** For those of you who are not “Dog People,” I promise… this blog is only secondarily about dogs. These are my “buddhas.” You have your own.
My Life in Dogs
I have shared my life with dogs for about 50 of my 55 years of life so far. It occurred to me this morning that every dog I’ve shared my life with has been the dog that I needed, even when it was not the dog I wanted. Each one has served faithfully as a wise and fluffy, or at least furry, buddha. I wanted to share their wisdom with you.
Mike was a Blue Tick Collie mix that came to our family when my big brother was little. He was already an old man by the time I had conscious awareness of him. Even though I was very young when he died, I still remember the way my mother would dial down her energy to match Mike’s and meet him there. I strive to emulate that whenever I’m with any being in one of those everything-is-uncomfortable-and-hurts seasons of life.
Jasper was an insane, rescued Cockapoo. He was my very best friend growing up. He was stubborn and difficult just like me. He loved to be outside. We could both walk/ride/walk/run for hours, just being. He got me out of my problems and into fresh air and fresh perspectives.
Jasper got a lot of flak for being who he was. So did I. Jasper taught me that we were both still lovable even when our behavior was not.
Boris was a rescued German Shepherd puppy. I should probably mention at this point that every dog my mother ever had in my lifetime was a rescue. Every dog was also “the last dog I’m ever going to have, I mean it this time.” I watched her with five “last dogs I’ll ever have I mean it this time.” She loved them all.
Boris was with us for less than two weeks. He escaped the house, ran out into the road and got hit by a car. Most unfortunately, he didn’t die right away. I learned from Boris that sometimes we have to love enough to do the very hard things. I learned that sometimes death is mercy gift.
“Prince Phillip of Damascus,” (named by two very young girls,) was a rescued Cocker Spaniel. Phil was my heartbeat! My bestie. My love. I watched him go from off-the-chain hyper crazy puppy to faithful, sweet, patient wonderful boi under the steady, consistent, gentle love and guidance of my stepfather.
When Phil met my first husband, he tried all kinds of ways to tell me not to marry him. I didn’t listen. Phil took his heart back from me when I got married and moved out. The first time I came back to the house after our honeymoon, instead of the usual, elaborate, nose-to-nose greeting ritual we had given each other for years, he looked at me, slumped his shoulders, turned around and walked away. He never greeted me the old way, ever again.
Phil taught me to always, always, always, trust what a dog shows me, even when that information makes zero sense on the surface. That thing we call “instinct” is an elaborate network of multisensory data that gets processed in our gut brains. Dogs are great at it. We humans? Not so much. I honor Phil’s memory by learning and teaching how to consider all data present accounting for the limitations of the cerebral brain.
Smidgen was the first dog I had as an adult. I tried to be the best puppy parent ever! I started off brushing her teeth every night, brushing her high-maintenance Bichon coat at least every other day… all of the things. I was neurotic about her care.
She quickly got to a point where she got annoyed anytime I got near her because I was destined to pick at something or brush something or in some other way annoy the crap out of her. She graciously taught me not to smother those for whom I care.
Bear Bear was another Bichon who came to us on a “Breeder’s Agreement” from the same breeder as Smidgen. We were broke, so we contracted to “pay” the breeder in litters delivered.
Bear Bear was an incredible Mommy. She was nurturing and attentive when the pups were tiny and vulnerable. As they grew, she challenged them to more and more independence. When she got tired from nursing or just sick of being sucked to oblivion, she would just up and leave the whelping pen, literally scraping the pups off of her undersides on the lip of the pen.
She demonstrated this balance of indulging and nudging, and of having a life aside from being “Mom.” She did it so well that I wrote her into my Master’s thesis as an example of empowered nurturance. Bear Bear was a fluffy rock star.
Dr. Dante D. Dawg
Anyone who has known me, or my work for more than 30 seconds knows who Dante is. He was rescued out of a hoarding situation. He was overwhelmed incredibly quickly. He peed submissively any time he was anywhere near any creature with notable testosterone.
Dante is not a fan of reactivity in the humans. I am a trauma survivor. In spite of many years of hard work in therapy, I still struggle at times with trauma-related hair-trigger emotional responses. By the time Dante came to us, I had at least gotten down to being reactive primarily with inanimate objects and not sensate creatures, but Dante has the uncanny ability to note even the tiniest surge of adrenaline in me. When computers or printers or appliances would not do the thing they are supposed to do and my adrenaline would surge, Dante would slink out of the room like I was a horrible, terrible threat about to consume the environment with dragon fire.
That really does not help.
It does, however, put three critical lessons right into my face:
- There is no shame in having trauma reactions,
- Trauma reactions can be scary, threatening and confusing for those outside of our heads, and
- I had a whole to more work to do on lowering my baseline anxiety and getting off of my dorsal vagus nerve faster.
I’m not perfect at it, but I have come a very, very long way. So has Dante! He doesn’t even pee on people now. #Winning.
Among his other lessons, Dante has taught me:
- That “together together together” is a beautiful thing to cultivate.
- That when someone’s terms for relationship aren’t ok with us simply walking away is a great response. Growling is rarely necessary.
- That rest and play are at least as important as working hard.
- That it is possible to be the calm in the room when others are upset.
- And, that it’s more than okay that Dante is sometimes more effective with our clients than I am. We’re just here to make sure they get what they need some kind of way.
Steele was the sweet and wonderful Australian Cattle Dog that my now-husband had when we first met and moved in together. He and Dante struggled with cohabitation. The “chunky smoothy” blend of our two families was on full display in their relationship.
Being an ACD, Steele also needed space to run and a herd to round up. We had neither. He tried so hard to be a good boi in spaces that were just not well suited to him. His need to run got the best of him one day and he met with an ugly end.
Steele taught me that we can be a loving presence even when we are not in our ideal environment, but it’s not sustainable. Eventually that thing in us that needs to be elsewhere will go there with or without our conscious consent.
Zenifred. Zenzibar. Our elegant clown of a Standard Poodle. Zen was supposed to be my husband’s dog, but she’s just not hard-wired to be one person-centric. We call her our “Cruise Director.” She wants everyone to be together and to be happy, regardless of whether that’s what we want in that moment. She pretty much insisted that Dante was going to love her when he held no such intentions. She won him over with her persistence and adoration.
Zen is teaching me to ask for what I want without apology, and to advocate relentlessly for what I need. She has shown me that being happy when everyone else is grumpy around you is a superpower. She is also demonstrating her version of Steven Stills’ old song: “If you can’t be, with the squeak toy you love, honey, love the squeak toy you’re with!”
Why, Tiffany, Why?
I didn’t share these things with you to show off my dogs or to justify a trip down memory lane, though it has been fun! Thanks for your company here. I share these things with you to encourage you to pay attention to your unlikely and unexpected teachers. I don’t know who or what those teachers might be in your life, but I bet you do. Don’t turn away the lessons when they come to you wrapped strangely.
Life seems to consistently give us “the dog” we need; Not necessarily the one we want. When we embrace them, we are invited to a life that is richer, deeper, more satisfying and more meaningful than what we could have ever found on our own.
What are the “dogs that you need” teaching you right now? Would you like help from Dr. Dante or from Tiffany? Contact us today. Let’s figure it out.