To make a shift in our thinking, sometimes it just takes someone to believe in us – and may be it is this gift we can pass on to the animals who may need a little help along the way.
Reflexive processing allows us the opportunity to examine our role as a person, to offer authenticity, to listen and hear what another being is saying, and to validate the feelings and emotions that they hold. When a foster dog comes to me, without fail I feel the privilege I have been given to help them to adjust comfortable to the next chapter in their life.
So often as humans we make life changing decisions for animals, and probably no more so than with dogs living in a shelter. I am involved with a charity called Annie’s Trust who work in and around Arjud in Romania, where they feed, monitor and improve the conditions for shelter and free roaming dogs. They also sponsor a small number of dogs to be imported to the UK each month, one of whom was Martha who came to me as a foster in July. She was chosen because she wasn’t thriving in the shelter, she was withdrawn and fearful when she arrived. After a few weeks I could sense that she was developing a bond of trust and confidence, to the extent that we could find her a permanent home where she is continuing to blossom – though I think she may always remain a little reserved when facing new stimuli or people.
I discovered that her mother Tilly was still in the shelter so I asked whether I could foster her too, it didn’t seem fair to give her daughter the opportunity for a life of enrichment and love and yet leave her behind. The history is sketchy, but from what I can gather both dogs came into the shelter two or three years ago having been living chained in a yard. I had anticipated that Tilly would be similar to her daughter Martha – how wrong I was!
Both dogs have beautiful and intelligent personalities, but where Martha is more introvert and thoughtful, Tilly certainly has extrovert qualities. I have noticed that when a foster dog first arrives, the behaviour we see appears to be amplified. By that, I mean that if withdrawn they appear more shut down, and if they have extrovert characteristics they are more highly aroused. This of course is a generalisation, but also shows us that it takes time for their true personality to shine. Tilly demonstrates her anxiety through vocalisation, and my role is to enable her have the tools to start to feel more relaxed. We are each individual in how we carry and present stress, and therefore this will influence my approach to enable each dog to develop her own resilience. Those who are withdrawn can find courage and those in turmoil can hold peace.
Through introspection we start to understand ourselves a little better, the different facets of our own personality – we are never just one person but a multitude of people held in one body. How we respond can be dependent upon so many factors, and yet this is also true of species other than our own. Often we struggle to understand ourselves, why we respond in a certain way or why something may affect us beyond our expectations. Possibly we can be a little more forgiving of ourselves and the stressors we carry, and take that ethos forward in our interaction with other animals.Tilly continues to amaze me day by day as I watch her find both courage and peace, but I know we still have so much to learn from the animals who share our lives.