Despite our efforts to help him, Oliver’s anxiety at being left alone only increased in the years he lived with us. His storm phobia reduced him to a shaking, inconsolable mess, and it took him hours, sometimes days to recover’. A concerned relative or friend could have said this about a person suffering from an anxiety disorder or extreme depression. But Oliver was a Bernese Mountain Dog. In the opening chapter of her book, Animal Madness, Lauren Braitman takes her readers through her life with Oliver, and you feel the stress, the tension, the heartache of having a mentally ill member in the family who needs constant care, attention and love. Her book is engaging and very personal, and is a very well researched text on mental illness in animals.
She discusses how Oliver changed her perception of emotions in animals and uses numerous examples of various animals, from dogs to gorillas to elephants to parrots, to drive home her point—animals can suffer from anxiety, depression, homesickness, broken hearts and OCD, just like humans.
Lauren and her husband Jude tried their best to help Oliver, suffering numerous destroyed cushions and furniture, messed up rooms in the apartment, the anxiety and stress of re-arranging their lives to take care of Oliver, heavy bills for vets and animal behaviourists, fractured social lives and the pain of seeing their beloved pet in distress. Eventually Oliver died, leaving their marriage in a crumble. Lauren moved on in her obsessive search for understanding animals and trying to fathom the depths of their emotions. She travelled across continents to meet people and speak to them about their experiences with animals. She spent hours digging up past ghosts in libraries and made connections with handlers, breeders and vets who resonated her ideas. Laurel brings to life characters like John Daniel, the gorilla, who was almost human in his behaviour; Monarch, the depressed grizzly bear at the Golden Gate Park; Rara, the elephant who preferred humans over elephants, having been raised in captivity; Sunita, the tiger who suffers from stress-related tic disorder. She echoes the feelings of many pet owners who blame themselves for the sufferings of their pets.