Prozac Nation: for dogs

Never in my life did I expect to be taking my dog to see a Psychologist. It just seemed too exorbitant… pampering a dog’s temperament like that. For Rover’s sake! It seemed like an activity that a lonely, eccentric woman from Toorak, or Mosman might practice, along with her poodle, Fee-fee Fancypants. You know, for a touch of ‘therapy’ each Wednesday afternoon at 3.

[Insert posh tone] “Fee-fee, come to Mummy!” Then, grabbing his Louis Vuitton coat hanging of the rack in the marble foyer, “We are just going out for the day.” She’d say as though contemplating Fee’s deep-seated psychological issues.

Of course, with people and their snide giggles, Fee, with his baby-blue pom-pom tail, and a head, half-shaved—the poodle en-vouge way—leaving a buoyant, baby-blue pouf at the top, causing everyone to laugh at him, was oblivious to such human cruelty. People were just happy around him.

Really, why take a dog to a Psychologist?

After 4 years running on the pet-pooch-psychology gauntlet, I know why people do this:

Myself, my partner, and our 11-month-old Boxer, and Gabrielle, the Animal Psychologist, were cornered off into a room at Lort Smith Animal Hospital, in East Melbourne. Well, Gabrielle was cornered. By our dog.

A statue of Artemis, motionless, she asked, “How long has Bella been doing this?” She avoided eye contact with the growling mess sitting on the floor.

My feet felt sweaty. The room went hot. God, I hope she doesn’t go into ‘The Zone’… I wrapped the lead tighter around my hand.

Precursors to The Zone: Bella’s intense fear of people manifested as copious amounts of drool, foaming around possum-pink gums snarled back over teeth, that often frightened even me. Then the dripping started.

Hardly couch time!

“Since she first came home.” Just as any concerned parent of the fur-kid kind would, I worried. What had I done wrong? What hadn’t I done?

Gabrielle nodded sagely, “Do you know of anything happening before that?”

“She was the runt from a litter of guard dogs used in a trucking yard. I know the other dogs took her food, or so the owner said.” I hesitated teetering on the edge of second-hand bystander guilt: neighbours who knew him said he beat his dogs, locking them in the garage as punishment, I explained…

Flashbacks: A foal needing nourishment, juxtaposed against plump siblings. Soulful brown eyes melting hearts. White socks. A white chest, and then, in tan, to match the rest of her body, was the sign: a love heart, the size of my hand. At home, we lavished love reserved for human children, until she became a normal over-entitled dog. Almost.

The zone: Bella sees a stranger, growls, drools, then as they approach, her eyes glaze over, haunted by something only she sees. We no longer exist. Then, she flips out, doing summersaults, snapping left and right, sometimes biting us if we get in her way.

My partner, Dan, relayed how when Bella first came home, “She was so frightened, she’d roll over and pee on herself. And, if left outside, she’d bloody her paws just to get in.”

“Do you know much about the parents’ temperament?”

Dan continued, “Her father would growl at the local kids as they walked past after school. Her mum was friendly, though.”

Gabrielle scribbled on the ten-page questionnaire we’d filled out prior to the $450 appointment.  “So, we have possible abuse, and genetics—often the case with these dogs.“ Her hand inched into a belted-bag. “And the reward word is, ‘Yes?’”

We nodded as Gabrielle testing it, threw a treat, “Yes,” she said as if speaking to a toddler. Bella’s head tilted, licking the dried liver, one eye on the treat, the other on Gabrielle.

“She responds well. What else does she know?”

Growls continued. Drool puddled. My shoes filled with water.

“She can beg; play dead. Loves to play soccer.” Dog school didn’t work out, so we used training DVDs.

When asked how Bella was with strangers, I explained about ‘The Zone’.

“And if you can’t help her? Would you still be willing to keep her, accepting she may be a dog who needs space, a secure yard, and a walker willing to take a detour?”

We loved her, but… I explained my fear about someone being bitten, and my worry that her fear was rebounding off of my fear.

Gabrielle suggested Bella try Prozac (Fluoxetine), and some more training—as much for us as her.

We agreed.


In Modern Dog Magazine, Stanley Coren, in ‘Pill Popping-Pups, writes, “Animal behavioural pharmacology is a growing field of research… Drugs for pets are now big business and the Pfizer Drug Company has established a companion animal division which brought in nearly a billion dollars last year.” They’re even trying to develop a beef flavoured tablet.

After six months, Bella, in a drug-induced haze, was over-sleeping, but could eat without looking over her shoulder. And while undergoing intense training, she learned to meet and make friends with family and friends, one on one.

We know that antidepressants can help re-wire the brain, however, Earo Castren at the University of Helsinki’s Neuroscience centre has this to say, “We know that a combination of antidepressant treatment and cognitive behavioural therapy has better effects than either of these treatments alone.”

Prozac gave us a window of time to work with Bella, changing her behaviour. A ‘positive reinforcement’ trainer gave this advice, “If Bella were in a pack, she’d be the dog up back, barking away, supporting the Alpha. Yet, she’s taking this on herself. That’s why she’s losing it.”

Stigma aside, a mental health check needs to be seen in the same way as a physical health check. And so, from Toorak to Mosman and from Punchbowl to St Albans, it should be for dogs too.

Medical research shows that people who are depressed, suffering a chronic illness, a disability or just settling into old age, can benefit from owning a pet far more than from taking a pill. A reply from ‘Dear Dog Lady’, in Modern Dog Magazine, explains this idea more poignantly, “Our pets provide emotional substance by just ‘being’. They’re sweeter than Prozac and much more fun.”

If only we humans could be sweeter than Prozac too. Put simply: we need to be there for our pets. For as Jennifer Messer suggests in her article, ‘Healthy Affection vs. Obsession’, “Healthy affection is but one of the ingredients for keeping your dog off Prozac.”

Even Charles Darwin, 200 years ago, believed that animals experienced emotions similar to humans.

Today, Bella’s a happy well-adjusted dog. She no longer flips out over the need to be the leader of the pack; she trusts us to stand in front and protect her. Dog psychology and pharmacology is wonderment!

Just hanging in the hood-y

Just hanging in the hood-y


 More on Bella’s Doggy Shrink:

Dr Gabrielle Carter is an American Veterinary Board certified and trained animal behaviourist who can help owners and their pets with animal behaviour issues such as separation anxiety, aggression, and repetitive and obsessive behaviour such as tail chasing. Initial consultations last up to three hours during which Dr Carter gains as much information as possible about your pet and its environment and lifestyle, its interactions with other animals, people and toys, to gain an insight into the triggers for the behavioural problems.”



Prozac Kennel

Puppy Chow is Better than Prozac

Healthy Affection vs. Obsession

Pill Popping-Pups

How to Ease Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Kids Sleeping with Dogs

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

For the Love of Birds…

Fly Free, Chicky Boo was a post about our new pet who left us to fly free with its own kind: a flock of Rainbow Lorikeets. Suckers for the love of a bird, a week later, we went back to where we bought Faye and picked up her sister. The breeder gave us a $20 discount, which was nice of her. This one has been christened Sookie, after the character in the HBO series, True Blood. (We assume this bird is female.)

We are yet to get the big bird cage fixed, after the wind picked it up; but we do have a smaller cage for now


No, it’s not a squeaky toy hiding in my apron

Our dog, Bella, is fascinated by this bird for all the wrong reasons: her toys make squeaky noises; so does the bird. And because the dog sleeps inside, we can’t have the bird inside in case she follows her natural dog instinct and attacks it. However, Bella adapts to most things our family does, and she likes who we like, so hopefully, she will grow to love Sookie too (for the right reasons!). Rainbow Lorikeets like fruit, nectar and some seeds. And when they poop, they squirt, so they are not an ideal indoor pet, not by a long (or short) poop shot. However, not being bird-seed eaters, they are less messy; therefore, there is less mould and they don’t attract mice because they don’t drop birdseeds. We’ve decided that seeing these birds love to socialise with one another–so much so that they will fly away from the hand that feeds them–we are going to get another one in February, 2014.


By then, Men-Who-Fix-Bird-Cages-Be-Willing, the cage will be secured in a sunny corner of the yard, the especially-bought concrete pavers will be underneath it (they stop mice from burrowing in) and the bird(s) can live in there instead of in the small cage out on the deck.

Birds are not the most ideal pets for people sensitive to chemicals, especially people with mould sensitivities. Their cages need to be cleaned almost daily so as to keep the area mould free: A handheld vacuum cleaner, some vinegar in a spray bottle, and a change of paper towels (as opposed to newspaper, which releases petrochemical fumes from the news print) is all that’s needed for a small cage. Food needs to be fresh each day and not left out overnight (mice = the need for Ratsack). We use a plastic tablecloth pegged on to cover up at night so as to keep the rain out.

As for the big outdoor cage, I’ll let you know how that works out when I work it out. When I was back in the city, the bird cage, which had no sun in winter, turned into mouldy mess that, by the time I left, I couldn’t go into. The burden of cleaning it fell onto my daughter; luckily, she loves birds. Since she was a spring chicken herself, she has had pet birds: wild birds that needed ‘saving’, budgies, canaries, cockatiels and African Ringnecks. The big cage was a 10th birthday gift from me to her. But from that time until now, her love, appreciation and fascination for birds has infiltrated the core of my being. This love, which, after our family of cockatiels flew away, left us both bereft and lonesome.

In memory of our ‘lost’ family:

Back Camera

Proud parents and their offspring

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And to celebrate the new:

Faye and Sookie

Faye and Sookie

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Fly Free, Chicky Boo

Meet Faye. He’s a Rainbow Lorikett who came to join our family just a few weeks ago. My daughter named him after a group Faeries, which are a type of supernatural creature in the HBO, television series, True Blood. There, the name is spelt ‘fae’; ours is with a ‘y’. I think we were trying to make it unisex because our girls usually end being boys or vice versa. First, we had Romeo, the cockatiel, who ended up laying eggs, extending our family even further! A few months ago, the wind picked up our birdcage, throwing it across the yard. The roof came off and all seven hand-reared birds flew away. A least they were together? It took a while to get over that one. So much has changed for me this year, and it’s taken a while to settle into this different lifestyle. It can get lonely when living in social isolation. When my classes finished this year, apart from exercising, I didn’t know what to do with myself: enter Faye.

Apparently, Faye couldn’t fly–yet. But as soon as we took him outside, he saw a flock of birds like him, and flew off to be with them. It’s a strange feeling watching $180 fly off up into a tree. Knowing that the bird wanted to be free (even though we can tell ourselves otherwise), made it okay. We rang our local wildlife and snake catcher and he said: “Rainbow Lorikeets are not like other wild birds. They will take in other birds into their flocks. Especially if they can already feed themselves. They will copy the other birds and learn to survive.”

Faye, the Rainbow Lorikeet

Faye, the Rainbow Lorikeet


And this is the tribute we created, in memorial:

Rainbow Flower Tribute

Rainbow Flower Tribute

In the mornings we can still hear it, squealing it’s excited whistle. It may not be our Faye but we are reminded of how nature takes care of its own.

(Wait, there is a happy ending…)

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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