The miracle is happening just in this moment! All three of the big, hairy beasties are busy blanketing the worn hardwood floors and snoring gently at my feet. The light in the garden is clear and sparkly. The weeds, after their morning encounter with absolutely organic, heavy-duty vinegar spray, are passing on to a place that will very shortly be known as compost. Peace reigns and it’s great!
Of course, it isn’t always that way. Especially since our latest Newfoundland rescue dog joined the family. We’ve all had lots of learning to do!
Luther arrived just four and a half months ago from a traumatic and developmentally limiting situation with, shall we say, a lot of baggage. Despite the love and care of some awesome foster parents in the couple of weeks before he joined us, when he went through yet another transition to our home he didn’t understand cuddles, or even petting. He didn’t understand treats. He didn’t understand house!
The thing that struck me most, though, was that he had only two options for communication.
The first was to absolutely melt into the floor and try to disappear in the face of anything he perceived as frightening. And everything was frightening at first.
Friends thought he was well-behaved. Actually, he was terrified and experiencing what psychiatrists might refer to as dissociative states.
I cried a lot in those first weeks. And believed, with every fiber of my being, that he would learn to feel safe, perhaps for the first time..
Luther’s second strategy for communication was to bark. Sharply. Loudly. Insistently.
He had no working vocabulary. No mellow Newfie sense of the word, “Wait.” No certainty that I would appear because I always did. And so he barked.
It reminded me of when Dave was new and I was still learning the different baby cries.
There were days when I wanted to run away from home. (Then and now.)
In time, the days decreased but the moments lingered. It seemed that as he melted less often into the floor, he barked all the more incessantly.
And, more often than I would like to admit, I barked back… usually when he was way ready to get out of his crate after meals and I was otherwise engaged.
“Wait just a #@%* minute!”
“Shut the %!*& up!”
Well, you get the point. Not my finest moments. And not at all effective.
Then, one day, I had a thought. Or, rather, one of those magical, mental connections when two things that are true in very distant corners of your brain suddenly discover each other.
Inspired mostly, I think, by the amazing author and teacher, SARK, who helps wannabe writers and real people deal with the voices of their inner critics, I discovered a new plan.
The next time Luther barked in that particular demanding, nails on the chalkboard tone, I responded, “I hear you.”
Three tiny words.
The energy of our encounter totally shifted.
I felt better.
I could hear the difference in my tone.
And, since changing me was a whole lot more in my control than changing him, I persisted.
You want out of your crate after dinner and you want out immediately, despite the fact that I am, just this moment, in the bathroom.
“I hear you.”
You want to go out NOW, despite the fact that I am in my chair, buried under a laptop, a journal, 62 index cards, a phone and at least two pens.
“I hear you.”
It’s hard to describe the miracle of these three tiny words.
Admittedly, Luther still wants what he wants, when he wants it.
So do I.
We’re working hard, though, on this whole safe and heard thing.
Luther’s working on his communication skills. He’s gotten the hang of enthusiastic tail wagging.
Nudging my hand for a head rub is a new favorite.
And, if you look really closely at his recent portrait, he’s even mastered my Mom’s infamous one eyebrow up, “What are you thinking?” move.
Oh, there are still vocabulary issues.
We’re still working on the notion that “Come” means now and not when he’s in the mood.
“Stay” may take a good while longer.
Not ready for “Down” yet.
We’ve gotten really good at saving dog hair for our weaving auntie.
One of these days, perhaps, we’ll get the hang of face washing!
One of these days.
It’s a wonder, when you think about it, that any of us can communicate at all. I’m beginning to suspect that it really is all about energy and creating reality.
What we can do with three tiny words!