Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Thin Line

Whether or not we are aware of it, we have agreements with the people with which we are in relationship. We can share our passions, our rants and our desires with some people and not with others. We have permission to tell them what we think, give them advice or provide unsolicited information. They will forgive us our forthrightness and our opinions. It is when we break out of the boundaries of these agreements that people may not forgive us.

A neighbor brought a new dog into her life this week. She rescued him from a local shelter’s pending euthanasia group. She has two other rescue and foundling dogs in her life. Both are well-cared for and dearly loved. I saw her out on her golf cart this week. She uses it to exercise the dogs, adhering to Cesar Milan’s mantra that a tired dog is a good dog. When she spotted me, she tied her two old friends to the cart and brought the new addition up to meet me. I was thrilled! As the pair got closer, I noticed that a choke chain encircled the dog’s neck. A foot or two away, it suddenly tightened as the pup pulled toward Jack. I asked her to just let the two dogs greet. I told her that jerking the leash as one dog approaches another might actually cause the dog to associate the sudden pain with the act of getting close to another canine. (I don’t know about you, but I see the outcome of this habit on sidewalks wherever I go – dogs losing all emotional equilibrium at the sight of another dog approaching.) I saw her jaw tighten as she looked away from me. I was immediately aware that I had crossed a line. My advice was not asked for and I could tell that it was not wanted.

Jack wasn’t interested in puppy energy and he gave clear signals that the pup picked up on. I, however, was smitten. He is tan with a black face, about thirty pounds and as I leaned in for petting, he sat right away. I fussed over him while his person told me the story of how she came to meet him. He gave me some tentative licks and his tail swept across the ground. I rose up and the pup came right up with me – from sitting to standing on all four paws, to rising onto two, front legs reaching for my body as his eyes followed mine right up.

The picture I saw next is one that I won’t forget for a long time. With great and sudden force, the woman jerked the leash. The choke chain tightened; the dog’s little body was thrown back. His eyes were wide. His mouth opened as if to scream, the corners of his lips drew back. The woman’s face looked angry. Her brows were knit, her eyes were squinting and hard. I couldn’t help myself; I blurted out “That hurt him!” Speaking through clenched teeth she replied…”It was supposed to hurt! It was a correction!”

Nearly breathless, like the wind had just been knocked out of me, I started talking. I told her that it isn’t necessary to hurt a dog to teach him. I quickly showed her the approach-and-turn-away method of allowing a dog to learn that good things come to him when he is sitting and not when his paws are on your body. I explained that if she would give attention only when feet or hips were on the ground, feet and hips would remain on the ground. I had to draw a breath. She made a brief reply and quickly moved away from me.

I won’t be putting my fingers into that pup’s fur again. For starters, I’m not certain that I’ll be given the chance and I don’t ever want to set him up for another “correction.” Moreover, like with most punishments, the dog had no way of relating the sudden pain to the act of raising his paws up on me. It is more likely that he will relate it to my presence instead. So he will likely avoid me at all costs.

This woman is not mean and she is not stupid. She is a wonderful person who feels great affection for her canine companions. What operates her operates all of us in our own unique ways, and most of us are powerless against their effects. Next time, I’ll talk about the processes that govern us, blinding us to living reality.

Relationships often end when their unspoken agreements are violated or when two people realize that they disagree. We tend to condemn the person rather than the act. We will feel enmity toward them and find it hard, even impossible, to forgive. There is a thin line between peace and upset. There is a thin line between frustration and all-out rage, between disaffection and outright hatred. The guardian of the line is us. In order to have peace ourselves, we must forgive “the other.” In order to keep from slipping into anger or hatred, we must separate our brothers and sisters from the things they believe and do.

I’m going to need a lot of forgiveness because I’m pretty sure that I'm going to keep violating agreements. I can’t see myself failing to speak up to advocate for the loving protection of a dog’s thinking and feeling experience. I may not be forgiven and I may not get another chance but my words can’t be unheard. And one day, in a moment when love opens the heart, they may be listened to.


Helen said...

Madison - I'd say your neighbor crossed a line, when she "rescued" a dog before thinking about the compassion and consideration the dog deserves.

Your story is beautifully told, and will help us communicate with difficult people.

Helen G.

Anonymous said...

Good for you! I love the way you acknowledge the unspoken boundaries, and then recognize your conscious decision to violate them for good cause. Isn't this what conscious living is all about?!!

I see this story as an invitation to move even more deeply into a life of gentleness and regard for others. Thank you.

Paula M.