Monday, December 13, 2010

One Strike And...?

I received a call a couple weeks back asking if I would give behaviorism testimony at an upcoming hearing at the county animal care and control agency. The case involved a recently adopted Greyhound whose money-earning career was cut short by a broken leg. One day, while sitting in a park with his person, a woman walked by with a fluffy, white toy Poodle. The Poodle was off-leash, dashing to and fro in a state of obvious canine rapture at having the opportunity to leap and run and explore the world freely as canids have done for tens of millions of years. This is something few South Florida dogs enjoy. We have leash laws (like most places) for one, and most homes don’t have actual yards. The Poodle should have been on a leash and the Greyhound’s person shouted out to her, asking if she would please tether the Poodle. She did but her leash was the retractable style and this permitted the Poodle to carry on as before, running fast, first this direction and then that, yards away from her person.

The Greyhound, only weeks from his life’s work as the fastest-possible chaser of the little, white, fluffy bunny, was watching the Poodle with eyes that go back hundreds of years, and inclinations and genetics that go back even farther. What he saw was not a conspecific; he saw a bunny. He took off as if shot from a cannon and the force of his intent defied the martingale that was, supposedly, guaranteed to hold him. He gained on the Poodle faster than anyone could think. He took the little dog in a rare victory of attainment that was usually denied him and gave a quick shake. The Poodle fell to the ground lifeless and the Greyhound lay down next to her, eyes unfocused and mouth relaxed and open in a state of obvious canine rapture at having the opportunity to do what he had been carefully crafted and selected to do and what his forebears had done for an unfathomable number of generations. He is a coursing machine whose natural inclination is to see, then catch the bunny.

The hearing permitted no actual expert testimony so the adopters were on their own. The process was very brief and the verdict swift. We have a new zero-tolerance law here and any dog who kills another dog is deemed “dangerous.” This is curious for several reasons. One is that accidents - terribly unfortunate combinations of events - do take place. This is a fact that cannot be denied in life. My doctor’s little canine partner was killed in her home by her sister’s dog who, in play, took the Yorkshire terrier’s head into her mouth and had only to close her jaw slightly to end her life. It was a terrible accident. It is also curious because in every other legal way, a dog is considered property – a thing without rights or protections. We don't generally lock up or sentence dogs or even people to death if they destroy property. And how can we pass a sentence on a dog's behavior without considering that we created it and the dog’s specialized genetic development in the first place; we intentionally and carefully crafted it over hundreds of years. We create the dog in a certain way then condemn him when he acts out the program we wrote. We made the Poodle tiny and white; we developed the morphology so that it would not appear to be a member of the same species to a dog who we developed to chase down and kill small, white, furry animals. All of this points to just how little conscious forethought we actually have for what we are doing in our genetic manipulation of dogs.

Before I continue, I must acknowledge the Poodle’s loss of life and the anguish her person must have felt in witnessing her death. Jack has been in very threatening situations with loose dogs a number of times throughout his life. I can imagine the moment going from one of bliss to one of horror in the blink of an eye. I grieve for the woman’s loss of her canine partner and friend and feel great empathy for her experience. I know that you do too.

The Greyhound’s adopters wait for sentencing and while they do, the dog is muzzled and held in check by layers of restraint equipment. And he is held in check by his people’s fear. They are so traumatized by the whole episode that they would do anything to prevent it ever happening again. They could have given the dog back to a rescue organization and he could have been sent out of the state. They chose to fight to keep their relationship and to defend his character. In the end, no one could listen. We love to judge, make wrong and condemn. Will this dog be permitted to keep his life? Will he have any opportunities to have a fulfilling life?

This weekend, the couple came to see me with the big male Greyhound and a female Greyhound who is his housemate. I had a class going on in which there is a very big chocolate Lab who is all play, all the time. We took the three dogs into the yard – a ¾ acre doggie paradise where even a Greyhound can stretch out in a full run. After much coaxing, his person finally allowed him off his leash and then, eventually, out of his muzzle. He and the Lab played and chased until the big boy plopped in the shade where he could have dozed the rest of the day. He was filled up and satisfied by being given the opportunity to express his physicalness, his dogness and his canine personhood. Life was delicious.

I brought the dogs into my classroom and found this big Greyhound boy to be delightful. I could see why his people decided to fight to assert his true nature and to keep him in their lives. He is curious, calm, gentle and he makes immediate welcoming contact with humans - positioning himself for petting. He was a good playmate for the Lab, chasing when she would allow it and stopping when she signaled that she wanted to diffuse the arousal.

We make a grave mistake when we characterize or label a dog's or human’s person, personality or being. All dogs and people have the potential to display behavior that can be seen by us as aggressive or as dangerous, or as this way or that, but that doesn’t mean that they are that. Could this dog display behavior that would be dangerous to another little, white, fluffy dog who happened to run by? Yes, he could. Is he dangerous? No. What is dangerous is the way we change the dog and then forget or ignore the consequences. This greyhound-sees-a-bunny story is just one example of the potential fallout of our acts. The over 500 genetic diseases and disorders that we have created in the process of canine stylization and specialization is another and most of them are truly and horribly dangerous.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In the Flow and Thankful

When we lived in the cold north, we maintained a suburban organic farmette. For us, Thanksgiving Day had traditional significance. It was tied to harvest and larder and thanks were given for those. It also marked the beginning of a significant change. Dropping temperatures had moved the season’s crops underground or to the compost pile, wood had been split and brought to the house. And by Thanksgiving, our lives would be doing the big flip-flop. Rather than being outdoors most hours of the day, we’d be indoors – inert and unstimulated in the still and never-changing monotony of the house. This was always a very difficult adjustment. It was a contracture of the living experience - in daylight hours, in activity and in spontaneity and wonderment. The dogs had a hard time of it too. Each season, we'd have another opportunity to learn to accept and allow this inevitability.

We were fortunate enough to live among all manner of wildlife. White-tail deer traversed our property often, stopping sometimes to pick pears and apples off our trees. Brand new fawns on wobbly legs and with undeveloped sight would sometimes walk right toward us, mistaking us for conspecifics. Big foxes came out of the woods during the day to sun themselves in the field next door, scratching and yawning, and perennial gardens and woodpiles were abuzz with the movements of rabbits, chipmunks, mice and snakes. Every moment was rich and new and this was thrilling to the core; it helped me to recognize the ceaseless flow and to perceive the very essence of a thing. I’d go out at last light and catch a few bees to put under row covers, petting the fat bumbles’ fuzzy backs as they clung to lavender stalks. Thirstily drinking in all that remained of the day, the dogs would follow me, checking every place and sniffing hard and loud for the critters who were stirring there. They knew the land like I did – in a natural, organic way that comes from within and from countless generations of forebears who considered themselves to be not of it or in it, but as it.

This year, nearby farmers grow what I eat and I’m thankful for them and the way they honor the soil that nurtures my food. And I’m thankful for you! As a reader of this blog you are also a farmer of sorts – you honor the soul and nurture the whole of the dog at your side. Through your willingness to release your concepts, biases and propositions of fact, you cultivate and harvest bountiful animalistic possibility. And you place yourself in harmony with the genuine canine being and the ceaseless flow of rich and riotous expression that is life – natural and organic.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stylizing Dogs

When some dogs are infants, most of their ear flaps are amputated and the remaining fragments are braced so they will stand at pointy attention. Tails are cut off to mere nubs or to finger-length proportions in certain breeds and vestigial toes are removed from dogs of any breed. These surgical alterations are done in a variety of settings and procedures that may or may not include licensed veterinarians, tissue numbing or pain relief. Most of these ear and tail amputations are actually required for dogs to represent their breed’s standardized appearance. I find it interesting to consider that we could produce such disparate forms as teacup Chihuahuas and huge Great Danes, dwarfed, long-backed Daschunds and flat-faced, bug-eyed Pugs, but we couldn’t figure out how to breed for foreshortened tails or ear flaps. At some point, breed clubs dictated that they just be cut off instead and the Kennel Clubs in America, Canada and England upheld their decisions.

Things began to change in these countries when in 2007, it became illegal to exhibit dogs with cropped ears in England and Wales and dogs with docked tails could not be shown in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Recently in Canada, the Veterinary Medical Association announced its intent to completely ban docking, cropping and dew-claw removal in the country. And in the U.S., the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has promised to get crop-and-dock ban-bills passed in 34 states before this year ends. Cropping and docking bans are not really new; they have existed in Norway and Switzerland for nearly 30 years. But they're new here and some people are vehemently opposed to them.

Are these amputations necessary in some way, or are they unnecessary? Sporting-breed clubs have argued that dogs used in working roles often injure tails, ear flaps and dew claws, therefore, amputation prevents these painful eventualities. In reality, very few dogs of any breed actually fulfill these roles today, those who do can gain exemptions, and medical care is widely available in case of injury. This seems to argue that the amputation of the body parts of millions of infant canines is necessary in order to prevent injuries in a very small percentage of dogs. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that we amputate ears, tails and vestigial toes because we like the way the dog looks with these surgical alterations so they are unnecessary stylizations done for the sake of appearance alone!

If we could all agree that this is so then the amputation practices should stop without laws and bans. Would they? Is answering the necessity question enough? Apparently it isn't and in reality, it isn't even the real issue. The real issue is rights. Do “owners” of dogs (breeder-owners or buyer-owners) have the right to unnecessarily amputate, or cause or promote the amputation of infant canines’ body parts? Do we have the right to surgically alter dogs to fit our sense of beauty and style?

It might be easier to answer this question if the human-dog relationship was as simple as that of an owner or legal possessor and the thing which is owned or possessed, but it isn't. While laws may define them as owned property, dogs are certainly not things. They are conscious; they think. They have emotions and physical sensations and this makes them beings. Few would deny that. If ownership or legal possession of animal beings conferred upon owners the right to maim or injure them unnecessarily and as they wished, should we allow the amputation of drooping eyelids, elongated hound-lips or long and lolling tongues? And what if an owner of a quadruped happened to be partial to three-legged dogs? Where would we draw the line? Whose sense of beauty would we choose to uphold and whose would we deny?

This ownership-rights issue has deep roots and in a recent online debate when a woman argued that "...owners have the prerogative to crop and dock dogs - no questions asked," I saw them. Prerogative! This one word says it all. It explains how we could possibly feel that we have the right to cut off infant canines' ears, tails and toes. It explains how we feel that we have the right to stylize dogs through breeding and inbreeding--creating hundreds of genetic defects in the process--and to cage, confine, isolate and/or keep numbers of them inside our monotonous homes with no species-appropriate stimulation. Prerogative confers power, exclusive rights and privileges by virtue of greater rank, significance or sovereignty. Many of us unconsciously believe (and others consciously) that this describes the human in the human-dog relationship. Our words, thoughts and actions demonstrate that we actually see ourselves in this way – greater in degree, having more authority, importance, significance, rank and value than canine beings, and other animal beings as well. Is this really true?

I believe that this is a vital question for us to ask ourselves. Without its answer, we can only engage in endless debate, spewing forth our opinions, biases and arguments, conflicting and attempting to convince each other of the propriety of our views about rights. This is a question that existed long before that issue and the others to which it is herein related. It's answer can't be found in some study or in a library, myth or doctrine. Only through an experience of beingness in its pure, authentic and utterly whole and natural state can we know if beingness exists in values or degrees. The best example we could possibly find of this inviolate state is in the dog who stands before us. If we empty our heads and just be--just be a being there with the being of the dog--we'd surely find our answer.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hidden Dangers in Dog Food

Why do dogs develop osteoscarcomas ten times more often than humans and why does it progress faster in dogs? It may be because dogs are ingesting toxic doses of fluoride. How are they exposed to the chemical? Through fluoridated tap water and through popular dog foods – foods that contain the bones of animals raised on water treated with it and those that ingested foods grown in fluoride-rich soil. It also finds its way into dog foods when fluoridated tap water is used in the manufacturing process. In a recent study, fluoride levels were tested in ten popular dog food brands. Two had no meat or bone meal and the chemical’s levels were below detection limits. The other eight had levels that would be considered unsafe, even toxic, in humans (who have far greater bone mass to absorb ingested fluoride). The highest levels were found in foods marketed for active adult dogs and for large-breed puppies and adult dogs.

Fluoride is one of the elements in the periodic table and it is extremely toxic (rat poison is sodium fluoride). It is found in soil and rocks but most humans and animals are exposed to it through artificially fluoridated tap water. Approximately 70 percent of our communities’ waters are fluoridated and of those, 95 percent use fluorosilicylicic acid. This form of fluoride has been found to cause additional problems, like increased lead uptake (resulting in behavioral and social dysfunction) and depletion of calcium in the body.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), fluoride levels greater than 4mg/L are considered dangerous for children and adults. In the study of dog foods, eight of the ten tested had levels that ranged from 7mg/L to 11.2mg/L. Aside from causing bone cancer, high levels of fluoride also causes weakened bones (leading to more fractures), dental fluorosis, developmental damage, neurotoxicity, hormonal disruption and degenerative disease (accelerated aging).

When ingested in food or water, fluoride accumulates in bones, so dog foods that include the bones of animals exposed to the chemical can contain dangerous levels. The following ingredients in dog foods were found to raise fluoride levels to as much as nearly three times higher than the EPA’s safe dose in drinking water and higher than amounts associated with bone cancer in young boys: chicken meal, turkey meal, chicken/poultry by-product meal, lamb meal, beef meal, and bone meal.* If these ingredients are high on the list of ingredients in your dog’s food or if you use bone meal as a calcium supplement, the fluoride concentrations in your dog’s diet could be toxic. Depending upon the source, if you feed raw ground poultry or meat bones, this diet may also be high enough to pose a significant risk of bone cancer and the abovementioned conditions in your dog. And, if the water your dog drinks is also fluoridated, he or she may be ingesting fluoride many times the level considered safe in humans.

Click this link to find out what percentage of the residents of your state receives fluoridated water. Have your well-water tested or contact the water utility where you live to determine if your water contains fluoride. If you find that it does, consider installing a water distillation or filtration system. Then, check the ingredients list on your dog food bag. Does it contain meals or bone meal and are these ingredients among the first five on the list? If so, you may want to consider switching to a food that does not include meat meals or bone meal. If you want to provide a calcium supplement, grind dry organic egg shells to add to the food. Consider feeding a vegetarian kibble and topping it with a variety of fresh cooked meats and meat broth. Your dog will probably prefer this anyway.

*None of the food tested included meat meal or meat by-product meals. These would very likely have the same concentrations of fluoride as specific animal meals. In addition, they may also contain the carcasses of euthanized dogs and cats and concentrations of the chemicals used to kill them. Fish meals may contain the preservative chemical ethoxyquin, a Monsanto product used as a pesticide and as a hardening agent in the manufacture of rubber. It has been linked to cancer, hormonal disruptions, liver failure and birth defects in humans.

Contact me if you would like to receive a list of the references used to compile this article.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trading Possibility for Control

Self-direction is the freedom to choose when, where and how to act. The ability to voluntarily pursue authentic interests and preferences leads to creative and expressive autonomy, independence, self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Dogs who are free to engage the world and its happenings are spontaneous, innovative, versatile and confident. These dogs do things for the sake of doing them and because they enjoy doing them. They are active and interested when they are in environments that are rich and interesting – natural environments, most particularly. Sadly, few dogs have these freedoms and opportunities. They live inside homes—often where little moves, changes or happens—and when outside the home are usually contained and tethered. And even when they could, they don’t have these freedoms because their people demonstrate compulsive inclinations to control and micro-manage them. We command, direct and instruct dogs, acting as if they can’t or don’t think on their own and as if they can’t be trusted to come up with a worthwhile response. Without realizing it, we try to squeeze the fullness of a dog’s thinking, feeling, imaginative and active possibilities into the narrow dictates of our own concepts, rationalities and desires. When I saw this in myself I was struck with the absurdity of it and the arrogance and stupidity of denying a dog any possibility of self-direction. I resolved to find ways to be more present around dogs so I could avoid engaging in unconscious compulsions.

There is a dog in my class who is demonstrating incredible creativity, decisiveness and immediate, purposeful action. In this particular case, what the dog is doing isn’t working for his person and it really isn’t in his best interest either. His person runs a busy produce market on a busy highway and Gunther goes with her every day. When she is in the market or can’t be supervising him, he is in the office. Rather than closing him up in there, his person installed a gate across the doorway. Within a week, Gunther was leaping over it to gain his freedom. A taller gate was installed but Gunther realized that it was no match for his body weight so he just pushed it down and walked right out. His person got the idea to have a stall-type door made so the top could remain open and Gunther could hear and smell the goings on beyond it. The day that it was installed, she left Gunther in the office feeling good about her choice but when she returned, he was gone. She thought she hadn’t closed the door well enough until the same thing happened the next day. She set up her camera to record the caper and this is what she saw (click here to view a short video clip then click the "back" arrow to return).

This is the very kind of creative ingenuity that enabled dogs to survive and thrive around hazardous human activities for the hundreds of years before we began to contain and control them. This is the dog’s default program. Why would we want to snuff it out and exchange it for the dutiful compliance of a measly few orders—what we call “commands”—we actually take the time to teach a dog? Who would want to trade an animal with such incredible potential for one who won’t or can’t do anything unless and until he is told or allowed? Without opposable digits Gunther may not win this one because the handle is going to be replaced with a knob. But that won’t extinguish door-opening genius wherever handles are present. Gunther has already taught himself how to operate them and reinforced himself for operating them by gaining his freedom. His person is going to have to find ways to encourage and develop his free-thinking creativity. In fact, now that she has shown this to me, their remaining weeks in clicker class are going to get pretty interesting!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Truth About Aggression

When we look around in our world, we can see aggression everywhere. It is on our roads and in our cities. It is in foreign lands and in grocery stores and workplaces. We certainly see it in the dog park and often when dogs meet along the sidewalk. No matter where or when we encounter it, we have an immediate emotional response and an almost compulsive inclination to try to stop it. In the process, we often end up displaying it ourselves. But what exactly is aggression? I propose that it isn't what we believe it to be. In fact, I’m going to suggest that the English-language dictionary made a huge mistake in defining it.

At its root, the word “aggress” describes creative action – “to advance, go to or approach for the purpose of conversing or advising with, asking counsel of, entreating or soliciting something of.” It was meant to communicate “taking steps, walking forth, living, and conducting one’s self.”

Our modern definition describes violent action - “to attack and to commit the first act of hostility or offense.”

The word's origin implies communication – an energetic exchange. It describes the natural type of force and power through which all things in the phenomenal world both come into being and survive. This is “aggression” as a constructive impetus. It is the power of energy directed into material action. The modern definition, on the other hand, describes acts that are destructive in nature. It confuses the poised, focused and directed action that is at the foundation of each creative act with violence and hostility. This mistake has changed us. It has changed our world and the way we perceive it. It has led us into conflict and wars – like the one we unconsciously wage against dogs who we believe to be “aggressive.”

Because we confuse natural aggressiveness with violence and fighting, we consider aggressiveness to be bad and wrong and when we believe that something is wrong, then in our experience it will be. We try to suppress aggressive thoughts and actions in ourselves, attempting to hide what we feel and what we think to be aggressive behavior. We have been trained to think that it is best to act nice and calm and we unconsciously impose this standard upon the dogs in our lives. In truth, we actually try to be “good” precisely because we fear or believe that we are so bad. We punish aggressiveness in children and we will not tolerate it in dogs in whose aggressiveness we see the worst forms of perversion, disrespect and dominance. We fail to see a difference between acting aggressively and actually being aggressive. Aggressiveness is a potential that lies within all living systems - it is not who or what they are.

Although we might like to think otherwise, we can not restrain energy - including the energy of natural aggression. It collects and grows and it will eventually seek fulfillment. Indeed, it is when we attempt to deny the natural, constructive elements of aggression that we finally do explode into violence. Violence is a distortion of aggression. It is an overwhelming surrender to emotions that we fear and it is accompanied by the passion for destruction.

Natural aggressiveness gives motive power to all of our thoughts and creative activity and we employ it daily. In fact, it would be impossible to have a living experience without it. In dogs, natural aggression is used with great integrity. It is highly evolved and developed, ritualized and perfectly spontaneous. Its signals are understood. The various degrees, postures and indications of natural aggressiveness are all steps in a series of communications in which the nature of canine encounters are made clear. An entire series of symbolic actions are carried out long before any conflict would take place and these are aimed at preventing violence.

Throughout the day, we have an endless variety of normal irritations and aggressive ideas and impulses that could actually be expressed quite safely and responsibly, providing a natural release and a system of communication. By trying to “stop-up” an inevitable force, we eventually experience only the type of explosive and distorted pseudo-aggression that causes rage, violence, wars, individual neurosis and a great many other problems. In this state, we blame "others," we lash out against them. We fight and attack and we punish the dog. This distortion, then, is what we think of as “aggression.” In fact, we feel compelled to prevent and stop aggressive displays in dogs because we believe that this is what they are exhibiting. In an awful twist, the constant suppression of natural aggression in canines will eventually lead to the very thing we wish to prevent. It will lead to the same type of extreme loss of emotional equilibrium that we experience when the energy finally finds an outlet.

We can better appreciate and understand our own true natures by watching dogs demonstrate theirs. Dogs understand the constructive forces of natural aggression. They allow their energetic impulses to discharge and this actually prevents violence and hostility and fosters peace. It makes each successive moment new and empty – ready to be filled with joyous possibility.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Gift of The Yellow Eyes

(In the summer of 2006, while I was walking Jack along our normal morning route, I began to wonder about the multiple scenerios that might have brought hominid and canid close enough to actually make contact, establish a relationship and become friends. I came home and quickly wrote this little story, inspired by a dog with yellow eyes that I met in Mexico the year before. That experience and this story caused me to write a book about the depths of canine possibility and how the way we see dogs keeps them in the shallows of their potential.)

The man could not remember a time when he did not see the animals. They had always been at the edges of his life. They were two family clans, canid and man, distant, separate, yet tied together with a cord of mutual benefit. Every day, they dreamed each other into being.

As a child, the man was told stories of these animals. The stories informed his life with the animal’s ways of hunting and protecting their clan. They were swift and savage killers: Carnivora. The boy who listened had learned a fear of them and the man he grew into taught this fear to his children. And so it went from family to family in his clan.

The man’s waking life was inhabited by many animals. Some fell on his spear so the man and his family would eat and know warmth. Animals often visited his dreaming life as well. When the canid entered the man’s dreams, it would fix him with penetrating yellow eyes. He would sense a knowledge of life that did not match what he believed. In the days that followed, a fog would lift away from him and he would feel more of himself.

In the cold season, the grasses turned brown, the trees became skeletons and the grazing animals moved away in great herds. As the stories foretold, the man would follow the hunting canid at a distance. If they were eating, he might also find food. On one cold and windy day, he moved with them and sat on a high ridge watching as they looked with their noses for the animals they hoped to put into their bellies. Waiting, the man passed into sleep and when he awoke, the animals had gone. He made ready to leave knowing that he would not eat on this day. A few paces from where he slept, he heard an animal sound and bent low to conceal himself. The sound came again and he moved toward the falling sun with his spear at the ready. Suddenly, there, in his waking life, were the yellow eyes of the canid.

Those eyes caught and held him. He froze in the creature’s gaze and a powerful experience overtook him. The man suddenly understood everything about his existence. He felt the harmony of a universal energy vibrate through him. Those yellow eyes contained all the experience that had been and all that would be. They held all the light and energy in the world and all the darkness and stillness. The knowing, feeling and being was pure and the pureness filled the man and he knew himself as the same. In that moment of finding the yellow eyes in his waking life, he was one with the spirit behind them – a powerful, sacred force. He felt he might explode into a million particles of light; he was filled with utter joyousness.

The animal had moved into a hollow to die. Her love of the family clan was so great and pure that she left the group and hid herself. Faltering steps could bring danger near the others. Again, the man heard the animal sound, and the yellow eyes, the same eyes that had visited his dreams, showed him the pup curled into her gray fur. He wept. He wept great streams of tears that sprang from awakening, from love and from kinship. He reached to touch the soft fur. The man he had been just a moment ago would have taken this life to have that same fur for his own child. He lifted the pup and tucked it into his parka. He thanked the canid for awakening him and took his first steps into a new dream, a new life.

As he walked toward his home place he was struck with the sudden beauty of the things he saw. His breath seemed filled with light. He knew that he was the same as the canid, as the tree, as the rock and the wind. He was the same energy as the sun and stars and as the animals he took for food. He felt the weight of his beliefs about the world lift away from him. He knew that his life was a waking dream, that he had created it, and that his creation of life had taken his joy away. The canid had given him the gift of true seeing and knowing and he was filled with the pure loving spirit of the yellow eyes.

His mind went forward to his kinsmen, his woman and children. He pictured himself producing the young animal from his parka. He saw the spirit light coming from the pup’s eyes and reaching into the souls of his family clan. They all would be lifted from their foggy dreams to experience the pure love, light and energy. He wanted them to see their kinship with all that is. He wanted them to know this beauty and joyousness.

His hunger long forgotten, the man arrived at his family’s side. Their bellies were empty and fear joined disappointment when the man brought forth the living canid pup. Were they expected to eat this vile and tiny creature? These animals ate the clan’s dung and had been known to take child sacrifices. The man told his story of the gift of the yellow eyes and of all he had experienced. He told them that he would keep and feed the canid as his own child. He saw their revulsion. The man realized that his family could not wake up from their dreams. His words could not give them his experience.

As the pup grew bigger, it became necessary for the man and his family to break away from their clan. Because of their fears and difficulties, the other families could not accept sharing food and bed with the savage beast of the stories. As the canid pup grew, her eyes appeared more golden and the spell she cast upon the man was the spell of a pure and perfect union. He gave this love to his family and to the animals he hunted and to the land around him. He was often filled with the gift and it brought him great joy. At their own fireside, the man’s children came to hear new stories. Soon, he saw that his woman and children began to create a different dream of life.

As the seasons passed, the canid became a good sister to the children and a good protector of the family. She sounded a call when danger approached and the man prepared with rock and spear. She led him to animals that he could take for food. She kept the camp clean of the offal that brought dangerous predators to the firesides of others. The man’s family was safe, plump and happy. The other clan families watched from a distance.

The canid would sometimes go to observe the animal family clan from which she had come. She too stayed on the edges. Then one day, she returned with the seed of new gifts inside her. She brought forth pups on the sleeping mat of her human brothers. She gave the pups teaching that was both gentle and firm. She gave them protection and she shared them with the man and his family.

Those canid pups began to cast their own spells upon the children. Some children of other families came to see them. Even the adults could not resist. The pure animal essence filled their eyes and hearts and they felt joy. They returned to their clan families and gave their joy to those around them. The spell of love moved across the land.

Some of the pups eventually wandered into other lives and spread the gift of the yellow eyes to the men, women and children who were ready to receive it. When they knew their oneness with the canid, they understood their essential selves and they began to use their joy and their thoughts to change their waking dream of life.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Two Ends of the Same Story

As we have moved through the ages together with dogs, our lives have become entwined and parallel. We have manipulated dogs into our realities and they have become mirrors of our psyches. In any region or country, the philosophies, natures and principals of its people are reflected in the lives of the dogs who live among them. I have observed dogs in the cities and villages in Nicaragua. So many people are poor, disenfranchised and uninspired. To eat, more seem to beg for cordobas than to grow their own food. In the villages, dogs are everywhere – lone scavengers who are chased off with sticks. They are everywhere in the cities too but rarely visible during the day. They hide to avoid assault and attack and banishment from the “territory” that feeds them. Most look hungry and unhealthy. In contrast, the dogs living in the villages and cities in Peru appear to be full participants in the society. Peruvian people grow plenty, both for sharing and for sacrifice to the Gods. Like them, free-ranging dogs look well-fed, healthy and happy. They make their rounds through the shops and stall vendors on busy city streets. They visit farms and homes and everywhere they go, people share meals with them.

Dogs show us what we value and believe in and in this country, they reflect our materialistic and anthropocentric views. We “get,” “buy,” “own” and “have” dogs and when they become inconvenient, expensive or problematic, we dispose of them. We can see evidence of this in some of the dogs available for adoption today at my local county shelter. Let’s meet a few of them now.

This is Corky. His origins are unknown and he needs a little fixing in the “man” department, which the shelter will probably take care of. He is six years old and I’m sure he will be very handsome when his eyes are attended to and he doesn’t look like he is in terrible pain. Can’t you just picture him with a smiling mouth and bright, happy eyes looking right at you?

How about this little cutie. Believed to be a Fox terrier mix, she is only one year old and a tiny nine pounds. She has no name and her photo does not show her in her best pose but she looks like she could erupt into whole-body-wagging joy to me.

Here is Nala. She is shown next to the feet that she has known for the past five years and the feet that will walk away from her, leaving her in the terrible situation of being an unwanted dog in Palm Beach County. Nala is a female Lhasa Apso and the woman with the feet did not have her spayed. She is a bit overweight at 15 pounds but will surely slim down with the right diet and care.

This is Weewee. He is a Rat terrier who has not been neutered and that may have something to do with his unfortunate name choice. He is just two and weighs 15 pounds. I’m hoping that he gets the opportunity to do what young terriers love to do until he is too old to do anything but reflect upon his former prowess.

Speaking of old, this is Oryo. He is a 14-pound Shih Tzu with a serious cataract in one eye. He has been neutered and groomed and he has a current tag. It looks like he was well cared for. Whatever caused the man in the blue shirt to give this 12-year old dog to the county shelter is unknown. Who will provide a comfortable, safe place for Oryo to live out his life?

Here is an unnamed four-year-old. He is listed as a "Parson Russell terrier," unsterilized and 27 pounds. It’s a shame that the camera flash prevents us from really seeing his eyes so that we can know without a doubt what he feels. I’m sure that our hearts would be so taken that we would weep for him in this predicament.

This is little 12-pound Lulu. She is an eight-year-old Pomeranian who looks very much like the first dog I ever lived with. She is anxious in this photo and I can just imagine what she is going through in the shelter cage right now. Oh Lulu, I hope you find a loving home.

These little beings are some of the lucky ones in the shelter today. By being declared “adoptable,” they have one more chance at life. Some are arguing that the lucky ones are the dogs who have already been euthanized. Will these little pups be saved, loved and cared for to the end of their days? And how did “pure-breed” dogs like Nala, Weewee, Oryo and Lulu end up homeless? How did they start out with people who would not keep them?

Perhaps we can begin to answer that last question by having a look at some of the small dogs being offered for sale in the classified section of the county paper on the same day.

These two ends of the same story are showing us how deeply detached we are from dogs, from each other, from the world around us and from the whole of our conscious being. We have objectified reality and become alienated from the most intimate aspect of the living experience. We have created artificial views of the natural world and of the dog, who was once a natural animal within it. And it seems that we are completely unaware of what we're doing and blind to the fall-out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Get Back Out There!

My shoes left my feet in two quick steps. They stopped moving and I didn’t and now the mud that held them firmly in place was pushing up between my toes. I immediately considered the experience to be most unpleasant. I swiveled around to survey the quickest way out and there beside my empty shoes was the dog. He had followed me right in. Up to our hocks in mud, we stood for a moment looking at each other. He appeared to be smiling. In fact, it was easy to see that he was pretty happy. It wasn’t because he was standing in mud, of that fact he seemed oblivious. He was happy because he was outside, free to run, to follow and free to stand wherever he pleased.

My own happy connections to the natural world came flashing to mind. As a child, I swam in rivers, played barefoot in the forest, raised tadpoles and orphaned baby birds, captured bugs (all scientifically classified as “jar flies”) and held respectful funeral services for dearly departed foundlings. I would be called into the house at last light, never wanting to surrender. I thought of the free-roaming dogs I knew back then. They were always ready for adventure, completely present and alive with possibility. I had grown older and somehow, nature had begun to shrink away from me. Or maybe it was the other way around.

Our natural heritage

We are an interconnected part of a natural reality that extends from the soil below our feet, around the globe, and out into the cosmos. We are in tune with its energetic modulations, its cycles, balance and perfection. We would not have evolved into the beings we are today without the hyper-keen awareness and full engagement of the senses that result from living in a natural world. In constantly changing environments we developed perceptual acuity and the ability to react swiftly to stress. Inattentiveness would have left us vulnerable to predation and caused us to miss opportunities to feed and shelter ourselves. Our direct involvement with the world and its elements expanded our view of self and reality outward, rooting us and connecting us to all that was known.

Dogs are also creatures of the great natural systems and their sense of identity is drawn through a deep and abiding connection to them. Their ancient role within those systems is part of their genetic material. No matter how we have morphed them—shrinking, stylizing and stretching them—their utter lack of access to natural environments deprives them fundamentally as it deprives us.

As they develop, dogs will find outlets for their inherent expressions in rich and changing environments. Engaging the flow of time with attentive awareness, they continuously orient themselves to their surroundings and this enables them to structure responses, anticipate consequences and adjust activities accordingly. Rich and variable living environments are constantly in motion, always changing and subtlety unique. In them, dogs express and inhabit the integrity of their being, demonstrating confident stability, inquisitive exploration, playful interaction and exploratory manipulation. They deliberately create opportunities to try out new things and have novel experiences. Their activities demonstrate purpose, enjoyment and an apprehension of life’s meaningfulness. These choices and alternatives for creative engagement fill them with a sense of belonging. Sadly, this is rarely available to a developing canine today.

A Connection Lost

Increasingly, our view of the natural world is artificial and abstract. We have marched out of nature and into the confines of built structures. We have filled our heads with facts and information and the world has become small in our knowing. The rich and riotous, spontaneous and surprising natural world has been replaced by the flat reality of computer and television screens. The living animals we do see are confined in zoo enclosures. We enjoy landscapes as they pass by the windows of our cars. We take walks on manufactured surfaces. Many of us spend as much as 95 percent of our lives indoors. Our homes are swept, kept, monotonous and routine. What we consider to be the “outdoors” is most often an overmanaged green space that is lifeless and sterile. We are the only beings who move within these environments; all other creatures have been banished. And into this predictable, empty reality, we have brought the dog.

A loss of primary experience—seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting and touching for ourselves—diminishes and tunnels the senses. Inventiveness, creativity, imagination, intellectual development and physical and psychological well-being are suppressed and dulled. Our immune systems become impaired. This is a deprivation syndrome, often referred to as “natural-system dysfunction.” It results in a loss of our innate protective and supportive senses and rhythms. When interactions with the world of living forms are severely restricted, a natural animal’s true essence fades and contracts. Loss of experiential diversity leads to understimulation, then loneliness, boredom, depression and feelings of alienation, vulnerability, isolation and hostility. As experience diminishes, life can lose its meaning. Out of sync and out of touch with something profoundly vital, we try to compensate by engaging in mind-numbing activities or physically rewarding sensations. We attempt to satisfy ourselves with artificial substitutions ranging from shopping to thrill-seeking.

Losing the ability to recognize plants, animals and insects, we can no longer imagine the creature who scratches through the brush in the evening or the ones calling out from moist and shady places. And dogs, once knowing every small mammal that tunnels, nests, burrows and climbs, and learning their movement patterns, scavenging behaviors and fleetness, now know only our habits. Once able to identify the sounds made by all manner of life in their proximity, today’s dogs know the sounds made by televisions, doorbells and kitchen appliances. Dogs can actually associate scent particles to the animals who leave them, follow a scent trail great distances and scan the breeze to identify the animals nearby. Living inside our homes, their olfactory receptors are overwhelmed by artificial fragrances and chemical aromas.

We have lost a sense of kinship with nature, detached ourselves from other humans and depersonalized our experience of life. This might explain our growing obsession with dogs who actually represent a vital link to an ancient intimacy with the natural world. Maybe deep inside, we are hoping that they can show us the way back.

Bust Out

Take that dog in your life and release yourselves from the synthetic energy of asphalt and concrete to take up a wilderness trail, climb a hill or dip your toes in a gurgling stream. As you reestablish a connection with your electromagnetic and biological source, balance is restored and the rejuvenating effects can be felt. Natural senses will enliven and sensitivity increase. You’ll gain a sense of belonging to the greater whole and the weight of individual worries and concerns will fall away.

Bust out into the astonishing eruption of nature that can be found in the sunshine beyond your doors. Seek outlets for expression of the characteristics and abilities that makes a dog uniquely a dog and your living experience will be enriched in the process. Start small and work your way outward. Start safe and become more fearless. Begin on a modest schedule and make a plan to increase it gradually. Look under rocks. Walk on a cushiony pine-forest floor. Let the dog poke her muzzle into bushes, chew a stick, dig a hole and gather scents into her fur. Don’t be afraid to stand in some mud as you explore nature together. In the soul of her being, the dog does know the way back.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What Does The Dog Want?

Have you ever asked the dog in your life this question? Seriously! Have you made an earnest inquiry of him to learn what drives him, what thrills him, what he likes and dislikes and what he desires? The truth is that few us have ever thought to ask a dog such questions. We generally believe them incapable of answering and we think that we know everything about them anyway. But this information can’t come from us. It can’t come from a book or from anyone else who lives with a dog. We must go to the source to learn what more a dog wants than a cookie. I can get you started with some questions to ask by sharing what Jack has told me.

The dog in my life wants to smell, investigate, taste, roll in, look at, chase, catch and sometimes kill and in all ways experience the things he finds in nature. He tells me that he feels most alive when he is a critically aware participant in the astonishing eruption of life that spontaneously explodes around him and through him when he is free in the world of living forms. This is not a toxic patch of yard or an over-managed green space he’s talking about. This is scrub and bramble, log and moss; this is where the wild things live and access to it is worth far more than a cookie to Jack.

Jack wants his life to be inspiring, full, fun and rich and if it can’t be lived in nature’s playground, he wants me to fill in the blanks. He wants to do stuff! He wants to find hidden treasures, play action, intelligence and suspense games; he wants to toss, catch and tug. He wants to smell, eat and see new things. He wants to go places where stuff happens. He wants to meet other canines and find out where they’ve been. He wants to engage in social interactions with them – participating in the traditions and communications that have been millions of years in the making. He wants to surf the far ends of polarity, arousing and diffusing in rich play-games with conspecifics. For Jack, these things are worth far more than a cookie.

The dog at my side wants to think independently. He wants to choose actions that serve his canineness, his inclinations and his desires. He wants to express his animal nature and to self-actualize as the being that he is. He can think, decide, choose and make associations, and he gets causality. He wants to react to stimuli as a dog would. He wants the opportunity to answer my petitions for activity, interaction and behavior without being prompted, pushed, handled or managed into an expected response. All of this is worth much more than a cookie to Jack.

Jack wants my conscious awareness when I interact with him. He wants me to have enough attentiveness to really see him. He says that his thoughts and feelings are so transparent that nothing is hidden if I would only look at him in this way. He wants me to be acutely aware of his expressions so I can be an effective guardian of his emotional wellbeing. He wants me to be present when I’ve asked something of him and when we were doing things together so that I can participate with him fully – alive, spontaneous and creatively joyful. He wants to choose whether or not strangers get to put their big mits onto his body and he wants to decide which dogs he'd like to greet while out on walks. He wants all this much more than he wants a cookie.

He wants to be dealt with fairly and kindly. He says that this is easily accomplished if I would always remember that he thinks and he feels and that everything I do, say, feel and don’t do, he perceives; he is not a piece of furniture. If I plan to end our play, he wants a little conclusion ceremony. It’s a real bummer when I suddenly turn my back and walk away. If I plan to turn right while we are walking along tied to each other, he wants me to let him know so that he doesn’t have to get dragged about by the neck. If I must leave him behind, he’d like a little discussion about when I’ll be back because the sounds of certainty and assurance in my gibberish make him feel better about me leaving. If there is something I want him to know that he hasn’t yet learned, he wants me to teach him with patience, giving him lesson plans that are easily accomplished. He wants this type of regard much more than he wants a cookie.

Jack also wants to feel safe and secure when he is inside the cage that I call our home. He wants me to refrain from getting angry in there and from shouting at the other two-legger or at the television. He wants me to modulate my feelings (for both our sakes) and behave evenly so he knows what to expect. He wants our cage to be free of unpredictable, drunk and upset visitors. He wants to know that he’ll have water and food and he wants to eat things that don’t come out of a bag. He wants this more than he wants a cookie.

And, Jack does want cookies. He wants to enjoy them as a being fulfilled. He does not want cookies that are offered as a gesture of apology or as surrogates for all the other things he wants and is not given.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

War or Peace?

In the 1700's, the classification sapiens was established to distinguish "wise" or "knowing" hominids from others in the Genus Homo. Recently, it began to become apparent that intelligence was not an adequate or complete characterization of the species. The prospect of changing the classification or creating a new one altogether began to be discussed. It was suggested that the new species be designated H. aggressus. This is an animal who cannot control his thoughts, feelings or reactions and whose aggressive, destructive acts toward other beings and things are detrimental to the species' ability to survive. If the Genus is indeed split in two, to which group will you belong?

I visit several Internet lists and forums where hominids aggress against each other in frequent wars over a variety of topics. How to educate a dog is a major one with battles and skirmishes that never really settle anything. Fighting will last for days or weeks and eventually die a death of exhaustion. A short while later, it will begin again and all the old arguments will fly forth with renewed vigor. Cesar Milan, shock collars and reinforcement- vs. correction-based education techniques are subjects that call out a host of mighty soldiers. Some employ battle tactics that are so brutal and appalling that one is injured just by seeing their standards waving in the wind.

I often wonder what the beloved dogs are doing as their warriors-for-a-point-of-view slash their enemies with poisoned keystrokes? Most likely they are laying about waiting for interaction and stimulation. And they may as well be laying right in the thick of the battles themselves because they are very directly effected by the emotional amplification, combative, antagonistic intent and the energy of the words their soldier-humans hurl as weapons. The enmity and upset we feel over what we think someone should believe or do and over how we characterize them for what we believe they are thinking or doing is a form of insanity. And this particular type of insanity can inspire aggressive acts that are detrimental to our ability to survive as a species.

The thing that makes the world so wonderfully rich and variable is that everyone thinks, believes, rationalizes and behaves differently. What we consider to be an outrageous act another considers to be an acceptable one. We can fight with them – throwing our arguments out with blood boiling only to feel greater ire when we receive the ones that they throw back (H. aggressus). Or, we can accept, allow, honor and forgive them (H. sapiens). After all, it's really very silly to think that we can force someone to become just like us.

All of our experiences in life are senseless and useless unless they help us to achieve harmony with ourselves, the world and with other beings. If you want your kind, loving and peaceful ideals to spread around the planet, cultivate the ability to control your thoughts and responses to life so that you radiate kindness, love and peace. Detach from your opinions, standards, expectations and points of view – no matter how virtuous or noble. The warriors and their arguments go away when no enemy shows up on the battlefield.

(To learn more about the instantaneous effects that our thoughts and feelings have on the objects and beings in our immediate vicinity, read Curious Reality.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

If I Was King

If I was King in a bygone era, a being of supreme worth, I would compel my subjects to do as I wished. They would fetch me drink, clean the castle, and repel intruders. If they refused my edict or showed hesitation to comply, I would deliver correction, swift and sure, for a King suffers no disobedience or disrespect. As the all-powerful, dominant authority, the King would not ask inferiors or make suggestions; The King would command.

Commanded subjects are powerless. Stripped of their rights, their actions are not their own. Their thoughts and feelings are dismissed. They are ordered to move here and there, do this and that, at the whim of the autocrat who rules them. Interestingly, the “command,” an edict of absolute power – of demanding, ordering, requiring and controlling – has come to describe human-to-canine communications. How did that happen?

“Command” is one of a family of words that traces its roots to the ownership and subjugation of living human property. It is not a word that implies partnership or willing cooperation. It doesn’t inspire compassionate consideration of a being's mental and emotional reality, their right to choose or to self express. It is used when they have no rights or can’t be trusted to willingly comply. This single word - command - can lead us to impulsive acts of domination and control.

English writer and poet Rudyard Kipling considered words “the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Linguists and scientists agree. Words are more than mere building blocks of sentences; they determine the nature and content of our thoughts. They unconsciously induce and compel us to certain actions; they change our emotional states. Inextricably tied to the concepts they embody, words are translated by the brain and heart into electromagnetic energy patterns. These patterns have been shown to immediately affect everything within the measurable vicinity. They produce either chaotic, incoherent patterns of energy or harmonious ones. As you may have guessed, the word “command” creates chaos.

The communications we give to dogs are usually in the form of a visual or sound signal - a cue or a prompt. These words have the feeling of a suggestion or a request. Instead of commanding dutiful submission, we ask for willing compliance and this simple change establishes partnership. It affirms our truest natures, our deep affection for dogs, and the dog’s right to a creative experience of life. The word ask creates harmony.

The King is dethroned!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Yoga Sutras of the Dog

The purposeful marriage of opposites gives the yoga pose strength and stability. Front foot and knee push forward as back leg and foot push away. Rising arm reaches with purpose as falling arm holds back the world. Opposites join into a single creative force. I can find this balance and strength with the dog in my life. I can reconcile and join in a way that denies dividing and weakening. This is a dance of unity, of oneness. Recognize the dog as the Self and all alien nations disappear.

The body becomes more flexible within the tiny increments of a breath – a breath that is consciously joined and wilfully channelled. As it moves in and out, all else falls away. In the breath is the joy of fullness and the power of release. In the space between breaths, the utter peace of stillness. When I bring the force of my full attention to a moment of interaction with a dog, wholeness-of-being emerges. Expression fills and empties in tune with a primordial rhythm. This is a sharp and focused union with the infinite, boundless, creative All – encreatured. Join the dog in the moment – the party is there.

In the yogic practice, no two poses are ever the same. Each is a unique creation that the yogi brings forth from a vast sea of possibility. The pose can be enlivened and strengthened by faith or it can be weakened by doubt. The choice is always there for the conscious picking; a willingness to explore the possibilities creates it. Aware and awake, I can regard the dog as a being in full potential. I can allow canine possibility to emerge as I loosen the concepts that limit and deny. Or, I can believe him to be empty and thus create emptiness, condemning him to constant force, manipulation, coercion and bribery. All possibilities exist. Wake up and join the dog in spontaneous creative expression.

The yogi allows. Whatever is made in the practice is a gem of perfection. Expectation is released in this awareness. That which arises is accepted and loved. The body is not strong or weak, the mind not masterful or unwilling. The pose is not good or bad, precise or sloppy. All that is just is. In this release, the yogi becomes a master. The dog allowed is the dog who blossoms forth in ways that can not be imagined. The dog accepted is the dog who inhabits his creaturehood – living potential fulfilled, the being self-realized. The full and splendid canine-creative emergence is astonishing magic. Release the dog to dogness.

One does not arrive at a yogic destination. The yoga is never finished. The only thing to attain or realize is the journey itself as it continues to unfold on the mat and off. The same is true of the dog. There is no place in which he is known or finished. The dog is ever unfolding and the human realization of the dog ever unfolds in tune. Empty the mind of its contents and allow the dog to reveal who and what he is. Open and receptive to his teachings, explore the journey, releasing destination to the wind. The dog is the master of dogdom; seek no other.

The radiant heart of the yogi leads forth in effulgence. The countenance rises up to meet the creative force. Compassion, empathy, kindness and courage shine out in all directions. From the heart, it is possible to commune with the dog, intuiting nature, soul, what is needed and desired. Concepts, expectations, standards and desires evaporate in its light. Occupy the heart and be guided to the joy of the dog. Contemplate his perfection. Make every moment in his company a happy dance of love.

Monday, January 4, 2010

In the Matter of the Dog...

As universal truths about the connectedness of life emerge into the mind, there is a growing awareness that many things aren't really as we thought or believed them to be. Venerable old systems and conventions are crumbling right before our eyes, exposing the deceptions that had propped them up all along. It can be frightening to face the truth of a thing but it's also liberating. It is empowering.

An estimated ten million dogs are put to death in the United States shelter system every year. They are "extras," no longer stylish, needed or wanted. They have health problems. They don't behave as we'd like them to. And so we kill them. Many people believe that we must; there are too many. Is this really the truth or is it a convenient fallacy that allows us to sell out or look away? Many focus blame and enmity upon the "other" – the abandoner, the breeder, the retailer of puppies. But this doesn't help, does it? In fact, our toxic thoughts hurt us more than we know. And, they hold the old system firmly in place, ensuring that in this new year, full of hope and possibility, we will kill another ten million dogs. Maybe more.

In the matter of the dog, things are not as they seem. Deceptions are propping up old systems and conventions. The Conceptual Dog will invite us to face them head on. It will create transparency and exchange distortions, misinformation and lack of responsibility for vision, will and purpose. We emerge expanded and transformed, powerfully able to create the reality that our hearts wish for the dog – every dog. The time to lift ourselves out of our foggy inertia is now. Make the hero's journey. Rediscover the truth of our connection to the dog, to each other and to the living whole. The Conceptual Dog...coming soon.