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.
I 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!”