Over the last 6 months or more I have had two rescue dogs I just love. One of them had a troubled past which has lead to some serious behaviour issues. I’ve been through two trainers and a behaviourist with little effect. He’s needed operations—I was with him in the ICU spending a fortune I don’t have when nothing was for sure. I have dedicated untold hours, sweat, love, tears and frustration in my efforts to rehabilitate my dog, but with my other dog learning his bad behaviour, I’m really wondering if I’m doing the right thing.
Do I give up and admit defeat, or do I lean on how wonderful he is when
he is behaving and he’s on his back for a belly rub?
Sincerely Torn Dog Lover
Dear Dog Lover,
Let me begin by thanking you for picking up some of society’s slack. Maybe it’s a family-less senior’s dog that ended up in a shelter after a death. Or maybe it was an immature purchase by someone who hadn’t really given it appropriate thought. Whether the arrival of an animal at a shelter is preventable or not, someone has to take up that slack and I’m so grateful that you and so many of my friends are very active in this regard. You also have my sympathies regarding the associated challenges. What you’ve glossed over in a paragraph is actually a lot of life. I realize that situations like this can come to dominate our lives.
Of course no one but you can ultimately decide whether you should keep your dog and fumble through the challenges, or shift your attentions to an animal that is capable of receiving them in a useful way. But I’ll do my best to give you some things to ponder which may help you find your way through a maze of what I suspect must be very conflicting thoughts.
Firstly, you aren’t defeated if you were in an unwinnable battle. For all you know the dog has some undetected physiological issue that’s impacting its ability to act in a safe and survivable manner. You also aren’t responsible for the experiences the dog had before the shelter, and it appears those may have been very serious experiences that powerfully embedded some ideas into the dog. You cannot get attached to results. You can only focus on your action, not on outcomes. If the action is loving, then there is no need for regret.
Secondly, I can see why you might be inclined to see it as a failure and that you may have a sense that you’ve “let the dog down.” You didn’t. You’ve clearly done far more than most people would and you should feel good about that. But there’s no way around the fact that stopping now will be traumatic for both you and the dog. I’m not going to pretend those hours will be easy. But then again, most of life is already traumatic for you and the dog at this stage. And the world is not currently benefiting from all you have to offer, so I want you to consider it another way.
Imagine that every being in existence is equal. I suspect this idea is easy for you. And let us say that each person’s ability to contribute to the world in a positive way is rated from +10 to -10, with zero being someone who has no extra compassion or energy to give, but they also don’t need any from anyone else. Most of us are lucky to just bounce temporarily into that negative zone. Big life events like getting fired, or divorced or insulted by someone you respect—those will all take you lower. But likewise, successes, compliments and cooperation will get you higher. Now let’s get to you specifically.
If you’re doing all you’re doing for these two dogs, then clearly you’re on the plus side of the equation. You have a lot to give. The question is, who should you give it to? Can you see that right now you’re taking your +7 being and you’re giving 8 points to your -9 dog? So he’s still a -1 but now you are too! In the accounting of the universe this is not always a good deal.
I would like you to think about what would happen if you only gave away 4 points to a dog that was a -2? Then you would be a +3 and the dog would be a +2. That feels a bit better, doesn’t it? Because that has some balance to it. A -9 dog needs several people to pour a fair amount of life energy into it, and even then that’ll take time and people can get tired of the expense to their lives. So it’s not so much that this dog doesn’t deserve the care—of course he does. But we also must be prepared to accept what is, and if you’ve poured that much work in, then you’ve probably already demonstrated that this is not likely to be a rescue-able dog. That is a shame, but rather than pour good energy after bad, you might well be wise to consider if your loving efforts might yield more valuable results elsewhere.
Again, no one can answer this but you. But don’t waste your +7 life having -5 guilty-thoughts. As I’m sure your friends have told you, you’ve done much more than most people would. There is no shame in surrendering in an unwinnable battle. And I’m sure there’s some adorable little balls of love that would really benefit from time with a soul as loving as yours so obviously is. So maybe the troubled dog isn’t a rescue case after all. Maybe he’s a lesson in disguise. Maybe he’s a lesson in perseverance. Or maybe he’s a lesson in letting go. And deep deep deep down, I believe you already know which lesson he is. So trust yourself. Because those feelings are how the universe speaks to you.
Big hug. Good luck to all involved.
pees. s 😉
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.