Max’s story is dedicated to a yellow lab named Max and his wonderful, caring owners, the Mikus family.

I thank the Mikus family for sharing their powerful story of all the struggles that they endured over the years in dealing with their dog’s fear of thunder.

Max’s story begins with a beautiful eight year old yellow lab who lived most days of his life as a happy, friendly and playful dog. He was a typical Labrador Retriever and enjoyed life to the fullest.

He loved his family including his 12 year old buddy “Rookie”. They would run through the yard together sniffing and making their marks.

It was only when the skies would start to rumble that Maxie’s life, and his family’s life would turn into complete disarray. You see Max suffered with a severe anxiety caused by thunder. This is a condition where these dogs feel extreme nervousness due to the noise of thunder and/or a change in barometric pressure.

This article may be of help if your own dog is exhibiting this fear.  Also, please be sure to check out my review of the thundershirt for dogs here.

May 13, 2011

Max was one of the worst cases of that vets in the area had ever seen. If you’ve saw the movie or read the popular book Marley And Me, then you have a good idea of exactly what this condition is.  However, Max’s story even surpassed Marley with his anxiety and fear of storms.

For eight years Max tunneled his way through concrete walls, doors, and scratched and bloodied himself. 12 doors were replaced and all the doors had to be kept open at all times in the event of a storm and the family would not be at home.

Like most dog owners who have a dog suffering from this condition, the Mikus family tried it all. Crates, medication, giving him love during the storm, t-shirts, placing him in the bath-tub and so on. Vets told the family that Max would progressively get worse as time went on.

On May 13, 2011 Max’s story gets even worse. Julie raced home in the midst of a storm along with her six year old son. By the time she arrived home she found Max covered from head to toe in oil and gasoline. Max had broken into the garage and literally chewed through gasoline and oil tanks. The entire garage floor was flooded with the contaminants which Julie unknowingly drove over with her car. One spark could have ignited the entire house. The home was also filled with carbon monoxide.

Julie immediately dialed 911 and the operator told Julie to leave the house immediately for fear of an explosion. She got her son out of the house and tried desperately to get Max to follow her out as well. This fateful storm had pushed her sweet gentle giant over the edge. Max had ingested so much gasoline and oil that he literally lost his mind.

Max was fighting Julie with every step and wouldn’t allow her to lead him to the door. Finally, Julie managed to coax Max outside still leaving his leash in tact. Making sure her son and both dogs were safely outside, she locked the gates and ran to the neighbors for help. Max lost it when he spotted the lightening in the sky and the fire trucks barreling down the street.

Max had chewed through the leash and was pummeling himself against the gate. He had managed to break through the locked gate. Thankfully Julie’s brother and father sped up the street to help Julie get a hold of Max once again. His eyes were wild and he was shaking. This wasn’t the Max that Julie and her family knew.

The situation was awful. There was so much excitement happening around them with firemen placing industry fans throughout the home to clear the carbon monoxide and covering the gas and oil spills.

By far, it was the worst thing that could have happened for Max and his family. The vet said when it got to this point they would have to make the very difficult decision to put Max to sleep. The specialists that Julie and her husband consulted years before said that eventually Max would kill himself or do serious harm to a member of the family.

They placed Julie’s son in the ambulance and checked him over for carbon monoxide poisoning. Luckily everyone was okay.

Julie indicated that when she thinks of the disaster that could have happened, she shudders in terror.

“We feel so sorry for our Maximus. He was a faithful friend and aside from his thunder anxiety, he was the perfect friend, always watching over our son and his buddy. He did whatever Ben wanted- played in forts and played pirates.

Telling your child their pet is gone is the hardest thing. Ben keeps saying what are we going to do without Max? I tell him that we are going to remember him forever. We know in our hearts that we did the very best for him.

Our vet always said that anyone else would have given up on this dog a long time ago. I never gave up on Max! Unfortunately, there came a time when that dreaded decision – the one they talked with us about – it had to be made to protect both our beloved Max and our family as well. It was time to give our Maxie the peace that he truly deserved.”

Max’s story would end on May 13, 2011. The family decided to put Max to sleep that fateful day. “Our hearts ache and we can’t stop the tears from falling. We will miss him forever.” ~Julie Mikus

Closing

This is a story that I can understand, first hand.  A story that I could relate to on a personal level. My own dog (who happened to also be a yellow lab) “Lulu”, suffered with this same fear of thunder her entire life of 16 years. We rescued Lulu at the age of two and she immediately showed signs of anxiety with the first storm. We had replaced baseboards and paneling throughout our home many times. We very rarely would leave Lulu alone at all during storm season – just to be on the safe side. Yet, there were times in life when we had too. You can read Lulu’s story here.

Max’s story is just one of many sad cases of dogs suffering with severe anxiety.  Cases of families struggling to understand this condition and to simply cope. These dogs most often find themselves back in shelters because people don’t want to deal with them.

The Mikus family wasn’t like that. They took Max and they showered him with love for 8 years. They put aside the damage and destruction that Max caused due to his fear of thunder, because they understood that he couldn’t help it. They deserve to be commended for their years of understanding and patience and I want to personally thank them. Max would want this for his family.

R.I.P. boy, your family loves you.

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Showing 20 comments
  • Julie Mikus
    Reply

    Words cannot express my gratitude. Janie, you are a Hero for Dogs with your informative website, but more importantly the passion, empathy, and kindness you display are examples for us pet owners. You have a heart of gold. Thank you.

    • admin
      Reply

      Julie:
      Thank you for your words – they mean more to me than you will ever know. 😮

    • admin
      Reply

      Julie:
      I also wanted to mention that I will be adding all the information and links that you shared with me in my section for thunder phobia. I am trying to figure out the best way to add it to my blog so that it’s easily found. 😮

      • Julie
        Reply

        That is awesome Janie! Thank you! I think some of that information and research done is very good for people to know!

  • Sandy Johnson
    Reply

    Julie and family, I worked at the shelter when you adopted Maximus and work with your mother at Healthsouth. Your love and dedication to this dog cannot be described. If only others had a small amount of this love for animals, shelters would no longer exist. You have my deepest sympathy for losing a wonderful part of your family. Sandy Johnson

    • Julie
      Reply

      Sandy you are very kind to write such a thoughtful message. We loved Max so much, and I’ll never forget the day we went to the shelter. My husband said we were only going there to “look at the dog…” And then he came right home with us 🙂 He was a great dog while he was with us, really the perfect dog despite his horrible storm anxiety. Thanks!

  • Theresa
    Reply

    SO sorry to hear of your loss.. I found this while searching for ideas on what to do with our 7 year old jack russell mix. She is TERRIFIED of storms as well, and we are doing our absolute best as well of keeping her. It is frustrating as you know to come home to an unexpected storm and half of your stuff tore up. Thank you for this story. We will continue to try whatever it takes to keep our friend.

    • admin
      Reply

      Hi Theresa:
      I understand how you feel and I know all too well about your confusion over what to do regarding your dog’s thunder storm phobia. Have you tried any of the things on my list such as the thunder shirt or some of the other suggestions by Avery (a dog trainer)? You can scan down through the comments to view Avery’s comment with his added recommendations. Don’t give up, rather try and find what works for your baby. I will be adding more links and recommendations to this page as soon as I get time (probably this week). Thank you for hanging in there and understand that you’re not alone. 😮 Janie

  • Julie Mikus
    Reply

    Hi Theresa, thank you for your kind words, and Janie nailed it right on the head: You are not alone with this issue! It is quite challenging with these dogs because we don’t speak their language when these storms roll in! It is obvious you love your dog very much, and I know you will hang in there. Remember “stuff” can be replaced, even though it is super frustrating. We would come home some days, and an entire door would just be missing from our house. With wood splinters everywhere! We were frustrated, but we cleaned up the mess, and knew that tomorrow was a new day. Try all the suggestions on Janie’s list and talk to your vet and/or animal behavior specialists in your area…This is a real physical problem that these dogs experience that effects their mind and body when these storms roll in. I am wishing you the very best with your little Jack Russell. Hang in there!

  • Melody
    Reply

    my Jack Russell/schnauzer mix is afraid of storms, but thankfully not to the extremes you describe.. I’m so sorry that Max is no longer with you, and I applaud your willingness to love him in spite of his problems. Simon hides under the bed or under my desk and cries and shakes and drools during storms… but also has the same reaction to fireworks and to gunshots (we live in the country and my neighbor is a hunting buff) . Now, in the last couple of weeks, he has begun to whine and tremble at the sound of my female peacock’s call.. which he has never paid any attention to before. I don’t know what this progression means in the long term, but I’m worried. Oh, and he can tell the difference between the sounds on TV and the real thing.. Have wondered if the progression has something to do with his hearing…is there a frequency that is hurting his ears, perhaps?

    • admin
      Reply

      Hi Melody:
      I know that older dogs often develop a nervousness because they can’t hear as good causing them to stay on quard. My Lulu’s hearing deteriorated with age (16) and she would intensely look and move to another room to see if she indeed did heard thunder. I too wonder about the frequency issue and I would love to know more about it. Lulu could also tell the difference between a thunderstorm on t.v. and the real thing! Maybe a thundershirt would help your little guy.

  • susan phillips (nana)
    Reply

    This story of max and lulu have brought me to tears, part due to feeling your pain, as well as my fear. Our 12 year old lab/dalmation mix Bandit has always had a thunder phobia. However these past few months have been worse than I could ever imagine. He has chewed and torn off siding and downspouts and just 2 days ago chewed the water supply from the well to house in garage. We also have a gas line line and my husband was terrified…If he had chewed that then disaster was inevitable. I’m not giving up on him yet. Thanks for the support.

  • Mary Ann
    Reply

    Last night we had a big thunder storm. My therapy dog has never been afraid of thunder before. She just turned ten in June. She was showing all the classic symptoms. She started by sitting alert and listening to the thunder in the distance. As the storm approached she got worse. She actually scared me, I thought she would have a heart attack from fear. I was glad to read all the comments from other people.

  • Alice McCormick
    Reply

    My dog, a chocolate lab never showed signs of of fear of thunder storms until last summer. Very mild compared to what others are going through, but broke my heart none less.

    I tried to follow her lead and let her tell me what she wanted from me. Our solution? I would grab a book, sit on the bathroom floor, lights out, her head in my lap and read aloud, by flashlight, until the storm passed. Sometimes a few minutes, sometime hours, she would tell me when she was ready to leave the room.

    I lost my sweet Emmy Sue June 28, 2011 at 13 years, 7 months, 2 weeks and 4 days. She was never destructive, even as a puppy, but if it made her feel better, she could destroy anything she wanted. My yellow Lab Harley passed Nov 15th of last year, a little over 13 years and my rotten Beagle, Bailey left me Feb 21th, last year as well. He was 9 years and 8 months.

    Harley went through new carpeting, 2 sets of new furniture, multiple tables, I could go on and on. And Bailey? Oh my rotten wonderful little boy. Anyone who has ever loved a Beagle knows what I am talking about.

    My point? Stuff is stuff, things are things, but the love of a dog? Priceless. I can never repay my babies for their love and I hope I returned even half of what they gave me. Sorry to babble, been a tough 1 1/2 years.

    Enjoy your babies and give loves and rubs like there is no tomorrow.

    • admin
      Reply

      Hi Alice:
      What a beautiful comment. Thank you for sharing your story about all your fur babies. It brought a tear to my eyes because I truly know how you feel. Janie 😮

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