Embracing our Animal Companions

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2009 © Stephen Bruno

Several years ago, I was running an errand, when I decided to stop by unannounced at a new small service business in town that had recently opened. The owner was interested in my participating in the open house a week later. I had communicated by email about meeting with the owner, but we had not set up a specific date.

I drove to the address which was on a small residential street and looked like a home business. There was an ‘open’ sign on the outside near the front door surrounded by a delightful small courtyard. I pushed lightly on the front door which stuck a little, so I pushed harder to enter. It was common that time of year for doors to expand and require greater effort to move.

I walked into a quaint looking homey living room with cozy country style curtains, closing the front door behind me. I didn’t see any customers sitting on the comfy looking couches or overstuffed chairs. I noticed business cards and brochures on a round wood table in what would be the dining area.

After a few minutes of looking around the living room waiting for the owner or an employee to appear, I walked near the table in the dining room area and called several times toward the kitchen which was around the corner.

Since the kitchen area may be private, I stopped by the table and called out again several times thinking that they may be the backyard. There was no response. I turned to look once more around the living room to see if any new customers had arrived since a bell was not attached to the front door. No one else had entered.

I thought it was prudent to be patient. I walked away towards the middle of the room, and I heard something behind me coming from the kitchen.  I turned casually expecting to be greeted by the owner or employee.

I came face-to-face with a very large dog who came casually walking around the corner stretching and yawning from probably a long nap. Then, the dog realized I was standing there. I suspect that we both had the same expression being startled by each other’s unexpected presence. The dog raised one eyebrow up in bewilderment. It was almost comical to observe the gradual realization of its facial expressions. Time appeared to stand still while we both waited to see what developed. I almost bent down or kneeled in a greeting ritual in front of the dog, and then slowly extending my hand to be sniffed. Under the circumstance, I thought it wise to refrain from that behavior.

Then, the fur on its tail bristled with the tail held high in alertness with large, fast wags. It was inevitable that something was soon about to happen. The dog and I cautiously eyed each other as I began talking calmly, softly yet firmly in a positive voice.

And then, another even larger dog walked into the living room and stood slightly in front of its animal companion. We each stood motionless while the new dog began to process what was happening. Within moments, both dogs’ erect ears faced forward with attentiveness. A ridge of hair bristled down their backs. Their lips now retracted exposing glistening large, long and pointy canine teeth.

Viewing me as an intruder, I knew to prepare for an imminent attack, and without the business owner, I had to manage the dogs myself. Their size and desire to protect their territory suggested that it could be a rather tenacious attack in tandem.

I drew on my many experiences with wildlife including black bears and Mountain Lions as a wildlife photographer out in the wilderness where my process is to photograph them and not be intrusive. And above all, to leave wildlife unharmed by my actions of being in their territory.

I stood in the middle of the living room; the only exit was the front door behind me which the dogs could easily reach faster. They might also block my path to the door during an attack.

For survival, I glanced around quickly while the dogs were deciding what to do to see if I had any means of protecting myself using a kitchen chair, umbrella, walking stick or something. While finding a few objects that would work, I summarily dismissed this option as I wanted to leave without harming the dogs.

I knew an attack was nanoseconds away. Under the circumstances it was inevitable. This much I accepted. Just like with my experiences with wildlife in a threatening situation I was surprisingly calm and focused on how to get out the front door with minimum harm to myself and no harm to the dogs.  I stood slightly sideways making me a narrower target while keeping the dogs in my peripheral vision.

Both dogs began to emit deep, low growls and inched forward toward me.  I stood up straight to look as big as possible (something I learned with Mountain Lions in the wild), and I kept my mouth shut as bared teeth may signify aggression to a dog.

I began to slowly back towards the front door as the two dogs walked closer, each of them keeping a steely eye on me. I knew it was important to remain calm and to talk to the dogs quietly.

I was still away from the front door when the largest of the two dogs suddenly leaped towards me initiating the second dog to do the same. I was immediately bitten twice in my leg which was in front of me as I backed up towards the door. I could tell from the pain that each dog had taken bites which had punctured the skin through my jeans. I remembered to protect my face, chest, and throat and to keep my hands in fists to protect the fingers.

All I could think about was how to leave without harming the dogs as it was not their fault that they found me in their territory and they only wanted to protect the area. I was committed not to strike them with anything including my hands and feet. If only I could reach the door and somehow back out to the front yard, I could then safely close the door escaping with few further injuries.

The dogs continued to bite at my legs. Throughout the attack, I kept myself calm while not creating a sense of anxiety to minimize the dogs’ aggressiveness. I recalled an experience with a protective mother Mountain Lion and her two kittens at Lake Powell, Arizona on top of a ledge when I was jogging alone. But that’s another story.

Still talking in a relaxed, soothing voice the dogs crowded towards me and backed me against the door which opened inward towards the room. I grabbed the doorknob and pulled it in leaving me just enough room to slide out into the front yard and then I carefully closed the door.

I didn’t know where the owner was. It was clear that I needed to get to the VA hospital and have them inspect my lacerations and provide treatment which I quickly did.

I still have the physical scars of the dog bites but no emotional ones. I’m very pleased that my primary focus was to reasonably protect myself while not in any way harming the dogs which is what I accomplished.

One reason I decided to post this story now is that I have had numerous questions about my soon to be published personal and spiritual process book that discusses concepts including responding rather than reacting. I was asked to give an example of what I meant, and this experience came to mind.

 

 

 

 

Quincy, a Dachshund Co-Therapist

Many people have wonderful stories about their animal companions which are sometimes about how the actions of the cat, dog or another animal saved their life. Here is my story about my animal companion, Quincy, a miniature Dachshund.

Many years ago, I provided psychological counseling through private practice in my office and sometimes in my home. One day, I received a referral from a psychologist at a local school district about a male high school student. The psychologist told me that the individual was very resistant to therapy and refused to communicate in any sessions, so they decided on referring him to me.

In the first session in the home office, I briefly greeted the young high school student who sat on the couch facing me while I sat in the recliner. Quincy chose that day for the first time to climb up on my lap, with my help, and he appeared to fall asleep quickly.

I briefly discussed confidentiality and the therapy process after the introductions. The teenager was rather a nonresponsive fidgeting with his hands and looking down and mumbling single word responses. I began formulating a therapeutic plan to reach him on a more meaningful level so that our sessions would make a difference.

While I was seeking areas of his life to exploring, I asked some appropriate questions mentioned by his school psychologist. I asked him if he used any drugs. He did not immediately respond, so I asked again. After a long pause, he finally said no as he continued to look at the floor.

Just as he said no, Quincy looked up and stared at him and gave a loud moan like someone would say when they doubted your honesty. Since he never did this before I wasn’t certain how to interpret the noise. The student gave it no attention.

I asked why the psychologist believed that he was using drugs. With barely a shrug of the shoulders, he gave no other response. After moving on to other things, I decided to try once again by asking if he was using drugs. After a few moments without looking up, he mumbled no.

Once again, Quincy opened his eyes raised his head and looked at him and made the same exact sound he had made previously. By now my curiosity had gotten the better of me, and I was beginning to think that Quincy was responding to what was said but only when the response was untruthful.

I left the questions about drugs and talked a little bit about my therapeutic approach and my involvement with the school district. Then, I asked if it was true that he had been disruptive in one of his classes. A few moments later he mumbled no and then immediately looked up at Quincy who returned the look with the same doubtful noise and then appeared to return to his slumber.

I couldn’t contain my chuckle watching him see if Quincy caught him in another untruthful statement. He looked up from Quincy curiously after hearing my restrained laughter. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. He shrugged as well and began his contagious laughter which I eagerly joined in.

From that time on we engaged in a thorough and effective partnership in his sessions. Notwithstanding that he continued to look at Quincy before answering any difficult questions.

Quincy continued this behavior with a few other people who tended to be less than truthful. Since he was my co-therapist, I rewarded him with his favorite Mighty Dog food after each productive session.

I named Quincy after the Quincy, M.E.  American medical mystery-drama television series from Universal Studios that aired from 1976 to 1983 on NBC.

I’ll share more stories with my animal companions in the future.