Last summer we became dog owners.
It was a surprise to me for so many reasons including the fact that 1.) I don’t really like dogs, 2.) Sam is allergic to most dogs and 3.) I’m not super comfortable around dogs and 4.)I’m not a dog person. Wait is that the same as #1?
But somehow the planets aligned or collided and between feeling bad for Sam’s broken knee, feeling guilty for all of the extra hours I’d put into work that kept me away from the kids for a job I was then leaving and because I was just feeling generally vulnerable, I succumbed to the multitude of photos from Petfinder.com sent to me from the kids. And then one day we visited Zoey at a shelter and the next thing I knew, we’d adopted her. A dog. A really big dog, actually.
Not in that sappy puppies are forever kind of way. Though, that way, too, since somehow something has completely changed me in a way that makes me a grinning fool whenever I go to a dog park and see all those happy dogs. (My old non-dog self is just nauseated by this.)
But I think getting this dog might have helped me re-find my voice.
We got her at a very stressful time. I’d left a role that I really wanted to work out, but had gotten caught in a cycle of overwork, exhaustion and client politics I couldn’t escape. And coupled with other things going on in my personal life, I’d begun to feel powerless. And it was affecting my self-confidence in all aspects of my life.
And then came Zoey, sixty pounds of untrained 1-year old puppy exuberance.
She jumped on everyone, she went all Cujo on other dogs while leashed, she never came when called and she broke free whenever she could.
We took her to obedience school and that’s where I understood that I would have to master her.
And the thing is, mastering does not include a lot of reasoning. It involved strength and discipline and psysching yourself up to stand tall and be heard and not to be afraid, even when you didn’t feel any of those things. And that’s a hard lesson to learn, especially at a time when I felt like I was allowing all of my boundaries to be trampled.
When I called for Zoey to come during an obedience school exercise, our instructor, a tough woman named Sylvia who I swear is part pit bull, stood above me and said, “Why are you kneeling? You’re the master!”
Oh right. Because there was no need for me to get onto the dog’s level to empathize with her. I didn’t need to reason with her about why she needed to come. I just needed to have a treat ready.
Knowing next to nothing about dogs when we got Zoey, I had this image in my mind about gaining a canine running partner, a silent buddy, a stuffed muppet who chased balls and did not chew up shoes, remotes, furniture or eat my fresh baked challahs. And what I found was unless I exerted my will, she’d be the one to exert hers.
At the dog groomer’s, there’s a sign that says:
If you treat your dog like a human,
she’ll treat you like a dog.
I think about this a lot. In terms of dog training and obedience, it’s absolutely true. But in terms of a relating to humans, there’s something there, as well. And what Zoey has taught me is that if I do not want to be treated like a dog, there are times when you can’t be empathetic. This doesn’t mean you should be cruel, but not all situations need empathy. And if there are times when what you know is true and right and is just not being heard, you just have to muster up strength and get ready to command a good, strong “Heel.”