Problem pooches

True stories about disturbed pets and their distressed owners

Did you hear about the dog who always arranged exactly six pieces of kibble in the buttonhole depressions in the couch before he could lie down? Or the cat who compulsively hoarded shiny objects? Or the dog who saved his owner from a diabetic coma on more than one occasion?

Dr. Nicholas Dodman © Dietrich C. Gehring

In his new book, If Only They Could Speak: Stories About Pets and Their People (W.W. Norton & Co., June 2002), Dr. Nicholas Dodman, founder of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, presents 14 true stories, culled from his own practice, about disturbed pets and their equally distressed owners. In the tradition of James Herriot, Dodman says that the emotional problems of animals are often as complex, heart-rending and, thankfully, treatable as those of their human counterparts.

Just 15 years ago, euthanasia, which even today remains a so-called "solution" for millions of difficult pets, was the only way to deal with a pet that was untrainable or unresponsive to human commands. Over the last 15 years, Dodman has been at the forefront of pioneering innovations in animal behavior and veterinary medicine, arguing that animal psychopharmacology can yield results as promising as those experienced by humans. Careful drug use, be it Prozac, Valium or newer psychiatric medications, accompanied by behavior modification, Dodman says, can help save the lives of even the most profoundly troubled dogs and cats and restore hope to distraught pet owners.

With characteristic humor, compassion and a profound insight into the way both animals and humans think and feel, Dodman explores how a wide range of emotions—separation anxiety, jealousy, fear and loss—affect the lives of the animals he has treated.

In the story "Second Chance," for example, Dodman describes a cat named Mona who grows so anxious when her owner leaves her that she begins to pull her own hair out in clumps. In "Menage-a-trois," the arrival of a new man, soon to become a husband, threatens the intimate relationship that had existed between a businesswoman and her formerly affectionate cat named Honey. In "Life with Lenny," an owner's physical ailments are so profound as to affect the emotional stability of his faithful Doberman, while in "The Two Dogs of Mrs. Spinelli," an owner's love of one dog over the other leads to dire consequences for all three.

If Only They Could Speak also includes tests to analyze your pet's behavior patterns, a chart that identifies the tendencies of each breed and Dodman's suggestions for a treatment program you can begin in your own home.

A graduate of Glasgow University School of Veterinary Medicine, Dodman is professor, section head and program director of animal behavior at the School of Veterinary Medicine. He is the author of five books, including The Dog Who Loved Too Much, The Cat Who Cried for Help and Dogs Behaving Badly.

If you'd like to read an excerpt from Dodman's new book, click on this link: