Dear Zelda Wisdom Fear Factor bulldog humor advice therapy dog advice column

Difficult Days (9/27/06)

Dear Zelda,

I am not usually the nervous type.  I am full of energy and love my life. However, I'm embarrassed to say that I am afraid of the dentist, and have consequently not been to a dentist in five years. I know my teeth need taking care of, but my fear keeps me from scheduling an appointment. What can I do?

The Tooth Feary

Dear Tooth Feary,

You think you've got problems baby, check out mine! Talk about fear of the dentist: with my overbearing under bite and ferocious fangs you can only imagine my trepidation. Every time I show up for a cleaning, I can't help but think of Steve Martin's sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors! In fact, I think almost everyone is afraid of trips to the dentist, and that dentophobia (fear of dentists) ranks right up there with fear of heights and fear of closed in spaces. For those of us who fear a trip to the dentist, it's nothing to smile about. Even worse, it's a vicious cycle: the longer we wait, the worse we think it'll be, and the more reluctant we are to go. So what's a girl to do?

Dental fear can be overcome, or at least controlled. After all, fear is a learned behavior that can be unlearned or reduced. Communication is the key here, and my advice is that you visit several dentists and 'interview' them until you find one who makes you feel comfortable. Ask your friends and family for recommendations. Personally I'd look for a dentist who caters to cowards, and be sure you let them know of your fears and concerns. Ask questions and empower yourself with a solid knowledge of the procedures, and be honest with your dentist regarding how much treatment you think you can handle. A lot of the fear of going to the dentist is the sense of losing control. To regain that sense of control, you need to establish good communication with a gentle, friendly dentist you trust and respect.

There are a variety of distraction techniques that might also help.   Bring along an iPod or Walkman and tune into some of your favorite soothing music. You might also set up a signaling system, like raising your hand, that will allow you to stop any procedure if you begin to panic. It's okay to leave if you aren't happy. Remember, you are the one in control.

Recently, Dental Spas have started popping up around the country.  I visited one the other day and was impressed with how carefully they cater to dental cowards, even canines like me.  Dental Spas understand dentophobia and incorporate spa treatments like massage therapy and stress-relieving treatments. The setting was relaxing, the aromatherapy had me swooning, and the sound of the indoor water feature calmed my nerves. It's Diva-meets-Dentist, and I'm all in favor of a little pampering. My teeth have never been so pearly white!

If a visit to the dentist sets your teeth on edge you're not alone. But with modern dentistry, it's never too late to overcome your fear and reclaim those choice chompers.  Smile, it's good for you.


Dear Zelda,

I'm a middle-aged woman from the Midwest and last week the owner of a gas station in our town was arrested for having installed a two-way mirror in the women's restroom.  This was a gas station I've frequented and now I am terrified to use any public restrooms.  Sometimes I really need a restroom, but the thought of someone watching me from behind the mirror is so gross that I don't know what to do. Any advice?

Restroom Rescue

Dear Restroom Rescue,

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's watching me after all? Unfortunately there are some sick people out there, and the owner of the gas station in your town who installed the two-way mirror in the women's restroom is one of them. At least you can be comforted by the fact that now he's probably looking into the wrong side of another two-way mirror down at the police station.

So how do you keep this one incident from creating a lifetime of crossed legs and awkward hopping dances for you? The good news is that whether you are in a restroom, hotel room, changing room, or police station, there is a simple way to determine whether or not you are looking into a true mirror or a two-way glass. According to a policewoman friend of mine who travels around the country giving seminars for women, there is a simple test you can conduct. Just place the tip of your fingernail against the reflective surface and look at it up close from the side. If there's a small gap between your fingernail and its reflection, you are looking into a genuine mirror. (Try this on your mirror at home to see what I mean.  Hopefully it passes the test!) However, if your fingernail directly touches the image of your nail, watch out... it's a two-way mirror, and someone may be watching. If the mirror does pass this test, you should feel more safe using the restroom. Of course, there are always creeps out there, and there are other ways for people to spy, so at some point you're going to have to conquer some of that fear if you ever want to take a long road trip again.

But at least now you have a simple test to determine whether or not your mirror is the genuine article. The next time you wonder about the mirror, mirror on the wall, try the nail test and remember: "No nail space, leave the place!"


Dear Zelda,

The fall equinox is coming soon. The days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning amazing colors, and the sun is lower in the sky. My canine brain is so sad over these unavoidable changes. Am I correct in assuming I am a depressed dog due to Seasonal Affective Disorder? I know humans suffer from SAD, but are canines also likely to have this malady? And, if so, what should I do about it? Would a sun lamp help, or should I have my human take me to a tropical isle for the next six months?

Definitely SAD

Dear Definitely SAD,

Let me begin by saying I'd use any excuse I could to get my owner to take me to a tropical isle for six months. Just thinking about the onset of cold weather and the rainy season depresses me. Why did I end up living in a climate so gray that the street and the sky are the same color? In Oregon, "asphalt" is a forecast and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) comes with the turf. You are correct that both dogs and humans suffer from it, and though I don't know where you live, it sounds like you may suffer from SAD too.

So how do we cope with this sad SAD situation? Some people and their pets go south for the winter... the pine-and-palm solution as you suggested. However, most of us still have to earn our kibble, and get stuck sticking it out and suffering through those dreary days from October to March... no make that April. Count 'em, that's seven months and more than half the year. The good news is that living through that much gray has given me a lot of tips for weathering the worst of winter.

Weight gain and excessive sleeping are two symptoms for canine SAD sufferers. In autumn and fall the days are shorter, the nights are longer, and baby it's cold outside. We're forced to spend more time inside, and there's nothing left to do but eat and sleep. Personally those are two activities I relish, but I know they aren't good for my health. Studies show that dogs that are more active in the winter (e.g. taking winter walks, or participating in doggy day camp or play group) are much healthier during those months than dormant dogs. Should you decide to try the day camp or play group, visit the facility, sniff, see where they keep the treats, check whether the other dogs are friendly or feral, and watch the program in action before you sign up.

Another option is to enroll in an indoor training class with your owner. This will be an opportunity for both of you to get out and be active together.  They will probably assign homework like working on "sit," "stay," and "lay down," but hey, what else is there to do in the winter? Don't worry, by next summer you can forget the commands and run with the wind.

Interactive toys are also a great way to keep us active and occupied.   If you are left at home while your owner goes to work or runs errands, stuffed Kong toys (my favorites) will give you both physical and mental stimulation. I love mine filled with peanut butter and blue cheese. I know it sounds like something Elvis would eat, but hey, it’s comfort food.

My most important tip for canine SAD sufferers, however, is that you take advantage of every opportunity to be in the sun. My owner hauls us out on a back deck whenever the sun makes an appearance. SAD no. Frostbite YES. In the early summer Zoe and I used to suffer seasonal alopecia (spotty loss of fur; another symptom for SAD canines), but ever since we've been taking winter sun baths the alopecia has not returned. You mentioned a "sun lamp," and you’re definitely on to something. These special light boxes have helped cure 85% of the SAD human sufferers who tried them. They sell for around two hundred dollars each. Just search the internet for "light boxes." I have no dog data on these, so if you try them, let me know the results.

The secret to staving off SADness during the winter is to stay active, greedily devour any sunlight that appears, and remember to have fun! From now on, SAD will stand for Seasonally Active Dog!