Returning clients needed a touch-up on their 5-ish lab mix. Stanley.
I skimmed the email and I thought, oh, it’s just a training problem! I’ll be there 5 minutes then I’ll give them a referral.
Now, this is an ego problem. My ego was “helping” me see I wasn’t really qualified and rather than embarrass myself by doing a bunch of voodoo and failing, I should assume the problem was pack leadership. I could give them the name of a trainer, then I could get out.
In the clairvoyant realms we call the ego the Analyzer, for those of you that enjoy career-specific terminology. But for practical purposes we’ll just stick with ego, shall we? The ego can solve your problem in 5 minutes, just watch! The ego has seen it all, heard it all and if you’ll just go with it–for God’s sake, are you even listening–? Focus! The ego will do all the pedaling! All you have to do is balance on the handle bars!
It’s a really rickety way to work and it only gets you to Point B about half the time.
Now, I’m not a dog trainer as we will soon discover. With that in mind, this was the deal: Stanley greets the family guests with a round of manic barking, garnished with a bit of jumping. Then he dashes to the sofa, jumps on board and sits waiting for the hapless guest to attend to him. If the guest doesn’t comply? More barking, while everybody waits expectantly for the guest to kiss the ring. Yep. He barks at the couple that he lives with, too. Just barks and barks.
My ego provided a diagnosis. Damn dog, she concluded. She showed me an obnoxious, entitled, control-freak, slightly stupid pet. Sure, there could be an initial cause, but really he was barking because he needed to be trained.
I don’t know, I thought. I furrowed my brow. I remember a nice enough dog. Interesting, even.
The ego ignored me. Hair disheveled, pencil behind the ear and furiously poring over a list of the usual causal factors, I watched the ego deconstruct the barking.
Ugh, that list. It’s got about 4 factors on it: not enough exercise, someone needs a doctor, food stinks, blahblah neighbor cat. It’s not an interesting list; I feel kind of snoozy thinking about it.
The ego was satisfied. She tapped impatiently at her list. Yep, it’s gonna be one of these things, then training. The dog needs training. We’re not trainers, the ego insisted. WE WON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. Five minutes, the ego said, tossing her hair. She stalked off.
I wavered, then I told myself: I trust the pet to tell me the truth.
The client? She wouldn’t have contacted me if I couldn’t help.
So what happened? We ran a little over our five minutes; I was there an hour and a half.
I walked in and Stanley did his thing. He jumped, he retreated, he hopped onto the couch. He barked, insistently.
I said oh, you gotta be kidding. I stared at him. No way am I going to pet a dog that yells at me. That is not cool. His mouth clapped shut. There was a pause. Then, he got off the couch. He came to me. He sat. He waited.
Well! I stood there, then the client invited me to sit down and read. It was about halfway through the reading that I looked clairvoyantly at the dog, all expectant and barking on the sofa, I saw the look on his face and I understood about neutrality and the ego.
The dog wasn’t a control freak, nor was he stupid. What he was doing, was trying to make them laugh. The look on his face, bless him, was joyful and open and silly; he was trying to lighten everybody up, in a household that could benefit from that! It was misguided, for sure, but it was honest and sweet and he was giving it all he had. He barked at his people for other reasons, but his controlling behavior was really meant to be therapeutic.
I talked to the client about the need to control the guest thing. Put the dog in another room, don’t let him out until he stops yelling. Tell him what you’re doing. Look, I told her, this dog is so smart, you can make up another, more pleasant job and get him going in a different direction.
Intelligent dogs, and working breeds–if you don’t give them something to do, they’ll often make something up. More often than not, you won’t like it.
Much of the rest of the reading focused on one of the humans, who needed to make better sense of her self and her role in the family. As usual, it wasn’t really about the dog, but without neutrality, I wouldn’t have seen it.
Oct 17th, 2013 by Katie
Nellie was sitting on her human’s lap in the dentist’s office, all tricked out in a service vest. A teacup poodle, she tipped the scales at just under 4 pounds. She was a lovely, natural redhead who needed a wee trim around the bangs: there and there. How the hell did they find a vest that small?
Nellie was smiling at me. I prepared to squeal with delight–quietly; it was a dentist’s office–but then I stopped short and asked the teenage girl, “I bet you want me to leave her alone, don’t you?” The girl, shy and sweet and muffled in some kind of orthodontic apparatus, shook her head and said, itth okay so away we went.
Her name was Nellie and she was four pounds of awesome. Right around a year, kind as the day is long and cute cute cute cute cute. She put her paws on my knee and communicated furiously that it was remarkable luck to meet such a high quality person on this day of days.
I’m intuitive; I’m pretty sure she meant it.
While all this was going on she gave me a pretty thorough bath. That was one tiny tongue. The perfect amount of saliva. A soupçon of moisture, who could object?
I admired her hair color and she administered some service. As much as a service dog on level 2 of like 90 levels can offer. She was a natural, though. In my head I saw Nellie fully trained. I saw that she was very proud of her work.
We oogled at each other. A dental assistant drifted past, smiling. “I already got my therapy,” she announced, airily. We watched her go by. I didn’t smile back. She was interrupting my session. What kind of –
I looked down at Nellie. She’d tipped over and was waiting for a belly rub. It didn’t seem like part of our agreement but as I patted her it became apparent we were still in therapy.
Nellie was meant to be their pet, but then a key player in the family had an accident. They took her to the hospital for visiting hours and even as a puppy she surprised them by hunkering down next to the Patient and staying still for hours. This of course was such un-puppy like behavior that they began to consider she might be up for a job. When we met, Nellie was at the beginning of her training.
Her goal? Apparently, it’s to lick and cuddle patients at Children’s Hospital in Denver. A perfect gig for a little peach-colored poodle.
In the meantime, her people are trying to fatten her up so her vest will fit better.
Sep 8th, 2013 by Katie
As my two cats passed in 2010, I spent significant time regaling them with memories from our 16 years together, then told them if they wanted to do it again, we’d be thrilled to have them back.
Some experts claim to know exactly when, where and how an animal will reincarnate. They might tell you the date, the location and the body to look for. I’m more likely to tell you to visualize the pet, invite it back and then pay attention. But after that, I believe it’s really up to the animal.
Years ago I read a metal-colored whippet. He was eccentric, energetic, opinionated and more likely to give me direction than to take direction from me. Now and then I get a pet that turns out to be a teacher; this dude was like that.
As he was getting ready to pass I told his person, just tell him you’d love to have him back if he was so inclined. But as we talked he butted in noisily: he was planning on coming back, thank you, but as a horse. In Spain.
Another client, a young-ish cat, told me yes, the cancer was distressing but on the other hand he’d accomplished what he came for, and that was to help his person launch an important artistic endeavor. Once she was off the ground, he told me, he wanted to leave so he could come back–again as a cat–and work with a boy. Ten years old. No one his person knew. He was clear; he would not be coming back into her life and I so I told her that.
I think she found peace with his decision. She was also comforted to know he wasn’t all that bothered by the cancer, it was really just a way to transition so he could go on to his next project.
Since our cats passed we’ve acquired two others. One died and now we have Gem, who clearly isn’t Chester. Nor is she Maggie. Will we see either one of them again in this lifetime? Beats me. I continue to pay attention, but I also know, if they want to come back they are fully capable of finding us.
I’ve been pondering reincarnation . . . I often talk to clients whose pets are dying. I also hear from many who are missing a deceased pet. In other words, it keeps coming up. (Get it? Reincarnation? Keeps coming up? Of course you do! You’re very bright.)
Sometimes people wonder if their beloved might come back to them. To these people I recommend visualizing that pet, then letting them know that you’d love to have them back. After that I say, “now all you gotta do is be open, and pay attention.” Simplistic? Yeah. Is it really an answer?
Yes and no. How much of an answer do you want?
Online I notice an animal communicator who claims you can look at a pet and determine all of its incarnations, past and present, into perpetuity. She identifies the time of incarnation, the breed, color and so on. While this is fascinating, and I believe her (I don’t sound like I do, do I?), I wonder what to make of it all.
I’m the kind of character who needs some mystery. I love the magic of going into the Humane Society and seeing who speaks to me. Last year, one after another, I brought home two cats that didn’t make any sense. The first one elderly, ill and misshapen and the second, completely unwilling. They both turned out to be exactly what we needed.
I’m not the person I was when Chester and Maggie came into our lives almost 20 years ago. In my mind, we did our work together and maybe those lessons are over. Besides, if I’d set out to bring them back and re-create an experience, I’ve have missed out on Skittles, the Ambassador of Love and Gem, the Worst Cat in Probably the Entire World.
I love that we inherited those damn hermit crabs. Jerry and Mimi are kooky and hilarious and I’m crazy about them. Did I want them? Nope. But they’re doing something for me that I never expected. It has something to do with being lighter in the world.
Then I think about the importance of having an experience, watching it end, and taking the time to digest it. I think some folks–not all–are in such a hurry to clone their experience, did they see what they had in the first place? I mean really see it, the way you do when a much-loved person passes? Chester and Maggie left me with big, obvious messages that weren’t clear until they had passed. If I’d gotten right on the phone and arranged for their return, I doubt I’d have integrated what they taught me.
I don’t know if I’m going about this pet reincarnation thing the right way for my clients. But I do know that my method encourages people to be in the present and tend to what’s on their plates right now.
Anna was a great dog. Bossy, gorgeous, youthful. A talker. She lived with a single woman, but they’d recently been joined by the woman’s 20-something daughter, who’d returned to the fold after a brief marriage and painful divorce.
I met the dog and found her enchanting. A canine in charge of her destiny, it seemed to me. A strong personality: confident, amusing.
My daughter thinks I need another dog, the client told me. She’s sure of it. Anna and my client had recently seen a second, beloved dog pass. The daughter thought Anna was lonely and wanted a friend but the client was skeptical.
I don’t want another pet, she told me. But I want to be sure. Can you talk to Anna?
I talked to the dog. She skirted all around the topic; she didn’t even want to talk about it! On top of it she wouldn’t look at me. She was avoiding the subject.
There was the daughter, just outside the screen in my head. She faced the dog; her mom and Anna sat looking in the other direction. I studied the pair and saw that they were content, self-contained. There was no sense the picture might be incomplete.
I saw that Anna was very pleased with herself. She was pleased with her life.
Oops! There was the daughter’s hand, reaching into the frame. I watched the girl take the dog and reposition her. Just a little tweak, but still. Turned the dog in her direction. The dog looked annoyed, then shuffled her butt around until she’d reoriented to her person.
Now, my job was to look at the dog and technically we had the answer to the question, does Anna need an animal companion? But Anna wanted me to see the source of the confusion and there it was.
I took a very cursory look at the daughter and saw she was lost. Her movements were restless, distracted. I could see there was something asking for her consideration but when it arose she’d begin to tinker with the dog once again.
I heard, denial. I remembered the young woman had recently divorced. Then I saw she was the one who was missing something.
Aha! Projection! With some reluctance I contacted the client. It’s not about Anna, I told her. Your daughter is lonely and she’s projecting it on the dog. Anna’s fine, I said. In fact she likes that the two of you are these strong, confident single ladies together. She’s happy.
The client corroborated this. I knew it! she told me. She went on to say, my daughter’s been really sad lately, missing her family on the East Coast. She’d felt that Anna was content being the only pet but she just wanted to be sure she wasn’t missing anything.
Projection. We all do it. But it can be very hard to see.
I go through entire periods when I have to tell people, this isn’t about your dog, it’s about you. Sometimes, I get a scenario where it’s both. The dog does have a difficulty–often behavioral–and it interlocks in some way with an issue the human struggles with. Suddenly the pet reading becomes a relationship reading, and my challenge is to help the human understand that they have a part in the play. After all, they called me so I could help their pet change, but what happened? What do you mean, it’s not about the dog?
Most people can hear me when I say, this is about your life. Some can’t. But it’s so common for a pet to call a family’s attention to their own stuff, that it’s worth heeding the words of the incomparable man-dog Cesar Millan. From his article in the Huffington Post:
Any relationship with a dog needs to be grounded in reality . . . Before you start looking for a dog — or when you start looking at the causes of your dog’s problems — you have to look at yourself first.
And: . . . are there any emotional issues going on? Any family tension can upset a calm assertive balance, and a dog will pick up on such things.
He talks about how hard it can be for some people to understand this. I think it’s really a reflection of a greater truth: that we attract into our lives what we are teaching and what we need to learn.
Our family members, friends, coworkers and pets all have something to show us, but maybe we really are all one. Maybe each of these characters is a part of the Self, in need of recognition.
For the full article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cesar-millan/it-isnt-always-about-the-_b_2541801.html
Writer and catologist Anne Rivers Siddons once plucked an enormously fat, stray, “clown-masked” cat out of a parking lot in her hometown, prompting a discussion of cat naming that I’ve never forgotten. Proving the theory that some things simply name themselves, and from John Chancellor Makes Me Cry:
He was startling to look at, and to this day I get a small, fresh shock when he comes rolling into a room. He is not a handsome cat. He is magnificently obese in the Charles Laughton manner. He has dainty feet and a truly unfortunate, short, ropy, possumlike tail. His fur is a sort of rough Scotty brindle, so short and spiky that it separates into miniature, serrated Elizabethan ruffs around his short neck when he moves his cantaloupe-shaped head. The fur sits on thick loose, skin that you can move around, with the result that he looks like something in an ill-fitting cat suit, but we can’t find the zipper. His face is pretty and poignant, like a Rouault clown. From behind, when he is trotting along on his short, bowed legs and little mincing feet, with his belly swinging, he looks like Babe Ruth trotting around the bases.
I was instantly in his thrall.
Siddons and her beleaguered husband appropriated the enthusiastic stray, and then:
. . . I have a theory that if you name a newly acquired animal, be he gift or derelict, right away, you have made him yours, and that only a heartless brute would wrest him away from you and take him to the Humane Society . . . I have, over the years, collected a few names that I consider especially appropriate for the sort of cats we get around here–huge, massive, and epically unadorable-and I trotted them out. “Wabash?” I ventured. “You know, as in Wabash Cannonball.’ Chairman Meow? Rasputin?”
“Not right,” said Heyward, regarding the depths of his martini as if the name lay there somewhere. “Try some more.”
“Well, we’ve never used Piedmont. Palooka looks right, but . . . Cromwell, maybe. That weird round head. Bismarck? That head was just made for one of those iron helmets with the thing on top of it.”
“No,” said Heyward. “Crossroads. His name has got to be Crossroads and I have no idea why.”