Every now and again, the dog-thing gets a bit overwhelming. This weekend was one of those times. It makes me pause and wonder if I’m doing too much, asking too much of my family, my own pets, my own heart.
It’s so easy to anthropomorphize dogs. (I toss that big word out there as if I didn’t have to look up the spelling and be sure I was using it correctly. It means to attribute human characteristics and purposes to inanimate objects, plants, and animals.)
We imagine we know a dog’s motives, emotions. We think we can read its expressions, sense its moods, understand why it responds the way it does, even interpret its feelings. (I’ve been anthropomorphizing Gracie for years — but who knows what really goes through that little head of hers.)
This week confirmed for me once again that dogs, like people, are mysteries. It is nearly impossible to know another person’s heart, let alone a dog’s, and twice as easy to imagine that we do. We assume based on our own experiences and bias, but in reality we’re wrong as much as we’re blessed with a lucky guess or two.
Yesterday morning, for the first time in weeks, Gala and Darlin’ had a nasty fight. Thankfully, no one was hurt (except me- I jammed my finger trying to fling a barstool between the two), but I was shocked. It was not a one-sided fight. No one was to blame. This little battle broke out after I had just returned from a long run with Gala, the first one I’d had all week as I’d spent my free time assisting in the search for a lost OPH dog. The miscommunication and assumptions that plagued our search attempts left me with the same frustration and sadness that Gala and Darlin’s fight did. Can’t we all just get along?
I left the dogs to think about their actions in their crates, much the same way I sent my own kids to their rooms back in the day, and headed to the gardens and barn where I could find solace in my horses and plants. As I worked, I thought about the week. The people. The dogs. The heartache. The eventual happy ending (for the lost dog). I wondered what I had learned.
I finally came to a conclusion. The hardest commodity to come by in dog rescue work, heck in any kind of work involving animals or humans, in life for that matter—is trust. It’s the golden ticket. Without it, our relationships don’t work—with animals or people.
Snapping off asparagus spears, I thought- Gala and Darlin’ don’t trust each other, but why should they? They’ve lived together for only a month. Gala had heartworm treatment and Darlin’ weaned puppies and was spayed– certainly not their least stressfull moments. And now I expect them to simply forget their past experiences and be best buds, trust that this other dog competing for my attention and treats means them no illwill. That’s pretty steep.
Trust is not easy for us, what makes us think it’s easy for dogs (especially rescue dogs)? Trust was many times the missing piece to the puzzle of the organizations and human beings working (together) to find a lost dog this week. Many times we found it difficult to reach beyond our own blindness to assume the best intentions. I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of not trusting others, assuming I know more, whether it comes to the dog in question or a political issue, or even how to properly carmelize onions.
As I carried the spears down to the house, I realized that despite the frustration and miscommunication and desperation of our search this week, the lost dog was safe now. That was what mattered. It wasn’t one person, one action, one plan, one moment that made it happen. I mean after all, we are talking about a dog. A dog with a history and heart of its own. None of us could presume to know what went through its mind this week or what made it stop running.
Trust is my best guest. The lost dog had to finally set enough of her fear down to trust. She had to stop running and hiding and step into an unknown—to take a chance and trust it wouldn’t hurt her, despite every indication to the contrary.
Trust is the basis for all we do in rescuing dogs. It’s what we begin trying to build the moment we bring each dog to our home. We rarely know its experience. We don’t even know its real age or breed. Some arrive so visibly shattered they are comatose, cringing at the slightest touch. And some arrive so desperate for attention they fling themselves on you, charging through your house and life. It’s easy to assume because a dog is happy-go-lucky that it’s dodged the worst of it, but maybe it’s simply a more resilient dog. I know plenty of people who’ve not had an easy road, and yet exude happiness.
She’s no-doubt had countless litters of puppies with little or no human assistance. She’s wary of new dogs, ready to fend for herself and her babies. She still pauses when we pass the trash cans set out on trash day, very likely they were her main food source once upon a time. A raised voice makes her stop, cringe, lower herself to the ground. And yet, this sweet girl loves people. She wants to trust. Her affection is so evident in the way she closes her eyes and sighs when I pet her, and how her big, brown eyes follow me as I move from room to room.
And Gala is younger, stronger, more confident.
But she also braces when a voice is raised, watches every sudden movement. She will bare her teeth at an unfamiliar dog, ready to protect herself as she has most definitely had to in the past. And yet, she clamors to greet every person within reach, leaning herself against them in a doggie hug, even jumping up and wrapping her long front legs around you and burrowing her nose in your side. Somewhere along the line, she discovered there are people worth trusting. It’s my hope that someday she’ll also figure out there are other dogs worth trusting. Right now, her only buddy is Punkin who isn’t quite sure what to do with Gala’s overly enthusiastic affection.
Trust. It’s like an invisible thread that allows us to reach each other, easily snapped, but once it’s established, powerful. And yet, trust is not easy for humans who each have their own hang-ups and histories, secrets and successes, much like the dogs.
I suppose, given my week, I shouldn’t have been suprised that it’s also not easy for two dogs coming from vastly different experiences to live peaceably every moment. That doesn’t mean they’re going to kill each other, it simply means I need to allow them a bit more personal space. So, we’re back to how we started, keeping a little distance but trying to find some common ground, knowing that we all want the same thing – a happy home.
I thought about this as I pried the violets from the throats of my strawberry plants. We have to trust. We can’t do anything without it, and yet it is our human handicap. It requires releasing control and swapping it out for vulnerability. Now, there’s a trick. Not many of us are willing to do that, and certainly our society doesn’t reward it.
But that’s what we are asking these dogs to do. If it’s so hard for us, imagine how hard it is for a dog. And yet, these animials are many times shockingly willing to trust. Once again, I’m learning that I have so much more to learn from them than they will ever learn from me.
Waxing a bit philosophical this week. Sorry about that. It’s where my heart is.
As far as the foster dogs in residence – here’s the stats:
Punkin is out of quarantine and enjoying the freedom to romp in the yard, chew on anything/everything/me, and chase after the cat. She’s preparing to meet her potential adopters this Saturday and start her real life. Meanwhile, I’m soaking up all the uncomplicated, happy puppiness I can get from her.
Gala is becoming my rock-star running buddy and kicking my butt EVERY morning. I haven’t run so many days in a row in ten years. WAY better (and cheaper) than a gym package.
Darlin’ is beginning to resume her svelte shape. She is happy and mellow and so VERY READY to find her forever home. We are hoping her family is close and will come for her soon.
And this dog, Barron, isn’t coming to our house, but my youngest son wishes he was and has been badgering me about it and attempting to sell the other dogs on the street corner to make room. I believe Barron is headed for a foster home in Virginia once he arrives on the freedom ride this Saturday from South Carolina. Get those applications in!
Thanks for reading. If you’d like more regular updates of foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog Facebook group. And if you’d like to know more about my writing (and my newest novel out next month!), check out CaraWrites.com.
If you’re interested in Darlin’, Gala, Barron, or any other OPH foster dog, get more information and/or fill out an application at ophrescue.org. (That’s also where you can go if you’d like to volunteer, foster, or donate!)
p.s. Please feel free to leave a comment, question, or message here on the blog. I try to respond to each one and love hearing from readers.