky toy that was given to us as a gift shortly before we moved. We offered the toy to the dogs. This may have been a mistake.
Upon discovering that the toy squeaked when it was compressed forcefully, the simple dog immediately forgot that she'd ever experienced doubt or anxiety ever in her life. She pounced on the toy with way more force than necessary, over and over and over. The logic behind her sudden change in outlook was unclear.
But at least she was happy again.