I read an e-mail last Thursday from a colleague who was upset by a call from a new client regarding their five-year-old Beagle. Mittens (not his real name) was in trouble and the trainer had reached out to our private group to try to offer the best and fastest help possible. Reading the story about this Beagle flooded me with memories of our years with Kona, especially the first two years. I don’t talk much about her, it’s very personal, but she’s been a strong motivating energy for me since the first moment I laid eyes on her. In fact, the day I read the letter was the 25th anniversary of that day. It gave me the shivers.
While reading the e-mail, I had just arrived at a three-day dog training conference, and couldn’t stop thinking about Kona, and the brutal options I had received when I first called a dog trainer those 25 years ago. I was so relieved that there were so many gentle and humane options for Mittens. After that, I just kept thinking, “You protect that Beagle from harm, be gentle with her (despite what the experts were telling you), then you educate yourself and dedicate the rest of your lifework to changing that system”. It seemed obvious. I relished the thought that 25 years later, my esteemed colleagues were on the thread with educated, safe, professional advice. I offered what I thought was a hopeful, lighthearted two-line respite about changing our lives and opening a gentle dog training business, signed it, and prepared for my weekend. After all, doesn’t everybody do that for their beloved dog?
I thought about this little Beagle constantly after that, and I watched the e-mails flow through the group one after another with great, compassionate ideas, and also some hard facts about possible outcomes. The advice I received 25 years ago when Kona was exhibiting the same behaviors was a 360-degree turn from what I was reading today. The ideas about how to help this dog were spot on and I was so hopeful that this little guy would be okay. I thought that the owners would be so grateful to get this great, safe advice and be on the right track. I was so glad they had found my colleague and I knew she would be able to get them on the right path. It was going to be a long, difficult process, but I was hopeful for a good ending. After all, doesn’t everybody do that for their beloved dog?
I wanted it to go well so badly that I had missed the part in the e-mail about the owners calling shelters threatening to give the dog up. That wasn’t supposed to be part of the scenario. It became apparent that Mittens was not going to be as lucky as Kona. The trainer was trying desperately to provide just the right words, and just the right timing of appointments, so that these owners would continue to work with Mittens. There was a new medical problem with Mittens and that was going to be the deal breaker. Mittens’ issues were many and this last straw would be too heavy. It didn’t feel good. A few days after the e-mail on Kona’s anniversary Mittens’ life was over.
I remembered a phone call I got as a young trainer about a dog that needed help “RIGHT NOW”. They had the name of a punishment trainer and they were going to him, unless I could find an alternative. I was heading out for a business trip, with a vacation to follow and the client needed help. At that time, I had no local support, but I told them I would find a trainer and get back to them. Two days later, I called from the road with some names, but they had already sent Jumper (not his real name) off to boot camp.
When I got back from vacation and followed up, the rest of the story was worse. After two weeks at boot camp, the dog came home, bit someone the next day and was put down. I was devastated and I thought it was my fault. I had so many “if only” thoughts storming my mind I couldn’t think. Why did I leave and not train this dog? Why did they have to go this route? Why are there trainers out there still being violent with our pets? Why couldn’t they be more patient, more thoughtful, more educated. After all, doesn’t everybody do that for their beloved dog?
It’s been 25 years since I began this mission although it really started 50 years ago with every kitten, turtle, bird, rabbit and who knows what that I brought home with me. I fought to keep them, care for them and love them. I then watched my heart break over and over as they left me. I was lucky, as I began my path on this earth, to be safe enough or hurt enough or just open enough to let my true heart be open to my non-human friends. Not everyone is that lucky or safe or able to be open, to nurture another. That’s what we ultimately try to teach. We are humans and animals walking our paths and we do it together. Some of us are more fortunate than others to understand this, but no one is different. When we judge the worst in others, we are not open to listening to them, therefore we can’t teach. When we observe and not judge, we can listen openly and teach compassion with compassion.
Some of us stay on Earth for a long time and some for a short time and every being brings lessons. I am sure I will never forget Mittens and I am sure that the heartbreak of this trainer will also be remembered. It will remind me of my heartbreak with Jumper and of my too-many-other clients that didn’t make it or I never got to. We can share the heartbreak of all trainers who have lost a dog while trying to save them or didn’t have the chance. We try so hard, just like the good doctors for their patients and the dedicated teachers for their students. We are a world of interconnectedness and when there is loss, it breaks our hearts. And for them, we break for a while and hopefully put ourselves back together stronger to carry on. After all, doesn’t everybody do that for their beloved dog?
The karmic energy of all beings never leaves this earth. We are changed by everything our senses connect with, even if it’s for just a moment, we are changed. We are forever connected to all that we know, and all who cross our paths. We have a lot more to do, and we have already made a huge difference. We can find peace and strength from the ones we do save and hope that we can also find peace and strength from the ones we don’t. It helps us stay on the path.
Kona died from pancreatic cancer on October 21, 2000, at ten years old.
kona’s touch, inc. “gentle teachings for you & your dog” opened for business in January 2001.
Until everybody does this for their beloved dogs.