Saturday, December 19, 2009
The Holiday Miracle
I once erected a Christmas tree which I adorned with a whole society of little grey mice ornaments - all dressed in colorful period clothing. The dog with whom I shared my home pulled it down the first night. She decapitated the mice, undressed them, ripped body parts, and tore the tree asunder. I called in sick from work that morning and triaged the patients. I sewed and glued them back together, working them back into their tiny hats, coats, scarves and muffs. There were some casualties but I retrimmed that tree and it looked just as fine as the evening before. I woke up the next morning to the same tragic scene.
I remember being plenty mad at that dog. I'm sure I shouted and made ugly faces at her which she couldn't possibly connect to the carnage she had carried out hours before. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to close the bedroom door. I gave that tree and those cute little mice to the dog not once, but twice and because I didn't think, we both had tons of stress and upset over the situation. I was quite aware of my stress, of how bad it felt and of the need I had to relieve it. But I wasn't aware of the dog's stress and me trying to relieve mine only made hers worse.
Today's dogs are exposed to a variety of stressors that are unconsidered and therefore, invisible. They can cause dogs to live on the edges of their tolerance and coping. They include endless hours in monotonous environments, the lack of stimulation, engagement and excitement, constant punishments or negative attention, illness, injury, exposure to toxic environments and extreme stylizations that present anatomical challenges. And for many dogs, the most significant source of stress in their lives is our own.
We too are living with stressors that interfere with equilibrium. Our daily routines are often tedious, without meaning and can be quite overwhelming. Stress is accompanied by the release of hormones that excite certain systems within the body and suppress others. When it is significant enough in frequency and/or severity that the ability to cope or adapt is lost, physical, mental and emotional systems exhaust, the immune system is weakened and “adaptation diseases” arise. While promising to bring out the best in us, the added stress of the holidays can actually bring out the worst.
As our schedules change and our activities and responsibilities increase, things also change for the dog. Many will experience increased inactivation, social isolation and long hours in confinement. Strangers will arrive. Food will be left within snatching distance. New things will appear in the environment and not realizing and not being taught that they can't interact with them, many dogs will interact and this will plunge us both into stress and upset. Without thinking, our "ho, ho, ho" becomes the dog's "no, no, no."
This year, as we embark upon our traditions and contemplate our sacred connection to the wondrous essence of life, let's resolve to give the dog the greatest gift of all – our full and present awareness. Even for just five minutes here and there. If we've never seen magic, we'll see it firsthand as this simple change causes the dog to explode with possibility and crackling excitement. If we've never experienced a holiday miracle, we will when we realize that the peace, love and joy that the season promises are actually ours any time that we are present and aware enough to consciously choose them. And for the love of Dog, if the tree is so alluring that the canine in your home can't leave it alone, give it to someone who needs it and put a smaller tree on a table out of reach. (Bless you Lori for being the model of such accommodation.)