© Karla McLaren 2014
As the third round of the greet-and-treat begins, I change my normal pathway through the kennels, and crouch down and whisper to the dogs I treat on my way down the T-leg toward Nana’s – so that she can’t see me coming. As I reach her kennel, still crouched down, I catch her, standing up and peering over her wall, waiting for me. I speak quietly as I stand up, “Hello, you criminal!” and Nana makes a noise that sounds just like Scooby Doo getting caught with a sandwich, “oirp?” Hah! She drops down from her perch, sits properly and quietly, and looks at me with sparkling eyes. ”Good girl Nana, down,” I say. I throw my voice a bit to the dogs near her who are unusually quiet, for once, “Down and quiet, good dog!” Nearly everyone in Nana’s area gets a third-round treat today (for the first time), and as I pass her on my way back, I give her another treat, the outlaw.
The third round goes well, with more than half of the dogs figuring out all three behaviors: seated, still, and quiet. It’s still very noisy; we have a lot of new dogs who are afraid and riled up – but even in the midst of the noise, many dogs are getting the picture and learning how to calm themselves in spite of the clamor. As I continue through the shelter, I take a moment at Peaches’ kennel: the little sweetie has mastered two out of three behaviors. She’s quiet and calm, but she’s still down on the floor, and I don’t actually think she can sit, so I open her kennel door. I carry a leash with me in case dogs need to come out of their kennels for some reason during the greet-and-treats, but I don’t think Peaches can walk, so I close myself in her kennel with her to see what’s going on.
Peaches lifts her head happily and then flips over on her tummy and wriggles nearer to me, and I sit down to be with her. Peaches is a love: soft, cuddly, and wanting to be picked up. As I lift her, she struggles a bit to get herself into my arms, and she curls up like a baby, nuzzling and kissing me. I hug her and kiss her, and talk sweet nonsense to her as I run my free hand over her legs and feet: her front legs seem normal, but both of her back legs are floppy, and they have almost no muscle tone. They’re also pointing backward, which explains her seal movements and her inability to sit. I also gently palpate her umbilical hernia, and she doesn’t yelp or pull away, so it doesn’t seem to be hurting her. I wonder why she’s up front instead of back with Jake and Milton, but she’s so adorable that I think the staff is hoping she’ll be adopted before they start on her surgeries. If I could have a dog, I would totally take Peaches; I think they’ve made a good call.
After a few minutes of kissing and snuggling, I leave Peaches with extra treats and let myself out of her kennel. All of the dogs nearby have been quiet and patient as they watched me in Peaches’ kennel (including, unbelievably, the terriers), so they all get another treat. I head back to the chained-off area, but I see Brandon (one of the staff behaviorists) there, uh oh. He’s taking one of the other T dogs out into the private training area to check her temperament. I hope he doesn’t see the treats I gave Milton, oy.
I loiter around the chain and wait for Brandon to take his T dog outside. When he does, I duck under the chain and peer into Milton’s kennel, and I don’t see any treats – not the one on the blanket, and not the one on the bottom of the kennel door where I left it, whew. However, I also don’t see Milton, and I feel a bit of panic – did they take him? I call to him and kneel down to peer through the small opening that leads to his run, but I don’t see him. I look for Jake, but he’s not in his kennel either. I run (okay, I walk quickly but calmly, so the dogs won’t start barking again) back through the kennels, into the back rooms, past the laundry room overflowing with blankets, towels, and dog beds, and into the small room where the animals are euthanized. The room is empty, and Milton isn’t anywhere. I can’t shake my dread.
I walk back out into the kennels and head to the private training area to ask Brandon what happened, but when I get outside, I see him with Milton, who’s off leash and playing (!) in the sunshine with the female T dog. I feel a huge sense of relief, but I play it cool, “Oh hey, you’ve got Milton out again.” Brandon answers, but keeps his focus on the dogs, “Yeah, he’s such a smart dog that it didn’t feel right, redlining him. It was bugging me all night, and today he seemed to get that he had another chance.” I watch Milton running around, twisting, playing, and chasing the other dog, and they begin running around in circles, racing, faking each other out, and escaping from each other. I become a base in their game of tag, and Milton circles me twice before running off, happily engrossed in the game. I stand where I am, breathing deeply. Vast mountains of laundry call to me, but I turn my smiling face to the sun for a moment, and let the tears fall.
for part 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/07/shelter/
for part 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/14/shelter-part-2/
for part 3: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/21/shelter-part-3/
for all Untold Animal Stories: www.untoldanimalstories.org
Karla McLaren is a pioneering educator and award-winning author whose empathic approach to emotions revalues even the most “negative” emotions, and opens startling new pathways into the depths of the soul. She is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, the trailblazing book The Language of Emotion: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, and the interactive online course Emotional Flow. Karla has taught at such venues as the University of San Francisco, Naropa University, Kripalu, and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. She is currently developing new forms of empathy and social interaction curricula for neurologically diverse people.
The Art of Empathy
What if there were a single skill that could radically improve your relationships and your life? Empathy, teaches empathic pioneer Karla McLaren, is that skill. In The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, McLaren presents her groundbreaking model of The Six Essential Aspects of Empathy to help you understand and nurture healthy empathy in every part of your life. Informed by four decades of empathic experience, plus current insights from neuroscience, social science, the arts, and healing traditions, The Art of Empathy teaches you how to become a healthy and happy empathic presence in a world that needs you.