What adopting a rescue dog is teaching me about trauma, repair, resilience and relationship.
Now four months into being grounded from my scheduled global travels due to the Covid-19 quarantine, I’m grateful for the unexpected blessing and resource for resiliency that Pinto, our rescue pup has become. When we moved back to the US in 2012, we had to leave our two beloved dogs in Costa Rica. It was one of my hardest good-byes. For the last eight years, with my constant travel and a home life schedule not conducive to caring for a pet, we have been dog-free. Now, with no clear end in sight for the shelter in place routine, we have had time to form a relationship bond with our new quirky companion. The first two years of Pinto’s life were rough. He was abandoned for many months and left to fend for himself on the streets of a city in Taiwan. A kind stranger found him and took him to the animal rescue center. He was scared, thin and in need of lots of love. When we realized that our chance to adopt was now due to this unexpected pause, we began online doggie dating on various rescue sites. We set up a time to meet Pinto just before everything shut down. Now, four months later, it’s as if he’s always been a part of our family. Soon after adopting Pinto I began a “daily” practice of taking a poetic pause to nurture a posture of presence in the here and now. I would take 5 minutes each day to create a 1 minute poem. These 5 minutes included:
1 minute to pause and breathe,
1 minute to write down everything I noticed in that minute: such as what I see, hear, feel, taste, touch, sense and think.
1 minute to circle 10 words that captured my attention
1 minute to write a poem using the found words
1 minute to share on Facebook
I am a novice poet, so every poem wasn’t a winner and some of took longer than 5 minutes to arrive. As I looked over the nearly 80 poems I’ve penned so far, a few weren’t so bad. A pattern of ponderings emerged; recording what I paid attention to, what surprised me, what captured my curiosity, and what in my surroundings resonated with my spirit and mood. I figure there may be some wisdom wanting to be witnessed and welcomed. Besides pondering resiliency in nature, the changes arriving with springtime and summer, wrestling with racism and white supremacy culture wounds, this new canine companion of mine captured at least ten poems worth of my attention. I’ll share some of my other poems and what they are teaching me soon, but for now, some pup wisdom.
May 8, 2020
This constant canine companion
whose protective barks bounce off my skull,
split second escape: runs, refuses to come, rejects my care
Pushed to the red zone
Patterned trauma responses
Again and again
Reparable bonds to restore
May 18, 2020
Pup waits by the sliding glass window
I sit watching the sunset over silhouetted trees
Bright peeks through shade
Painted swaths of light
Flicker through sight-
Perrito espera a la puerta de vidrio
Yo, sentada al ver la atardecer
sobre árboles silueteados
El brillo echa una ojeada a la sombra
Trasos pintados de luz
Parpadean a traves de la vista
When Pinto first came to us, he was tense, hypervigilant, jumpy, and would bark at any noise that he heard
outside. He was timid, yet open to engagement. He needed lots of reassurance that he was safe and that we were trustworthy. The trauma of abandonment and harm lives in his body. His watchful, protective, and independent behavior helped him survive. At first, his reluctance to relax and testing of boundaries made it a challenge to get close. What he deeply longed for was too scary to trust. His relationship with people was painful in his formative years. Acknowledging, respecting and honoring that pain without blaming him for what happened to him is important to the healing process. These behaviors, though challenging, make all kinds of sense. As we built trust, constantly giving cues of safety and creating a calm environment, we noticed a softening, a playfulness breaking through and a bond forming. Once he realized that we were his forever tribe, he eased into his place and now his watchful waiting and vigilance is his way to connect and protect us. Becoming aware of the roots and the why, helps us to name and not to shame. Trauma takes time to heal and the survivors are our best teachers.
June 30, 2020
A faint and familiar memory of comfort and companionship
So satisfying in a strange yet sensory sort of way
Cold, wet and twitchy,
teeth grind into smiles
July 21, 2020
Rush of wind
the pup inhales
a world of smells
April 30, 2020
Light..reflections on face and feet
Pup sleeps close
Paint brush rests
Luz…en cara y pies refleja
Cerca duerme el perrito
Cepillo de pintura descansa
There are certain memories and resources from childhood that my body holds that can be recruited in the healing of my own traumas. The touch, smells, sounds, gestures, and practices of pup friends over the years are stored in my memory bank. For the first 20 years of my life, I grew up with a terrier mutt named Midget whose constant companionship was a saving grace for me. Her wet twitchy nose, wiry hair, crooked smile, and empathetic gaze got me through a lot of loneliness, transition, and loss. Becoming mindful of these same types of sensations with Pinto, my new Covid canine companion, reminded me of how the little pleasures of sensory connection can repair when my resources wear thin. Greetings, good smells, sleep, smiles, beauty a
nd creativity all serve to restore calm, balance, connection and life. When I practice the little things, it makes a big difference.
May 24, 2020
That a boy!
Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!
June 11, 2020
Ancient soulful eyes
Playful puppy deep inside
Keeper of our pride
Resilience is bouncing forward from difficulty, set-backs and suffering. Learning to live again, play again, connect with others and have a sense of pride and agency is what resiliency looks like. In spite of all that he had gone through, when he felt safe enough to play, we knew Pinto was going to be okay. With a daily routine, his physical needs met, a safe place to sleep and people to love him, he began to heal. Able to rest, relax, run around and be vulnerable instead of constantly on guard, he could connect and grow.
May 2, 2020
hum of rain,
sparkle of dew,
wet nose on toes,
pup follows me wherever I goes
How about you?
Acompañada por el zumbido de la lluvia
La viveza del rocíoDedos de píe mojados por la nariz canina
Seguida al cualquier lugar
August 10, 2020
Companion connected in coordinated cadence
Freedom flows in finely-tuned frolic
Soul soothing space of sweat and grace-
Today I have a very sweet and special relationship with Pinto. While I work he’s often close at my feet or next to me on the couch. He waits outside the bathroom door until I exit. He is like my shadow, close enough to connect whenever he can. Because of his vigilance, he is constantly navigating where I am in relationship to him. I can now ride my bike and keep up with his run since I know he won’t dart in front of me. He senses where I am and adjusts. He has learned that what he does affects me and my safety. Since we’re connected his well-being is caught up in mine and mine in his. His freedom depends not on his ability to do whatever he wants, but in mutual benefit and care for another. It’s not a burden or impingement on him, rather a privilege and a gift of relationship, where his deepest trauma sits is where his deepest healing is possible.
Grateful for you,