{discovery} The Double Life of Mr. T


Mr. T is going for his hip surgery tomorrow. It isn’t so bad – in other words, not a hip replacement but Femoral Head Osteotomy (FHO)

Two vets we took him to said it’s the knee (“Just give him anti-inflammatory and let him rest and it’ll be just fine.” “Typical structural issue for pitbulls, expect the other knee to go as well.” )

The expert surgeon laughed at that and noted that T has probably been hit by a car early on in his life so the hip is out of socket or otherwise injured. Most likely, FHO will do the job.

He also noted, as all the other vets that have seen Mr. T (including his trainers) that T is “a great dog”.

I’m sure most vets tell the owners exactly that. But we hear the same comment also from people with other kind of knowledge about pits.

The “great dog”, I suspect,  means a couple of things – the double life of T:

  • Apart of the hip issue, T is healthy, very strong, and energetic. He excitable but everyday less so, and is very loving and friendly towards strangers. His vets can observe that.
  • In addition, T has become skilled in teaching troubled dogs how to play (something that our trainer Ray has witnessed and the owners of T’s girl friends’ — note the plural — have shared with us). He’s also very pack-conscious. It’s endearing to witness how he constantly makes sure that Mu (who’s not so fond of the wild running of the youngsters) is still around. Quick kisses in the middle of mad play.
  • But: The “great dog” is also what the surgeon vet, with 30 years of experience, hinted at: T is most likely if not full then at least some mix including the (in)famous Colby bloodline American Pit. This is the kind of pitbull closest connected to fighting dogs, at least historically. Colbys are not cheap — so T is not a mutt stray. The surgeon speculated that T was injured a while back, but the owner had no interest in fixing his hip, so he let T go. (We also know that T wasn’t house-trained — it took him almost two months to go without accidents — so he might have lived in a shed or partly outdoors…)
  • T is also  a “great dog” according to the father-son team working for a garage close to us. They raise pits and their “cousin raises them for fights, we would never of course…” We got talking about the cost of feeding the dogs. I noted that we are slowly introducing some raw meat to Mu’s and T’s diet (that will help to re-build his muscle and keep the Grande Dame healthy in her later years). This, we learned, is a no-no, unless we want to fight the dog: Supposedly the taste of blood will make the dogs thirsty for more, and if another dog is bleeding that will make T attack automatically. These experts also checked T’s tail: “Yeah, it’s broken, you know they break the tails of the dogs they wanna teach fight…” (There was an explanation as to why, I just didn’t have it in me to listen. And there was more wisdom, about how the losing dogs are shot and so on.) It goes without saying that I disagree with all that. At the same time, I’m not trying to demonize these two men here. The duo was very nice, giving us compliments and advise, from their perspective; from the perspective of the context they know.

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The reason I’m chronicling the above examples is that, apart from the bad rap in the media, these are two very concrete and everyday discourses that we are faced with.

Two stories: a great dog, now well-adjusted and rehabilitated rescue, playing in Prospect Park after having a massive dog cookie at Choice Market while the owners drink their morning coffee. A great dog, is it a Colby, does it fight, why did you have it fixed, at the projects on Marcy. It’s easy to detest the latter discourse. But at the same time, this reflects same unfortunate divides everywhere: Class, race, gender (are there female fighting dog breeders?); defining the double life of T.

{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.

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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?