Panic attack: The economy, the Constitution, and my dog Binx

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by Rich Broderick • October 14, 2008 • Poor Binx.

All of his life, he’s been terrified of one thing above all others.

Separation.

For Binx, a 13-year-old doxipoo (half dachshund, half poodle), separation anxiety has been the product of both nature and nurture. Nature, because small dogs are bred to be lap dogs by selecting for a heightened anxiety over separation; and nurture, because for the first 18 months of his life – corresponding to the time before he came into my possession – Binx had been more or less abandoned, left alone for 10 or 12 hours a day, six days a week. By the time he showed up at my house, he was a nervous wreck.

How bad was he? Sometimes all it would take was to forget and leave him in the kitchen when I went to take the garbage down to the curb and I’d come in to find he’d crapped and pissed all over.

A few years ago his frenzied reactions got so bad that we put him on anti-depressants – a standard treatment for canine separation anxiety – but after a few months, the effects wore off and we had to place him in a kennel anytime we left him alone. A kennel in which he’d lick himself compulsively so that by the time we’d get back he’d be soaking wet. Literally.

He’s mellowed out some in his dotage. Time will do that to you. In addition to aging, he was diagnosed two years ago with a swollen heart. The vet says it’s the result of a leaky valve, but I figure that it’s actually the product of all that worry.

In any event, we’ve learned that it is easier for him to ride in the car when we go places than to leave him at home. So, a week ago Sunday, it seemed only natural to bring him with us on a trip to the Best Buy in Roseville where we hoped to clear up some software problems with my 11-year-old’s computer.

We were in the store about a half-hour, almost all of the time at the customer service desk just to the side of the bank of automatic doors that open and close with electric eyes. I’m not sure how it happened – my surmise is that my son may not have closed his car door the whole way — but when we returned to the parking lot we discovered that Binx was gone. Missing.

After searching the traffic-clogged parking lot for half-an-hour, I went into the store to see if there were security cameras trained on the area; I was entertaining the idea that someone might have dognapped Binx – he is, after all, quite cute, even if neurotic (not an unusual combination, come to think of it). No sooner had I explained to the young guy at the greeter’s desk that our dog was missing than he raised his hands about a Binx-length apart, and said, “Little gray dog? About this big?”

Somehow, without our ever having been aware of it, Binx had come running into Best Buy, raced around the store, stopped long enough to relieve himself in the Video Games department, nipped an employee who tried to grab him, then ran out again. Further search of the area brought no sign of him. After an hour, the reality seemed inescapable: in his panic at being separated from us, Binx may have managed to precipitate his worst nightmare: permanent separation from his owners.

All the next day, as I called around to animal control, the dog pound, the Humane Society, and tried again a couple hours later, I thought of the story I read many years ago about a little village in a deep valley high in the Tyrolean Alps.

As 1799 drew to a close, the village was gripped by a nameless fear of what would happen when the clock struck midnight, 1800. On New Year’s Eve, almost all the villagers crammed into the Catholic Church. As midnight approached, the sexton began to toll the bell in the steeple tower in hopes of warding off whatever evil was about to be unleashed upon the world. Eventually the reverberations triggered a massive avalanche that buried the village and killed everyone in the church.

Binx’s fate was not quite so dire. Early Tuesday morning, I got a call from a Shoreview couple. Midnight the night before, Binx had shown up in the their backyard – almost five miles from the Roseville Best Buy – cold, wet, hungry, and tired. Later that day, we picked him up. Despite his traumatic adventure and his swollen heart, he’s doing fine, thank you.

But surely his saga provides a kind of parable for our times. As with dogs, so with people. How often fear and panic lead us to act in ways that bring about the very thing we fear the most. The panic now gripping Wall Street, like the panic gripping the country in the wake of 9/11, is leading, has led, to reactions that threaten to precipitate the very things we fear most: loss of prosperity, destruction of our way of life.

And no kindly dog lover in Shoreview poised to come to our rescue. No, if we are going to find our way back home, we are going to have to exercise more wisdom and restraint than a 13-year-old lapdog.

Is America up to the challenge? Based upon the last seven years, I’m not so sure.