Our paths crossed more than once over the years, like two ships in the night . . . brief encounters but ever so memorable, especially in the darkness . . . each one signaling the other with a message, maybe that loneliness is a myth. The last time Suzy found me, it was to save my soul.
About ten to twelve years ago, I held a series of dog training group sessions and Suzy was a participant along with her human, who had reluctantly “inherited” her from her daughter.
I remember Suzy being an explosive bundle of energy. She was about 50 lbs. and was eager to participate in anything and was always happy, no matter how impatient her human became with her. I don’t have a picture of Suzy . . . the one I posted here is Brielle, and maybe one of the reasons I could not let Brielle be euthanized at a high-kill facility was because she reminded me of Suzy.
During our sessions, it became clear that Suzy had no outlet for her energy. Her owner was busy and really did not have much time for her, so Suzy, along with a lot of pent up energy, was relegated to a small yard. I found her rambunctiousness entertaining and refreshing . . . she enjoyed being a dog and I often used her as a model in the class. She never failed to enthusiastically throw her whole heart and soul into the task and just delighted in the special attention. It doesn’t take long to fall in love with a dog like this.
I use clicker training for all my dogs and am a big fan of this method for many reasons, mostly because it’s painless, flexible, highly effective, fun, and also because the dog has a chance to “control” something. We humans are so obsessed with control, with being in charge especially of a so-called “sub species” . . . we force our dogs into or out of a behavior without trying to figure out why a dog wants to or does not want to do something.
Suzy’s inherent athleticism, boundless energy and long legs made her a natural for the agility obstacles. She had already zoomed over the A-frame effortlessly and with hilarious glee. So we moved on to jumping obstacles.
I positioned her close to a low jump and as she watched me intently (she was so amazing in consistently giving me her undivided attention), I tossed the treat. As soon as she jumped the hurdle, I clicked (she already knew that the sound of the clicker meant the promise of a treat.) So, not only did she get the first one used as a “lure,” she got the one “promised” by the clicker.
Her “Ah-hah” moment came on the fourth try. As she sat in front of the hurdle and watched me, I delayed the initial toss. In a flash, she figured it out . . . I saw the light bulb go on and I will never forget the pride and joy in her eyes. Without the lure, she jumped the hurdle, I clicked, she got her reward, and she repeated it several times as if to say, “I got it!!” We no longer needed the initial toss. She had processed everything and now understood which behavior she could offer to get that “click.”
I’m very vocal and happy and physical when I praise dogs, especially ones who figure things out so quickly. She got a ton of hugs (translate into wrestling), petting, verbal praises, pretty much anything she wanted. I didn’t care that she jumped up on me to give me kisses. She had earned it. Mostly, I just relished that she was so happy . . . she had made me happy and she knew it. I could never scold her for being so exuberantly joyous.
When the class sessions ended, I pointed out all of Suzy’s beautiful qualities to her owner and made some suggestions to keep her training on track . I always assume that owners want a happy and well-adjusted dog, not just a well-mannered one. Sadly, I have been wrong so many times, like I was in Suzy’s case.
Some 3-4 years later, I had to pick up some medicine from my veterinarian. As I sat down in the last empty chair, I glanced at the dogs and their owners . . . everyone seemed to be engrossed in their own little worlds. A big red dog sat quietly by the bench while her owner was reading a magazine. As I looked down at my phone to check for messages, I heard a soft whine. Then another one, a little louder and more insistent. At the third one, the owner quietly admonished the big, red dog and I looked up. The dog was looking straight at me, and shifting her weight between her front legs as if she were dancing. She clearly was trying to get my attention. She continued to whine despite her owner’s warnings, and as I began to realize who she was and smiled at her, the whining and dancing escalated.
It was Suzy, and she recognized and remembered me. I immediately went over to her after asking the owner’s permission . . . and hugged her. If ever a dog could “hug” a human, Suzy could. After all that time she remembered the joy and happiness she felt when we were together. It was one of those times that I didn’t want to let her out of my arms . . . Suzy was nothing less than pure, unconditional love and unbridled joy that transcended this concrete, three-dimensional existence.
I knew nothing about animal rescue at that time and my own life was filled with caring for an aging mom and my own aging pets. So, it never occurred to me to offer to take Suzy in, and as I think of her today, I wish that time and circumstances had been better . . . it would have been amazing to spend a lifetime with her.
I never “saw” Suzy again, and she has been haunting my thoughts these past few weeks. It took another memory to point out the reason.
When my mother died almost eight years ago, I could not have listed all the things that she taught me, simply because they had become so ingrained in me and how I live my life; but, every now and then, often when I need it the most, a memory surfaces to drive a point home.
When she was still healthy and I was much younger, we took a camping trip to the Grand Canyon. As we were walking along the pathway, my mood was turning quite sour because it was hot, humid, and the place was packed with people. All of this and the lack of sleep the night before left me with a throbbing headache and feeling irritated with anything that crossed my path. I looked up to see my mom rushing down the pathway and gesturing for me to come towards her. Oh, no, I thought. Maybe I can just become invisible in the midst of all this humanity.
But she found me. Her face was red from the heat and sun despite the white panama hat on her head and there were beads of sweat on her cheeks. But what softened my nasty mood was the look in her eyes. . . . one of pure joy and excitement . . . the kind of excitement you would see in a child’s eyes on Christmas morning. The scene is as clear to me as if it were yesterday. The words rushed out: “Helene, Helene, I could see the rafts going down the river. Hurry! Come with me.” And I did, reluctantly at first.
She pointed out the rafts, and as I stood by her side, she wrapped one arm around my shoulder and with the other, lovingly patted my arm. I relaxed in her embrace as we both watched the rafts slowly drift through the canyon. But standing at the rim of the canyon and seeing the miniscule rafts snake their way down the river was not the greatest beauty of the moment . . . it was witnessing my mom’s childlike exuberance and the extraordinary joy she felt in not only seeing something that was magical for her, but being able to share this special moment with me. I realized how much I loved her, and that no matter how badly I felt, I had no right to squelch her joy and passion.
Then and now, I appreciate how precious all of this was, this fleeting moment, that she loved me so much that her only thought was to share what to her was something special. . . and she risked a heat stroke to find me because she wanted me to be a part of her joy, part of the magic. My bad mood was replaced with love and peace, and oh, how I would give anything to relive that moment, that embrace and those memories today.
We have no right to impose our shortcomings, or our “lifestyle” on anyone else, and no right to squelch the joy and passion in another living being, human or non-human, because we think we know better, or disagree with their journey, or are in a bad mood. Yet we do this all the time to our children, parents, family, pets, friends. . . two of mine, supposedly well-meaning, which at this point I doubt, almost destroyed my joy, until Suzy made her way into my dreams.
I spend a lot of time educating people about canine behavior and emotion, and hope that at least some will see dogs through my eyes, learn to love them for who they are, and not be so quick to dispose of them because they’ve become “inconvenient.” I have come to realize that some people will never “get it,” . . . it’s like showing a sphere to someone who lives in a two-dimensional world and understands only a circle . . . a sphere is not part of their reality. Just because someone’s reality is different from yours, does not mean that yours is wrong.
I’m a firm believer in energy and frequency . . . I believe that people who work with a particular species learn how to tune in and “operate in that frequency,” . . . that’s how they communicate. How else do you explain a herd of elephants walking hundreds of miles to the home of a deceased elephant rescuer to mourn?
We “hang around” with people whose frequencies resonate with ours, and sometimes frequencies become discordant, and realities collide and repel instead of blending, and you find yourself moving on and saying good-bye, because their “inner child” does not know how to play with your “inner child.” To remain in the relationship would create a toxicity to your emotional and physical health, and gradually and systematically erode your dreams until there is nothing left . . . no joy, no happiness . . . just the ashes of a beautiful vision and the eventual death of the child within you.
I don’t believe that there are degrees of love . . . either you love or don’t. For me, love is energy, a powerful force, not an emotion that can be measured in degrees, and love is the key to expanding frequencies. I love my dogs as unconditionally as they love me, and that makes all the difference in our growth, our relationship and communication. It’s not a matter of their fitting into my family, but of them accepting me into their world.
Maybe Suzy was on her way to the Rainbow Bridge and came to say good-bye. Maybe she was already there and felt my pain, and came back to tell me, “We dogs know your heart.”
The Universe does conspire to pull together “things” to help you heal. I heard my mom say, “so what . . .it doesn’t matter what they think; besides, you are a much better friend to people than they will ever be to you,” and I had Suzy remind me that every life, and the joy and love within that life, is sacred.
We, and every living creature that shares our space, have a right to unfettered happiness, and may we be as lucky as my mom and Suzy to so fully and unabashedly experience the joy of a moment . . . and be so vibrantly alive that the moment becomes a memory to last lifetimes.
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