Happy Easter and Passover, everyone! These holidays are about renewal and liberation, and come at the time that the seasons are changing. No matter how or whether you celebrate for the occasion, this time of year is always a reminder that life is a constant process of renewal.
It is only when we stop moving forward that we begin to wilt, and sometimes this can look like a one-way process, but even a tree that looks dead in winter can explode back to colorful life in the spring. This is a reminder that there is always hope, but you don’t see it just when the flowers bloom in spring.
You can see it in every rescue dog that is successfully rehabilitated and rehomed. I’ve seen some pretty extreme transformations myself — dogs that were abused, malnourished, and mangy, and wound up frightened, anxious, and mistrusting of people before someone came along to save their lives. They were wilted, but then they bloomed and thrived.
You can see it in the story of Sonic, a pit bull that was seized after a raid on a drug house, was branded aggressive after a kennel fight with another dog, then was almost sentenced to death before he came to the Dog Psychology Center. That “hopelessly aggressive” dog is currently in training to become a service dog working with a veteran.
There’s Argos, a galgo, or greyhound, who I rescued in Spain. He was found with his muzzle taped shut, one leg broken, and hanging from a tree. He was afraid of everything when he came to the DPC, especially people. Now, three years later, he still has a limp, but he’s become far less fearful and skittish, and has learned to trust some people again.
His fear, though, was nothing compared to Mango, a dog I met in Singapore, who was too terrified to leave his kennel and could not be coaxed out. He hadn’t left his kennel in seven years when I met him and managed to get him to come outside. He went from terrified to amazed and enthusiastic when I took him rollerblading through the streets of Singapore.
Each of these dogs is just one example of a story that’s been told many times, and it’s one of the greatest things in the world — dogs have a remarkable ability to overcome the past and go on living as if it never happened, as long as we let them do it.
Humans have a tendency to hold onto the past, though, so a lot of times when they adopt a dog from a shelter, the dog comes along with the story of how it got there. The human way is to latch onto that story, and it becomes part of the dog — “This is Betty. She was thrown out of a moving car and was just terrified when we got her. Now she’s our baby and we don’t want anything to scare her ever again.”
Because people hang onto the story, they become overly aware of things that humans would call triggers. For example, Betty’s humans may never take her in the car because they worry that it will remind her of what happened. Or, if they do take her in the car, they’re the ones thinking about that experience and that nervous energy goes right to the dog and makes her afraid to be in the car.
It’s a vicious cycle but there’s an easy way to end it. Let go of the story and live in the moment. It’s what your dog does, and it’s how so many dogs are successfully rehabilitated. What happened to the dog before it got to that shelter doesn’t matter. Everything that happens between you and that dog once you take on the responsibility for rescue and rehabilitation does.
We don’t have to teach dogs how to let go of the past because they already know how, and this is one of the greatest lessons they can teach us. It is only when we can stop clinging to our own pasts that we can fully engage in that constant process of renewal called life.
Stay calm and keep moving forward!