Rosie was a neglected and abused dog. She is a small-medium red dog, about thirty pounds. She had been starved, and at eight months hadn’t lived in a house or been house trained. My daughter adopted this needy dog. She and her husband are living with us while they rehab a house they bought so in a sense, my wife and I also adopted Rosie.
Rosie was terrified of me. She avoided me whenever she could. If she had to come to me, she’d crouch and lower her head and showed a strange face. She’d raise her upper lip to expose her upper teeth. It was the opposite of aggression, it was deeply submissive. It was funny and it was heartbreaking.
If I threw a ball for Ruby, a skinny white lab mad about tennis balls, Rosie would get excited and try to grab the ball and run around the yard with it. So I took Rosie out and threw balls just for her. She’d run around for a while and eventually drop the ball. I could get it and throw it again. This redefined me as someone who could provide some fun. I talked to Rosie, and when she stopped running from the room she listened to my stories.
I also fed Rosie. This created an image of me as a useful entity. After about six weeks, Rosie developed some real affection for me and voluntarily comes to me. She likes to play “chase” so I chase her and then run away and she chases me. Now we are good friends.
Older males were very frightening to Rosie. I didn’t take it personally. I saw my role as healing a dog with PTSD. I am a good dog therapist. Rosie is recovering nicely.
But she hides food around the house. She will carry a mouthful of food downstairs, for example, and hide it. I suspect she fears that the food will suddenly run out and she’ll need her stored food to survive.
(Should we attribute all these human-like drives and beliefs to dogs? Some animal behaviorists criticize that as “anthropomorphizing” the dog. Turn the question around. If we have learned anything from ecology, we have learned everything is connected. We are all related. Why wouldn’t animals have the same fears and anxieties we are prone to? I always thought it was conceited of humans to assume there is some unbridgeable gap between us and other creatures on the planet.)
So I assert I have helped cure her of her PTSD / phobia about older males. I am sure the food hoarding will also resolve.
I read in the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1WH5pey ) that we can heal dogs of their trauma by reading to them. I do talk to Rosie and I believe that helps. Dogs domesticated us at least 15,000 years ago, and apparently simultaneously in at least three places. Dogs are exquisitely tuned in to the human voice.
Then I read on Web MD that encouraging veterans suffering from PTSD to adopt dogs can reduce depression and loneliness very nicely (http://wb.md/28Lq2PZ registration is required but free). Dr Stephen Stern did a randomized assignment, with 9 vets asked to adopt dogs and 10 vets serving as a control group. The effect size for depression was 1.1, and for loneliness, 1.2. Those are good numbers. Very good, indeed.
One thing I didn’t like about the study was the exclusionary criteria. Dogs with medical or behavioral problems were excluded from adoption. Would you want to adopt a dog with behavioral problems? Wouldn’t life be easier and simpler to get a nice, well mannered dog?
Yet, don’t Rosie’s behavioral problems bring out a better side of me? Do I not benefit myself when I help Rosie? Suppose these veterans were provided with some coaching on dog therapy (e.g., read to your dog, tell him about the trauma you went through, hand feed the dog, pet the dog and tell him of your love) and about managing dogs’ medical problems? Could they be even more impacted by taking a needy dog and helping it? If they rescue a more needy dog, are they not rescuing themselves?
Carl Jung, a mystically oriented colleague of Sigmund Freud, talked of how healers often have their own wounds. We heal ourselves as we heal our patients. We are wounded healers, we struggle with our own injuries. “America, she a tough town,” said Latka Gravas. Pain in life is inevitable, but suffering is optional. When we accept the pain of life without complaint we sidestep the suffering. Suffering is caused by trying to avoid pain. There is a risk in adopting a medically or behaviorally compromised animal. And, yet . . . a wounded dog might be just the healer for a wounded warrior. As the warrior heals the dog, himself he also heals.
“How can man die better, “ asked Macaulay, “than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods?” We who were warriors and signed the blank check resonate with that, but there might be another answer than to stand at the gate against the armies of Tuscany. If not better, at least a different answer of deep truth.
We can spend our whole life healing the wounded. How can we die better than that?