By megfiddler

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Free Dog

A couple of weeks ago our border collie Jack did something completely out of character for him, he escaped out of our fenced yard. We live out in the country, but we have fenced in part of our backyard to allow the dogs to have a safe environment when outside. This allows them to be outside without us having to worry about them running off to explore and perhaps getting into trouble. It also protects them from a stray dog that may come into the yard and attacking he or our border collie mix Annie. There have been occasions when Annie has managed to bust through one of the pickets on the white vinyl fence and head out into the bigger yard, but Jack always has stayed put. We jokingly refer to him as Chicken Jack as he is very cautious about going through doors that are not fully open or fetching a toy from behind a door or behind a piece of furniture that moves; the rocking chair. But this night Jack threw caution to the wind and when two pickets came off together he could not contain himself. Jack became a brave heart. Jack became a free dog! Of course Annie our fearless girl was the instigator, but Annie will return when called. Jack disappears into the woods enjoying the thrill of the chase of some nocturnal animal. The varied smells that inundate his nose must be like some euphoric drug. He is at Disney Land.

John and I of course are not as happy. It is after all 10:00pm and time for dogs and humans alike to be going to bed. We call Annie and she returns to the comforts of the kitchen and flops down. John and I go back outside calling for Jack with our happy voices. We try luring him back with offers of “purple ball”, “rope toy” and “lime loop”. These are Jack’s favorite toys and he knows them by name, but the lure of the night and being a free dog was too great.

John has taken off in the truck to drive down to the meadow and up to the pasture in hopes that Jack will see the lights of the truck and believe he is going for a ride. I remain at the house and see the truck lights in the distance and hear John calling Jack, but no luck. I listen closely for sounds of Jack roaming in the woods, occasionally I think I hear his tags jingle, but can’t be sure. I go into the house and turn off all the lights hoping that if he can’t see them he will return. John returns to the house and decides to extend the search on foot into the woods. It has been almost an hour and what started out as annoyance is starting to morph into genuine worry. A border collie can cover a lot of ground and we didn’t know how far he could have gotten. We hoped he was still on the property. We live near a highway and while it is not a heavily traveled highway, especially at night, it only takes one car and one fast moving border collie for the result to be tragic. We try not to let our minds go there, but while John disappears into the woods I am already thinking of lost dog fliers and if we should spend the night outside on the deck. I hear John calling and then I hear a noise to my right and call to Jack. I see him, just 20 feet from me. I call to him. He looks at me, turns and heads back into the woods. The brat! I yell to john and tell him I saw him. He returns to the cloak of trees, calling out the name of our wayward dog. Then he stops calling out and all is quiet. Minutes pass, we are listening to the night. All lights are off. Then a woof and I hear John talking in a low voice. There is movement and shortly John is coming out of the woods with Jack on leash. He is one tired and panting border collie. We brush him and tell him how happy we are he is back. It has been 90 minutes. His longest “walk about”.

Annie & Jack

After relief had set in I began to ponder what was happening to John and I physiologically. The autonomic nervous system, which regulates internal organs and glands has two divisions. The parasympathetic system is our rest and digest system. it helps controls functions such as digestion, salivation, tear formation, defecation and lowered heart rate. Things that occur when the body is at rest. The sympathetic nervous system is well known as the “fight or flight” system. This is the system that raises the heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and constricts blood vessels. When the body is under stress our breath quickens, muscles tighten, our senses become sharper, all this enables us to take quick action. The body also releases stress hormones, namely adrenaline which is what contributes to the increase in heart rate and blood pressure and cortisol, which increase glucose in the bloodstream. It also decreases functions that are not as necessary in a fight or flight scenario including suppressing the digestive system and immune system. Now these systems are self regulating so after the perceived threat is over the hormone levels return to normal and the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems return to a more balanced state. This is what happened when Jack made is great escape and when he safely returned. Not a big deal.

The problem is when we live in constant states of stress or chronic stress. The body does not return to balance, instead the opportunity presents itself for stress hormones to continually cascade through our body. There are many symptoms of stress, sleep problems, digestive problems, tight muscles, depression, obesity, lowered immune function, moodiness, feeling overwhelmed, changes in appetite, loss of sex drive, nausea, dizziness, procrastinating, and self imposed isolation.

Chronic stress is serious and debilitating and should not be taken with the attitude “that is just the way life is” or “there is nothing I can do about it”.  There are many situations that can contribute to high stress, such as loss of a job, home, or loved one., even excessive worry about the “what if’s”  that life can throw at us can cause problems.  If you are a primary care giver you can experience elevated stress levels.  If you work for or with someone who is constantly attacking you verbally this can lead to anxiety and stress.

There are many factors that can contribute to your ability to tolerate and manage stress. A group of friends and family that are supportive, confidence in yourself to get through life’s challenges, an optimistic attitude, and methods of managing emotions can be beneficial. If you feel that you are experiencing chronic stress it is important to make lifestyle changes such as exercise that you enjoy, relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi and massage, keeping socially connected with friends and family, limiting the consumption of alcohol, caffeine and refined sugars, really making healthy diet choice   and perhaps even professional counseling, sometimes we need someone to help us see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We all experience episodes of stress and that is not a bad thing, only if it is allowed to run rampant, so manage your stress and take the time to be a “Free Dog”!