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Ministry With Dawgs - A Matter Of Approach


I admire and learn so much from watching the staff at the shelter work with the dogs. This morning I watched one ever-so-gently coax an absolutely petrified smaller dog called Catalina from the back of the kennel so her kennel could be cleaned. I then actually lay down in Catalina’s clean kennel, talked with her and gently petted her. In those moments, I reflected on how the approach to each being is individualized. With some there is patience and presence, with others there is exuberance (“Let’s go!” or “What are we waiting for?”), and some need time to size-up the surroundings.

I was very aware of how I was petting Catalina. One night a few months ago, I had been petting Tess during one of her anxiety attacks. I realized that I was petting quite rapidly, as if the speed of my touch was matching her panting. I slowed down, and lengthened my petting strokes. I made my shoulders relax. I was able to sustain the petting longer, decrease my own sense of anxiety, and eventually allow Tess to quiet herself. Remembering that experience, I did longer slower petting strokes with Catalina. My becoming quiet within myself had a calming affect on her.

Physically, I also was almost laughing as I lay down on the concrete floor of the kennel. Time on the floors at youth conferences certainly prepared me for this! The difference is that it now takes me longer to get up and down. And I am much more tentative in doing it. In fact, several months ago, I had taken a chair into a kennel rather than try to get down or up. Maybe I need to add the discipline of getting down and up at least once daily as part of spiritual practice! I want to keep the flexibility of perception and space.

This connects with the practice of non-violent communication: observing the situation, being aware of my needs and feelings, and making a request to the other being. With Catalina, I observed a very scared dog, for reasons not related to me. My need to be helpful and to have her respond to me quickly changed to my need to be present for her (not proper NVC wording, I know), and my feeling of compassion that could be overwhelming modified to respect for her struggle to figure out her situation. The request that I made silently was that she be willing to share herself with me, even if only by letting me touch her. Actually, she did much more than that: she let me pet her, scratch her, and, as I left the kennel, she got off the bed and followed me. I am looking forward to connecting with her again tomorrow for another lesson.

April 14, 2013

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