I went to a Halloween party on Sunday and met the most amazing German Shepard. Okay, I met some charming people as well, but I was particularly taken by the host’s three-year-old German Shepard and not just because I’m an animal lover. He was so gentle and kind, his eyes were soft, and he made full eye contact when he requested a petting or invited me to tug on his toy. It was a soul level request. I asked the owner if he had always been so calm or if he had undergone professional training. I was told he was adopted with no known history. What a mystery I thought. Why would someone give up such a friendly well behaved dog?
The new owner said they were not aware of the level of training until they were walking on a trial and came across a bear. He was ahead on the trail and to keep him from getting hurt they yelled stop. Not only did he stop, but he also dropped and waited for the bear to pass. I thought of his kind eyes and wondered about the life he left behind. Was he a service dog and had his owner died? Did he miss her/him? Was he a military dog returned from the war and left to retire as a civilian? Where was his handler? Did he make it back okay? Or was this beautiful dog’s role complete with his last family and he was on to bless the next?
I thought of my own sweet Cooper. I adopted him from a shelter and didn’t know his history either.
It was close to closing time when we arrived at the shelter. The staff brought Cooper out to a fenced-in meet-and-greet area, and I fell in love. He was such a gentle soul. My husband raced home to get our lab Summer so the two could meet on neutral ground. They ran around the yard together with no issues. Summer had a new brother!
We took Cooper home, and that is when I received a lesson on forgiveness, letting go, and living in the moment. Unlike a dating site where you can take the time to get to know a person before you start a relationship, pet adoption is quite the opposite. It is a leap of faith; a dive right in and hope that the water doesn’t give you a heart attack. Sure there was the 30-minute meet-and-greet, but nothing akin to months of instant messaging, meeting for lunch and dinner, and then eventually settling into a cozy relationship or running for the hills.
We discovered Cooper had some emotional baggage, as we all do, and he dragged it into our relationship, as most of us do. He was no different than a person holding on to past hurts and fears as he dipped his toe into the new relationship waters. We will never know his history or his trauma. Our role was to help him through it, to have patience, and show him that a life of love and trust is possible.
Our lovable Cooper had leash aggression, and he had it bad. The day he met my dog Summer, they were both off-leash in a fenced-in area; hence, the sweet Cooper. During our first walk together, we got to meet the Tasmanian-devil Cooper. It took one year of love and patience and five different trainers before we were able to reach him.
That is sweet Cooper above (brown dog on a leash) sitting next to strangers, relaxed and happy as can be. If there were one behavior I had to pick to emulate from Cooper, it would be the ability to forgive and let go. His new friends had no idea he was aggressive in his past, they were relaxed and calm around him. He was able to put his past behind him, let go of his fears, live in the moment, and make new friends in the process.
Had we known Cooper’s history of being leash aggressive, would we have picked another pup? Would we have “labeled” him as too much trouble, unadoptable? a liability? I’m not sure. Not knowing his history, we had no expectations when we brought him home. He had a clean slate.
I thought of a few people I met over the years that spilled “their story” within moments of meeting. I think sometimes there is a fine line in how we handle our experiences. On the one hand, things that happen to us shape us and make us who we are whether the experience is deemed positive or negative, it just shapes us. We aren’t good or bad because of it, we are just who we are. Then there are those that take the things that happened, good or bad or a mix of good and bad and it doesn’t just shape, it defines them. Their story becomes their label. I think when we continuously repeat “our story” sharing our bad childhood traumas, rotten relationships, whatever the “story” we feel we must repeat, we hold that in our field and in some way rob people of the chance to see us in any other way than what we are projecting. We can’t seem to break out of the pattern of our story. A troubled child in elementary is expected to be a troubled teen when he/she hits high school, the teacher has expectations based on the paperwork that followed him to the next level.
I sometimes think in a new relationship, especially early on, it might be best to leave your story behind. You have a chance to build a new story as this new relationship unfolds. Possibly even have an opportunity to reinvent yourself. If you were cynical and moody before, maybe you want to shift to a more positive person. This new person doesn’t know you had a short fuse and has no expectations that you will be triggered by a particular comment. They speak freely.
You decide you want to be more positive, you are free to adopt a new positive attitude without someone thinking you’re a pod person. Who are you? What have you done with my girlfriend?
I was raised an army brat. It was hard moving from base to base, but one of the mixed blessings was that you had a fresh start, a clean slate. New friends, new life. I’m not saying to keep secrets or to pretend that something didn’t happen, but it is difficult to leave the past behind if you keep dragging it into the present. Every new relationship, new friendship, even a new work environment can be a fresh start for the person you want to become.