Kazh’s training is progressing well. He’s super-responsive, wants to please his humans and hasn’t shown any signs of aggression. Based on observing him in many situations, our biggest obstacles are going to be building his confidence and working to moderate his tendency towards excited dominance behaviors.
Yesterday, we loaded him up with a weighted pack and brought him to a local park to walk the trail before we approached the off-leash dog area.
Almost immediately, we encountered another dog on the trail that had the excited energy that seems to trigger Kazh to respond with a similar intensity. We didn’t remove Kazh from the situation, rather we deliberately approached it. Brock immediately corrected and redirected Kazh’s attention until he was again calm in the presence of that other dog. A short time later, we again crossed paths with that dog on the circular path. “Oh, good,” I said when I saw the dog approaching, “Another opportunity for Kazh to learn.”
And he is learning. In the ten short days he has been with us, he has improved in almost every dimension.
It would be easy for us to simply avoid the situations where he struggles. We could keep him away from excited dogs on the trail and refuse him entry to the dog park when the energy is too high. He would still be a perfectly awesome dog.
Yet he would also be limited by the challenges that we refused to allow him to master. And without those opportunities to learn from his mistakes, he would never have the chance to become better.
How often do we do similar in our lives? How frequently do we approach those situations that we struggle with instead of merely avoiding them?
Yes, you can a perfectly amazing person even if you never approach those things that challenge you. Yet by meeting them head-on, you are giving yourself an opportunity to overcome them.
And you never know what you’re capable of until you try.
Depression is a very real and debilitating illness. It can come and go, reappearing out of the blue, even when the sun is out and birds are chirping. The condition can be genetic, or situational, or both. For me, it was the culmination of too many stressors that came all at once knocking me off my feet. It was like I was fighting a tsunami mentally.
In 2015 my husband left me. One month later my epileptic dog, Buddy, passed away. I had to put him down at 3 AM by myself mid seizure because my emotionally incompetent husband said it was just ‘too hard to handle’. Around that same month, my alcoholic father relapsed and my mother announced her decision to undergo dangerous brain surgery for her advanced Parkinson’s disease. My husband and I sold our home and I had to find a rental. I left my job to start another that would allow me to afford the steep Boston rent as a newly single woman.
It was all too much. The three long months after Buddy passed away and I was ‘dog-less’, were spent in a zombie like state. Forcing myself to be social, I would go out to dinner with friends, only to cry my eyes out in public. I needed something or someone to anchor me or I would soon unravel in a very dangerous way. My doctor put me on medicine. It didn’t work. Some days I didn’t get out of bed, or go to work; the lights stayed off. Only a few friends checked in on me. The ones who had their lives intact, with families, were just too busy.
That September, I attended an adoption event for Last Hope K9 rescue. I knew I needed to experience the unconditional love of a dog, once again. After all, it was my first dog, Buddy, who kept me alive through my divorce when I wanted to give up on life. I decided to go check out a black lab named Lucky, who I spotted on the website. As fate would have it, I arrived at the event early, and Lucky’s foster mom was running late. So, I sat down on the lawn next to a little beagle mix named Acer. He started licking my face, and actually hugged me, wrapping his paws around my shoulders. This little 20 lb fur ball, grasped on to me so tightly and wouldn’t let go. Not in an aggressive way, but a way that meant we should belong to each other. Lucky was not the one for me.
I eagerly signed the adoption papers for Acer, now known as ‘ACE’. I wanted to sign up for a lifetime worth of his little hugs, even if only in dog years. It is now 2 and a half years later, and a dog, has once again, shown me the incredible healing benefits to caring for an animal.
When I open my eyes each morning, I am greeted by a happy tail whipping back and forth and a sloppy kiss on my forehead. I feel as though I have a reason to wake up. If my eyes did not open, his tail may not wag. He may not be so happy, and that is reason enough for me to keep going. He forces me to get outside on the days where I feel sad or have flash backs of some events from my past. He doesn’t care that I have gained weight. He treats me like a celebrity. After a long day at work, he meets me at the door with excitement, with his little wiggle butt. When a not so nice guy dumped me via text, Ace made the best stand in New Year’s Eve date ever. I didn’t even have to do my makeup. So for the people who wonder why I am ‘so dog obsessed’, or to those who simply don’t understand why my dog will always come first, I will tell you that if you love me, you should love my dog, because, it is due to his love, that I am still breathing.
My first dog Buddy, put my heart back together when the love of my life broke it. And my second dog, Ace, well…he’s my partner on this new journey, and he lets me be myself each step of the way. Adopt a rescue dog, they may just save your life.
Whenever we take Tiger to the dog park, I like to step back and observe the interactions of the dogs and the owners. On the best days, all are relaxed and a singular, calm and happy energy flows through the park. On other days, the energy is divisive rather than unifying, a sense of unbalance and unease transmitted from creature to creature within the fence. It only takes one anxious and unstable dog (or more often, owner) to create the seeds of chaos.
When an unbalanced dog enters the arena, the other canines are quick to assess. Most of them will seek to avoid the negative energy. While others try to correct or eradicate it through physical means, usually growls and nips. This is when the observations really get interesting. Much of the time I see the owner of the unstable dog step in to rescue his or her dog from the perceived attack followed by a coddling session. This affection given while the dog is anxious only seeks to reinforce the behavior. It is teaching the dog to be a victim. It is also preventing the dog from learning how to solve its own problems as it comes to rely on its owner stepping in and white knighting the situation.
In more successful outcomes, the owners of the involved dogs will watch the interactions, looking carefully for a potentially dangerous situation that requires intervention but remaining hands off as much as possible. When this happens, the unstable dog tends to a minor beating but it also learns. It learns where it stands in the pack, it learns how and when to fight back and stand up for itself and it learns that it can solve its own problems. After a few moments of rough and tumble and vocalizations, all involved usually trot off happily and the energy balance is restored. The instability has been corrected.
Now humans are obviously not dogs. We don’t live in hierarchical packs and we don’t usually teach through teeth and growls. And luckily, our greetings do not usually involve butts and/or noses. But we can learn from observing our canine friends, whose lessons come from a much simpler world than ours.
People perceived as victims in our society tend to face one of two reactions – blame or enable, neither of which help to change the energy balance in the interaction.
But we are much more willing to accept imbalance in the other direction. When the victim is enabled, it nurtures unstable behavior. It shifts all of the responsibility to the other party. It tells the victim that he/she does not have learn how to solve his/her own problems; someone will step in for the rescue. In essence, we are like the dog owner swooping in to pick up the anxious dog before the lesson is learned.
Whatever you nurture, grows.
When we enable victims, we cultivate victims.
So, then, what do we do? How can we support victims while encouraging them to no longer be victims?
Watch Before Intervention
Just like the informed owners at the dog park, watch the interaction before donning your Superman costume. Be ready to intervene if the situation becomes dangerous but give the participants a chance to work it out for themselves first.
Support Rather Than Nurture
When interacting with the victim, especially if he/she is anxious or unstable, provide support and reassurance but do not nurture the anxiety. When someone is anxious, it is better to be clinically kind (think good bedside manner) than motherly.
Encourage Growth and Stability
When the victim is not in crisis, help him/her address the underlying issues. Teach them how to remain calm. Show them how to be centered and in control of themselves. Encourage them to take responsibility for their choices and reactions.
Empower the Person, Not the Behavior
When working with someone who has been victimized, be careful not to permit the behaviors that accompany the victim state as that serves to sanction that behavior. Rather, seek to empower the person behind the behavior so that they can learn to emancipate themselves from victimhood.
Blaming and enabling only serve to create more victims as the power is held unevenly and instability is rewarded. Whereas, if we can learn to cultivate anti-victims through support and encouragement, the great dog park of our lives can be filled with more wagging tails and fewer growls.
The dog did not. He seemed to have trouble understanding the concept of standing still on a woodland path. Instead of turning his gaze towards the camera, he kept looking wistfully at the trail. That’s okay’ we love him anyway:)
We ended up getting married beside a mossy creek on the Ely’s Mill property at the base of the Roaring Forks Loop. It was a magical location, even better than the original – locked up tight behind the national park shutdowns- site.
Change can be good.
We enjoyed a few quiet and scheduleless days in a cabin outside Gatlinburg.
And then we came home and celebrated. A roving and riotous party that spanned from afternoon until morning. Our home, “our” restaurant and finally, “our” downtown filled with the smiles and laughter of our friends. What an amazing night. What a precious gift.
I usually take about four naps in the span of a year.
Yesterday, I took two.
I could have used another today.
I have so many thoughts scratching at the inside of my head, begging to be written. But only one is fighting through the fatigue tonight:
The actual ceremony consisted of pretty traditional vows and was led by a pastor that we only met minutes before. I don’t know if he looked at the marriage license and chose his words based upon our not-exactly-super-young ages (36 and 40) or my prior marriage, but one sentence he shared hit us both hard.
“It doesn’t matter how you got here; what matters is here and now.”
And, I’m happy to say, that it is more than just words to me now. I felt at complete peace with my past the entire week. Random memories popped up on occasion (more to do with Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge than wedding stuff), but they passed through easily with no emotion.
I was married before.
It doesn’t matter.
I was left behind.
It doesn’t matter.
I was betrayed.
It doesn’t matter.
None of those things have any bearing on today if I choose not to let them have any bearing on today.
What matters is here and now.
When I was unpacking and sorting after the trip, I came across three prescription bottles. They contained the leftovers of the medications that I took that first year to help me sleep and eat and function. I started weaning myself off the medications the day after the divorce and haven’t taken any in well over three years.
But I held onto the remaining pills for all this time.
What if I couldn’t sleep again? What if my appetite vanished again? What if the fear and the pain and the anxiety crippled me again?
Much of the time, I forgot that I even had the vials. But, when I would happen across them, I would always hesitate and then place them back in their bin. I wasn’t ready.
But last week, when I recognized those orange bottles even though the labels had faded to white, I did not hesitate.
I released them.
They are relics of my past.
And they don’t matter.
What matters is here and now.
On a totally random side note that gave me a bit of a chuckle, for those of you who wonder how someone can commit bigamy (Getting Away With Bigamy), it’s still pretty easy. I carried an original copy of my divorce decree into the courthouse, thinking I would need it. Nope, I just needed to give them the date the divorce was final. Pretty scary. Kinda makes you wonder how common it actually is…
As a kid, I was always fascinated with the portrayal of old maps. I loved the rather amorphous forms of the landmasses. I chuckled at the fanciful guesses about what might lie beyond. And I especially liked the tiny illustrations of dragons at the edges of the plot, warning adventurers of the dangers that can be found in the great unknown.
I’ve had my own dragons at the periphery of my life. Areas where I have dared not tread in case the monsters of memory are too real. Earlier this week, I braved the edges of my mapped life and I faced the unknown.
It turned out not to be too bad. There were tears but nothing I couldn’t handle.
I have been a dog lover from the get-go. I befriended my parent’s adopted stray as soon as I could feed him from my high chair. From then on, I never went more than a few months without at least one dog in my household. By the end of my marriage, we had three dogs: an elderly, opinionated pug, our “special child” Boston terrier and Glottis, a happy go lucky lab mix. When my ex left me and his life, he locked the three dogs in the basement with limited food and water. Since I was out of town, they had been alone for more than two days when he sent the text. I have a feeling the only reason he sent the message was out of guilt, knowing that the dogs would not survive until I was slated to return. Upon receiving the text, I was able to have a friend take care of the dogs until I could make in back. That same friend took care care of me, offering me a room in her home for the next year.
I knew right away that I could not keep the dogs. I was in no shape emotionally or financially to be able to care for them. I would be living in a guest room in a house with a premature and medically fragile baby. They needed new homes.
I was not strong enough to take on the daunting and devastating task of finding homes for the pets. A friend from work spearheaded the networking connections while my parents tried the shelters and rescue organizations. Over the next few weeks, new homes were found for all.
Within two days, I went from having three dogs to having none. I had to release the care of those innocent creatures who trusted me with their guardianship. I cried more in those two days than I had in the previous few weeks. I knew I was making the best decision for them but, damn, it was hard.
Glottis was the baby in the family. She was sweet and extremely good-natured. She had been impacted the most by the recent upheaval. She used to get so upset when I cried, staying by my side and whimpering along with my keening. A friend at work arranged Glottis’s new home at her parent’s farmhouse in rural Alabama. Glottis would have room to run and new siblings to play with. It was perfect.
On the day of the adoption, my mom and I drove Glottis to the visitor center on the state line, where the transfer was to occur. I cried the whole way while rubbing the thick fur around her neck and ears. I liked Glottis’s new mom right away. She recognized the dog’s sensitive and cautious nature and gave her the time and space she needed to become comfortable. As we sat around a picnic table, the leash was slowly transferred from my hand to her’s. It was done.
Over the years, I received pictures and reports of Glottis (now named Gabby:) ) and her adventures on the farm. I could tell she was thriving. They were able to give her a better life than I could have during that period. It was such a gift to not worry about her, to know that she was loved and cared for.
Throughout this time, I had a standing invitation to visit, but I was afraid of facing that part of my past.
Giving up the dogs was the most painful part of the whole experience. Tears still flow even today when I write or talk about it. Tears from the loss. Tears from the innocent beings caught in the middle. Tears that come from a feeling of failure in my inability to care for them. Tears of gratitude for the people who worked tirelessly to find them homes and for those who adopted them and loved them.
This summer, I finally felt ready.
I’m glad I did. It felt so good to be greeted by that crazy tail, wagging in a huge circle while those familiar ticklish puffs of air danced around my face and she sniffed and greeted me. I believe she remembered me. I received the usual cautious hello, but then her eyes widened and the enthusiasm overflowed. The memories of her came flooding back, opening windows into my former life which I had long since painted shut. It wasn’t painful. It wasn’t scary. It was bittersweet, heavy on the honey.
I felt such a bond with her. We had both been abandoned and were forced out of the life we knew. We both had families that took us in when we needed it most. We have both changed, losing some aspects of our old selves and adopting new passions. We both have found loving families and are surrounded by people who care about us. We are survivors.
I watched Glottis, content sitting on the porch between her two moms. She was at peace. And so was I.
Yes, here there be tears. But they are tears flowing over smiles.
It’s time to redraw the map, replacing the dragons with good memories and wagging tails.