{discovery} On Being Rescued_Upward Facing Dog

Discovery, Good News, ICYMI

A version of this post was published a few years back in the Finnish yoga journal Ananda, soon after I had adopted Lady Mu (formerly known as Sita). I have kept thinking about the events described below quite a bit, with Mr. Tee.

2014-06-20 09.29.57I met her almost by accident. I had been arguing with my that time boyfriend plenty. The last fight before we broke up was about him being unable to find the time to go and look at a clumber spaniel puppy that we (read: I ) wanted to adopt.

Out of spite to that man. That’s why I went to AC&C Brooklyn, just to look what a city shelter is about. It wasn’t the most uplifting experience. Plenty of big dogs in small cages, plenty of barking, and more than enough smell, I thought.

Only one of the dogs I saw was quiet, simply observing me from the back of her crate. ‘Do you want to take her for a walk?’ I sure did, but the dog crawled close to the ground, like a reptile. Only later it dawned to me that she was basically terrified of the outdoors.

I barely know how or why I decided to adopt her. I simply remember that I was asked to decide right there and then, and to take her home ASAP. I must have gone back home to get my lease — one needs to prove that dog’s are allowed in one’s building — and I must have called a friend to secure someone to look after her while I’d be at work the next day.

I also must have given her the new name, Sita, right then. Where did it come from, the wife of Rama, the perfect wife and woman? (Maybe because I had just seen the brilliant animation film, Sita Sings the Blues.)

But the next thing I know, we are in a car driving back to Eastern Parkway, and she’s drooling and throwing up.

And the next thing that happens is that Sita cried, barked, and howled incessantly if I was away. My landlord let me know that she was too big and loud for the apartment and that I might have to leave. Sita nipped at people. She got very sick and spend two days in the animal hospital. Nothing was found to be wrong with her — but I spent my vacation savings on those days and all those X-rays. She also ran away, once to the street, once from doggy day care. I got well-meaning but (I felt) somewhat condescending advise from seasoned dog owners at Mount Prospect Park.

I started to read dog training manuals. The advice I encountered was familiar to me — from yoga. Your energy is the deciding factor. Breathe deeply, in and out; observe how you feel. If you are nervous relax your mind and body consciously. The most important thing is to remain unwaveringly balanced and grounded. The dog will react to your state of being and its problems will reflect your problems, habits, moods. If you are giving the dog mixed signals, it will become nervous, or dominant, thinking it needs to be in charge and work towards a more balanced state of affairs. I thought, if we look at our communication closely, isn’t this so true for any other kind of interaction, with any creature, as well?

I also read that dogs have had a crucial role in many spiritual traditions. Zen koans are told about dogs. the Lhasa Apso breed has been bred in Tibetan Buddhists monateries; the St. Bernhard dogs were originally kept in the hospise of St Bernard of Menthon. One of the most famous dog training guides in the U.S., How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, is by the Greek Orthodox New Skete Monks.

A yogini-friend noted: a dog is a model for someone who follows ‘the Master’: Devoted, tuned-in. On the other hand, your dog is your mirror, hence, your teacher.

I remember looking at Sita, her, one night, perhaps three months into our life together. Based on my personal belief system, it was easy for me to accept what I felt: That we know one another. I also realized something scarily fundamental about me. When things get rough, I’m easily discouraged and want to disengage. But Sita couldn’t be without me, my care. That is why she has to come first.

*   *   *   *   *

It’s been over four years since Sita and I met. Since then (and with the help of many, including the wonderful Susie’s Pet Care) she has blossomed into a calm, gentle and sweet model dog who now graciously tolerates (and sometimes cuddles with) her wild brother Mr. Tee.

Since then, I’ve met someone else, whom I married, and who said: Sita is such a heavy-duty name for a dog… Can we call her Mu — short from the Finnish word murmeli — groundhog — that I sometimes used for Sita.

Little did he, or I, know that even with the name change, Mu remains the upward-facing dog she’s always been. As a Buddhist Koan (that I recently found by accident online) tells us:

A monk asked Master Chao-chou, “Has a dog the Buddha Nature or not?” Chao-chou said, “Mu!”



{discovery} On Being Rescued… Who Is?

Discovery, Good News

2014-06-18 13.03.38Update on Mr. T {and Lady Mu}, and us (see part 1 here). While I write, they are recuperating, as seen above, from our quick pee break on the first day of summer heat.

Yesterday, I watched an old episode of Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer. (And yes, I know he and his methods are not everyone’s favourites, but I still find him remarkable in many ways.) The first story was about a gorgeous Dogo Argentino. Something struck the chord in that story.

Screen shot 2014-06-18 at 1.13.03 PM

Neither Mu or Tee are 100 lbs hunter breeds, but both of them have had their challenges: The one with extreme timidness, the other with hyperactive dominance. There have been moments I’ve been scared and frustrated and mad (mostly at myself) and puzzled (see the earlier post).

CM ends the segment with a note on how we can bring balance to our lives with dogs. They force us to face our anger, or fear, or possessiveness, or laziness, or…

I think that’s spot on. I’m sure that dogs can have problems of their own, but they are in search of balance much more naturally, intuitively, and constantly, than we humans are. They are also more aware of the environment and its direct effect on their well-being.

I’ve had this experience before, with yoga. After several minutes in Downward Facing Dog pose — with the instructions Screen shot 2014-06-18 at 1.26.28 PMfrom the teacher that we should stay there for a quarter of an hour — I started to experience the same aggravation, impatience, and sense of not being treated justly (yes…) that I often did at work.

Clearly, our patterns translate from the office to stretching to dog training.

So Mr. T can bring us back to a more balanced state: The hubby can take a bigger role in taking the leadership of the pack, and especially Tee (as Lady Mu has always been my dog); I can start to worry less about my dad, my job( and current -lessness), Mu and Tee, the world peace, and so on.

So, as much a cliche as it is: Who’s being rescued?


{discovery} On Being Rescued


2014-06-02 17.44.06

This is Tee, T-LO (The Little One), The Knucklehead. A teenager from the streets of the Bronx.

We got him 3 months ago from the Animal Care and Control in Manhattan. We had been looking for an older, mellow pit-mix for a companion to our Lady Mu…

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Tee was on the euthanasia list, with kennel cough. We saw a video of him. He was a great size, a pocket pittie. We reached out to the pitbull rescue awareness organization that was posting his information and video clips on Facebook.

We had questions: How is he? Good with other dogs? Is it safe to bring him home to another dog if he’s sick with a highly infectious disease?

He’s submissive and mellow (relatively speaking, as he’s young), most likely house-trained, but guards his food, we learned from the shelter evaluation.

The rescue awareness group simply pointed out to a list of other rescue organizations and asked us to reach out to them: perhaps they could foster Tee while he will get well.

We should have known it at that point that things were not what they seemed.

We waited… And then at the last minute decided to act on faith, reserving Tee from the shelter and thus pulling him off death row, as we didn’t hear from anyone.

Later, only a couple of the groups I had been in touch got back to us. They were very concerned, almost aggressive with their questions, about where we would place Tee (if not at home with our other dog), but offered no help or advice whatsoever. The only concrete advise we got was from a man who had been following my queries on Facebook and had rescued a few dogs himself.2014-05-03 17.00.26

Dogs reserved from euthanasia lists will have to be picked up the next day.

I reorganized my chores to be able to do so. When I arrived to pick up Tee, I was told I’m not allowed to do so without Mu. No one had let me know that before. After negotiations (as Tee would have been put back on the list otherwise), I was allowed to take him home.

Now, some three months since that day, we have discovered that Tee is not food possessive, but very dominant, very active and energetic, as well as male-to-male aggressive. He should have never been offered to home with children (we don’t have any, but this was not mentioned in his evaluation). He clearly had not lived indoors before.

Tee is extremely cute, cuddly, and funny. But he is also stubborn, wanting to run the show, and hence requires plenty of exercise, attention, and effort.

Our mornings begins by me running with Tee while my husband walks Mu for an hour. Tee gets at least three additional walks a day. We train him twice a day and, in addition, work with a private trainer and in a weekly group session. Since he doesn’t like most dogs, if we want to go away we need to pay at least $60 a night to board him as the only dog in a home, or $90 for a private dog hotel room (!).

Not that Tee wouldn’t be worth this all. We have another rescue dog. They often need special attention and care. They take time to adjust.

But then it became clear that my dad, in another continent, is very ill and won’t get better. That I need to go and spend significant amount of time, read months, abroad. I have now taken a leave of absence without pay to do so.

We grew increasingly wary of keeping Tee. How could we provide him with all training and care while I was away? How could we guarantee his progress? We cannot board him for months, and months, given the costs and the fact that now I’m not receiving salary from my job. However, we do not want his aggressive tendencies grow due to possible lack of continuous training and exercise. This is a serious issue, both for him, and in terms of other dogs and humans.

So we thought: Maybe he would benefit from a forever home with active people who would love to run with him and be the calm, assertive pack leaders Tee clearly needs?

So I reached out to the rescue awareness group for help how to find those kinds of people for Tee. Instead, we received a scolding about not socializing him in a correct way (read: the implication is that it’s our fault he’s aggressive). Tee’s interests would not be served if he would be placed in another home. Get a muzzle and a treadmill, I was told. So much for that pitbull love and advocacy.

I reached out to other rescue groups and individuals I trust to help us out in screening possible new owners for Tee.

Through them I learned that Tee wouldn’t be adoptable, and if we would take him back to AC&C (which we would never do) he would immediately be euthanized because of his aggressive tendencies.

We stopped looking for help. We will make this work one way or another.

2014-05-23 10.53.38But I learned something about being rescued. I have always been the loudest advocate for rescue dogs. I do, however, think that some of the rescue organizations should perhaps be a tad more responsible about their assessment, advertising, and advise. I have been stunned by the hostile communication I have been recipient of — while we have tried to find the best solution for our Tee. If you advertise euthanasia list dogs while not providing rescue services, be careful. Your overly positive cutie assessments are sweet, but not necessarily realistic. And your scolding via email is not constructive.

I know there are wonderful, heroic, organizations out there, such as Sean Casey, or New York Bully Crew, or WOOF of Sharon Azar, here in NY, that thoroughly assess and rehabilitate their rescue dogs — many of which have a severely troubled history but who are ‘reborn’ in good, knowledgeable hands. If you plan to rescue, go through them.

And lastly, as they say, we got the dog we deserved, that little Tee. Maybe he will keep us focused in these challenging times, and give my hubby plenty to do when I’ll be away.