Juliet once asked Romeo as to what’s in a name as if her and Romeo might be able to simply disregard their names. Truth be told, names are extremely powerful and can be as healing as a hug or as painful as a punch in the gut. Everyone’s heard the saying that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” but all of us know that it’s complete baloney. Names hurt. Simply thinking of ourselves as being stupid or ugly can completely alter the way we see ourselves. Merely saying something out loud can help to bring whatever was spoken into existence. So, if we repeatedly think or say that we’re worthless and that we don’t deserve to be happy, simply speaking or thinking that can be self-fulfilling. That’s why it’s critical for us to find a more compassionate and loving way of seeing ourselves and I haven’t found a better way of doing that than learning how to think one’s self as a dog! Dogs are so universally loved no matter how goofy or strange they are and that’s why discovering our inner dog can transform not only how we see ourselves but how we see everyone else in our lives. My hope is that this book will allow each of us to transform ourselves so that we can experience a rebirth in how we see ourselves through being able to break free from the fixed ways in which we’ve seen ourselves.
I’d been a veterinarian for thirty plus years when I first started searching for my own inner dog. After so many years of being a veterinarian, it wasn’t difficult for me to speculate as to the breed(s) of dog that I might be. Knowing dogs as well as I did, I quickly surmised that I was very likely a mix of Labrador retriever and Jack Russell terrier (what I now call a “Laberrier.”) Due to the fact that Labs and Jack Russell terriers are at the opposite ends of the height spectrum, I’d never actually met a Laberrier in my years as a vet. For that to happen, it’d probably take the strategic use of a ramp or artificial insemination for those two breeds to make a litter of pups. Though I’d never met a Laberrier, I instinctively knew that my temperament was a mixture of the two breeds since I’d always had a strong desire to please and to be of service (like the Lab) in addition to having an overwhelming need to do ten things at once and, most importantly, to be the one who’s in control (just like a Jack Russell terrier.)
Labs are individuals who believe that the whole wide world is their playground and, as a consequence, boundaries mean nothing to them. Labs will gladly jump, dig or barrel through any obstacle that’s placed in their way! They’re obnoxiously friendly with big goofy grins, lolling tongues and wildly wagging posteriors and they love everyone and anyone! Labs never have a moment’s hesitation about plopping their big muddy paws all over someone in their quest to get up close and personal! Slinging slobber is a Lab specialty (though, now that I know I’m a Lab, I try to keep my slobbering to a minimum!)
As a result of their never-ending exuberance, Labs can be extremely draining to be around as they tend to cross the line from being merely friendly to being inappropriately intrusive and invasive. As a Lab, I constantly struggle with my need to interject myself into other people’s lives in my quest to be helpful and to be liked. I’ve done this even when it’s apparent that someone doesn’t want my help! We Labs are just too much at times. One thing that’s true about us Labs, though, is that we always have the best of intentions! Even though we may be annoying as we jump and slobber all over someone, we mean well!
Jack Russell terriers, on the other hand, are some of the most self-absorbed control freaks in the world! Terriers possess a never ending supply of energy that’s used solely to make certain that things go their way! Terriers are ruthlessly stubborn and, as a result of that stubbornness, they have the capacity to whittle down the resolve of even the toughest competitor. My dad always said that my mind was like a steel trap and, once an idea got stuck inside my head, I wouldn’t ever let it go. A terrier’s motto is “Do or die!” As a result, terriers aren’t the most considerate of breeds since they always put their own concerns ahead of everyone else’s!
Of course, until recently, I didn’t know that I was a Laberrier. Until my late forties, I struggled each and every day to make sense of who I was and what I wanted out of life. My whole life, I’d felt like a leaf being swept along by a raging river: that the very best that I could ever do was to simply stay afloat. Being a terrier, though, I desperately needed to be in control. But, as I’d only ever felt like a leaf, the river (Life) continued to do whatever it wanted with me. I felt helpless and hopeless and nothing made sense. As a Lab, I craved connection and for my life to have meaning. Yet, both of those endeavors were mostly hit and miss. I simply couldn’t understand why my life didn’t work and why everything was a constant struggle. As I’d never figured out how to accept myself as I was, I continually floundered through a succession of roles: daughter, sister, student, girlfriend, wife, mother, veterinarian. I ruthlessly critiqued everything I did and, consequently, I never felt any true sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. Instead, I always felt that I could have done better if I’d simply tried harder or been a better person.
In my forties, after a series of incredibly unsettling events involving my family and work (things I’ll discuss in later chapters), I made the decision to abandon ship by selling both my home and the veterinary clinic I’d owned for seventeen years. Not only did I need a break from being a veterinarian but, more importantly, I needed to escape all the toxic relationships in my life.
Being a veterinarian had been an important and integral part of who I’d been in my life but running my own veterinary clinic had gradually, bite by bite, chewed me up and swallowed me whole. By the time I sold the clinic, the clinic was running me instead of the other way around. After so many years of taking care of sick animals and ministering to their owners, I was emotionally saturated and had gotten to the point where I simply couldn’t do it anymore. Thoroughly depleted and exhausted, I raised the white flag and surrendered unconditionally. I didn’t care the cost: I had to escape. I desperately needed to find out if there was another way to live, if there was something else that I could do that wouldn’t tear my heart out on a daily basis. I wanted to see if I could find some joy and peace.
The moment I sold my home and my veterinary clinic, everything changed. I went from being constantly bombarded by people, pets and my kids to being completely alone in a car that was headed for the opposite side of the country. I’d signed up to volunteer at a facility called the Option Institute in Sheffield, Massachusetts, a place that assisted autistic children and their parents. Since both of my daughters had recently graduated high school and were out on their own, there was absolutely nothing to tie me down: no home, no business, no kids. I won’t say that I wasn’t a bit terrified but taking some time for myself was exactly what I needed. In spite of my nagging fears and doubts, I felt like I was flying: that I’d magically sprouted wings and was way up in the sky looking down on myself. For the very first time since I’d left my childhood home for college, I was free! It felt like a dream. I couldn’t believe that, in the midst of all the insanity, I’d somehow managed to extricate myself from everything that had been sucking the life out of me. Now, all I had to do was figure out where to go from here!
Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that it would take me three years to finally decompress from the crazy life I’d been living. Apparently, before I was going to be able to figure out what was next in my life, I needed to calm down and unwind first. As a terrier, I was used to being in constant motion with not a moment to think. It was so much harder that I’d imagined it would be to climb off my hamster wheel. The truth was I didn’t know how to not be in constant motion. It eventually turned out to be a good thing though because, with so much time to simply think, I became aware of the philosophy I had about how people were like dogs.
I must have gradually been forming my philosophy about how people were like dogs throughout my many years as a veterinarian but I hadn’t been consciously aware of it. It was crazy how all the pieces came together so quickly once I had some time to myself to think. All it took was the right set of circumstances to bring it completely into the light of day..
Those right set of circumstances presented themselves one morning in 2005 while I was living in San Francisco. On that particular morning, I’d absentmindedly answered the phone only to hear the hysterical sobs of my best friend of twenty years, Dee.* Since Dee was not one to cry, I immediately knew that something was terribly wrong. Though I tried asking her what was wrong, she was just too distraught to be able to speak for several seconds. I kept saying, “It’s going to be alright, it’s going to be alright” over and over again until she was able to finally calm down enough to tell me the last thing I expected her to say: that she was dying! She explained that she’d been sick off and on for months but hadn’t been too concerned until things suddenly took a turn for the worse. As she told me about her symptoms, it became quite clear to me that she was going to need someone to be with her while she got to the bottom of what was going on. I told her to hang tight, that I’d rearranged my schedule and try to be at her house by sometime early that evening (she lived about five hours away.)
When I reached Dee’s house that evening, she confessed that she hadn’t yet been to a doctor because not only didn’t she have any health insurance but she was terrified of what the doctor was going to say. I told her that I’d go with her to the emergency room tomorrow and, together, we’d find out what was going on. Thankfully, Dee saw a doctor the next day who was able to diagnose her condition. It wasn’t good news unfortunately but the doctor reassured Dee that, with time, she’d make a full recovery. In the meantime, though, he said she was definitely going to need someone to take care of her.
As Dee was an extremely independent and private person, hearing that she was going to need someone to take care of her did not go over well. After a lot of encouragement, she finally (begrudgingly) agreed to contact her older brother, Donald* who lived fairly close by in Washington state. Donald was amazing! He rushed to Dee’s rescue like a knight in shining armor and, together, Donald and I got Dee’s belongings packed up. Afterwards, he took her home to live with him until she was well enough to live on her own.
If only things could have been that simple! Unfortunately, not only was there a twenty-year age difference between Donald and Dee (Donald being the older) but they had polar opposite personalities. Dee was an outside-the-box, hippie-at-heart who bucked the system and hated the regimentation of rules. To make matters even worse, she was also a bit of a slob. Donald, on the other hand, lived his life as a holy testament to the twenty years he’d spent as a Marine. Each and every item in Donald’s life had its proper place and each and everything he did was performed with precision and mastery. As one can only imagine, Donald and Dee’s worlds collided with a bang.
One evening, a few months after Dee had gone to live with Donald, she called (as she frequently did) to complain about her life with Donald. Her complaints always revolved around the same theme: that Donald hated her and that she couldn’t wait until she would be able move out on her own.
As Dee and I had become such good friends while working at the same veterinary clinic, it was commonplace for us to discuss our pets and to reminisce about all the things that had happened while we were at the veterinary clinic together. Despite that fact, I could tell that I completely caught Dee off guard that evening when I suddenly blurted out: “Dee, you’ve got to start thinking of Donald as a Chihuahua!”
Dee was temporarily stunned into silence and I patiently waited to hear what she was going to say! Knowing that Dee was never at a loss for words, I was a bit surprised that all she managed to say was, “Say what?”
And, just like that, my theory concerning people being like dogs was up and running. At the time, I was merely trying to find something to say that would make Dee laugh and feel a little less depressed. I wasn’t completely sure myself what I’d meant when I’d told her to start thinking of Donald as a Chihuahua. But, once I started winging it, my whole philosophy about people being like dogs started coming together just like the various pieces of a puzzle.
What I said to Dee was something close to the following: “Dee, after working so many years at different veterinary clinics, you know how Chihuahuas are: that they extremely touchy and grouchy. And, because of your knowledge of Chihuahuas, you know that if you went to pet a Chihuahua and it predictably tried to bite you, you’d never say, “Oh dear, that Chihuahua must hate me!” No way! What you’d say instead is: “Isn’t that just like a Chihuahua for you?!” You’d know from all your years of experience that a Chihuahua trying to bite you is nothing personal because that’s simply what Chihuahuas do!”
I went on to say that if Dee could simply find a way to think of Donald as a grumpy, I’ll-bite-you-if-you-mess-with-me Chihuahua, then she just might understand that his grumpiness is nothing personal. The truth was that Donald tended to be grouchy with everyone: not just her! Before Dee had ever moved in with Donald, she’d told me several stories about how he’d gotten angry with friends and other family members. Donald just happened to be a very regimented person who liked his life and his household to be run in a very specific way.
The more Dee and I talked about Donald being a Chihuahua, the more we got to laughing. Dee can be hilarious at times and she made a long list of the ways in which Donald behaved just like a Chihuahua: how he’d stick out his chin and curl his lip whenever he started getting mad; how, despite the fact that Donald was short and scrawny, he didn’t hesitate to take on someone twice his size; how Donald would snap without warning just like a Chihuahua! We actually came up with a new name for Donald: we nicknamed him “Little Big Dog.”
From that point on, whenever I called to check up on Dee, the first thing I’d always asked was, “How’s Little Big Dog?” Though Dee still occasionally got her feelings hurt by Donald as well as there being times when he could make her spitting mad, for the most part, their relationship got a lot better once she started thinking of him as a Chihuahua. Dee told me that as long as she could keep seeing him as a Chihuahua, his negative remarks just didn’t bother her as much as they’d once had. She confessed that there’d even been a few times when she could stop herself from laughing out loud when Donald had done something particularly Chihuahua-like. Of course, she’d only get more tickled when he’d get annoyed and ask her: “What’s so damn funny?”
In the months and years after Dee and I dubbed Donald “Little Big Dog”, it got easier and easier for me to see people as various breeds of dogs. Not only was it comical at times but, most importantly, it made it possible for me to transform someone’s bad behavior (including my own) into something that instantly made sense in light of the particular breed(s) of dog that person happened to be.
One of the first times I tried doing this was with an elderly woman who lived in my apartment building in San Francisco. This woman was an extremely challenging person to be around as she did nothing but gossip. Her whole life revolved around setting fire to any rumor that might be going around the building. She loved to ambush me any time I was coming or going, force feeding me all the latest gossip she’d heard. I got to where I dreaded running into her and was almost at the point of telling her to please leave me alone when, magically one day, she was suddenly transformed into a prickly and peevish Pomeranian! She was the perfect Pomeranian: even sporting the same wild, frizzed-out hair of a Pomeranian that she kept dyed a fluorescent Lucy Ricardo red. The woman adored yapping in the same way that any self-respecting Pomeranian loves to yap! And, as anyone who’s ever been around Pomeranians knows, Pomeranians are small but they’re mighty and as tough as nails. What surprised me, though, was how once I started seeing her as a stressed-out, ankle-biting Pomeranian, the woman’s endless snipping just didn’t seem to bother me that much! I simply accepted that, like all good Pomeranians, she had no choice but to yap and complain about anything (and everything) that bothered her in the world!
Thinking of someone as a dog also helped me with a classmate of mine who, despite being a very nice person, had a habit of constantly giving me unappreciated (and unwanted) advice. I started avoiding her and even tried to not sit by her in class (which made me feel horrible about myself!) Then, as I’d had helped me before, I decided that I needed to try and think about what breed of dog she might be. What a difference it made when I finally realized that she was the perfect Australian Shepherd! For centuries, Australian Shepherds (Aussies) have been bred to herd all kinds of animals as a way of keeping those animals safe and under control. Clearly, my friend was simply trying to do the same thing with me! Being an Aussie, my friend was compelled to nip at my heels anytime she believed that I was going off track. Thankfully, just as it had with my Pomeranian neighbor, simply changing the way I saw my friend alleviated a lot of the frustration I’d been feeling towards her. With my new perspective, I was able to let her rattle on to her heart’s content giving me all kinds of advice because I know realized that it was her way of showing me that she cared. Interestingly, the less I resisted her advice, the less her advice bothered me and, most surprisingly, the less she seemed to feel compelled to give me advice!
Transforming people into dogs also turned out to be a big help with a boyfriend I once had. This particular boyfriend just loved to lay around all day doing absolutely nothing. He’d constantly put off things that he needed to do and, since I was a never-sit-still-for-a-minute Terrier, his laziness and procrastination drove me completely bonkers! Happily, things got a whole lot better between us the instant I started thinking of him as a lay-on-the-couch-all-day Bassett Hound! I couldn’t keep from laughing because he actually looked a bit like a Basset Hound! On top of having very heavily-lidded eyes, he also had a bit of a dangling jowl. I found that, if I squinted my eyes just right, his shoulder length hair could actually look a bit like long, floppy ears. Being able to see him as a Basset Hound helped me to accept him for the person that he was and he was naturally quite pleased when I quit nagging him as much about his lackadaisical approach to life. It wasn’t his fault that he’d been born a Bassett Hound! All of a sudden, it made perfect sense that he’d prefer lounging to exerting himself! Not only did I back off my ill-fated efforts to pry him loose from the couch, I actually tried to be more Hound-like myself (since, as a Laberrier, I was much too anxious and hyper for my own good!)
One of the most amazing things that I discovered was how much more likable people became once I’d transformed them into a dog! In the same way that the various ingredients in a stew share their flavors with one another, thinking of someone as a dog immediately imparts to that person a wonderful essence of dog! The adoration we can’t help but feel towards a dog is automatically going to be transferred to anyone we think of as a dog!
There was one aspect of transforming people into dogs took me completely by surprise: the way it caused a major metamorphosis in me! Amazingly, anytime I started to think of someone as a dog, I became a noticeably nicer person! Simply thinking of someone as a dog made me more thoughtful and compassionate in the same way that I’d be thoughtful and compassionate towards a real dog! I wonder just how much nicer this world might be if we could simply treat one another as nicely as we treat our dogs!
As the years have gone by, I’ve had many relationships improve as a result of my being able to think of someone as a dog. But, by far, the relationship that I’d hoped might improve the most was the relationship I had with my mom.
Growing up, my mom was the Sun at the center of my universe: always burning hot. She was always upset or mad about something and, as a child, I wanted nothing more than to see her happy. Unfortunately, my mom and dad had an extremely violent and contentious relationship where bad behavior was the norm. Completely obsessed with my dad, my mom couldn’t think of anything else: everything revolved around my dad’s drinking and womanizing. As my mom was Italian, she wasn’t one to suffer in silence so, if she was upset, everyone the whole wide world was going to know!
Being in public didn’t inhibit my mom in the least. My mom would cuss like she’d invented cussing and she didn’t care where she was or who she was around. If she felt like throwing a fit, she was going to throw a fit. It was terrifying to watch my mom lose control: it was also extremely humiliating and embarrassing. I repeatedly prayed to be invisible, that the Earth would simply swallow me whole as there were no limits to my mom’s fury. There were countless times when I’d thought she was going to kill my brother, sister or me as she raged down the road at ninety miles an hour, screaming and swearing that she’d get even with my dad one way or another.
It constantly felt as if I was living at the very edge of a great abyss and that, at any moment, I was going to be pushed over the edge. There was no predicting what kind of craziness would happen next. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, my mom’d yank us out of bed and load us (still in our pajamas) into the car. We’d drive around town half the night as she searched, crying and screaming, for my dad’s truck outside one of the countless bars in town. Sometimes, when we were all at home together, it felt like I was always waiting for a pot to boil over. I knew that, sooner or later, some kind of nasty remark would be exchanged between my mom and dad and, just like that, all hell would break loose. The same crazy scenario repeated itself over and over again like an episode out of the Twilight Zone: something nasty is said which leads to much yelling and screaming which leads to something getting broken (typically dishes) which leads to chairs being overturned as my dad hits and wrested my mom to the ground. At that point, all of us kids jump in as we try to get my dad off my mom. Luckily, the neighbors seem to know their part in our family drama and they always call the police before someone gets seriously hurt. I loved those flashing blue lights and the crackling radios because the police were the only ones who could make my parents to quit fighting (for at least a little while.)
Years later, even after I had grown children of my own, I continued to be hurt by the confusing relationship I had with my mom and dad. When my mom and dad finally divorced, I moved with my mom to California so that she could be close to her family and maintain a safe distance from my dad in Texas. At that point, I only had to deal with my mom on a day to day basis. Without my dad in the picture, I thought my mom would be more caring but, instead, she continued to be extremely self-absorbed. What most people do as a way of being polite and thoughtful (such as inquiring about another person’s life or well-being) was completely foreign to my mom. She simply had no concept of give and take: all she cared about was being able to take. The only time my mom ever showed any interest in someone else was when she could tell them everything they’re doing wrong.
After years of waiting for my mom to show me some kind of sign that she really cared for me but never getting one, I decided that I had to give up on her. I told myself that I simply had to let go of my unrealistic hope that, someday, my mom and I could be close. I was trying to get myself to give up on her about the time I came up with the people are like dogs philosophy and, unfortunately, that got me thinking that maybe I should give our relationship one more try. Being such an eternal optimist at heart, I couldn’t help but feel a small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, something might change for the better between my mom and I if I could start thinking of her as a dog.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard at to pick a certain breed of dog for my mom: her intensely antagonistic attitude simply screamed “Schipperke.” For those who aren’t familiar with Schipperkes, Schipperkes are the Tasmanian Devils of the dog world! They’re actually nick-named “LBD’s” or “Little Black Devils.” If anyone’s ever foolish enough to go head-to-head with a Schipperke, be forewarned that blood will be drawn and it won’t be the Schipperke’s!
My mom actually reminded me of a very specific Schipperke I’d once met when the owner brought the dog in for a check-up. The owner and I were busily discussing diet and other dog-related issues when the Schipperke started to get frustrated or bored because he wasn’t the complete center of our attention at that moment. Apparently deciding that it was high time that he express his displeasure, this little pint-sized ruffian promptly sauntered up to me, firmly grasped my pant leg in his teeth and then gave it a most violent shake back and forth! In all my many years as a veterinarian, I’d never seen a dog do such a thing! The nerve of that little stinker! The owner and I instantly cracked up and, after trying to guess what might have been going on inside the dog’s mind, we resumed our discussion. Well, that certainly didn’t sit well with the Schipperke! Clearly perturbed at our continued inattention, this thoroughly pissed-off pooch stomped over to where I was standing, indignantly raised his hind leg high in the air and promptly peed all over my shoe! THIS, DEAR READERS, IS MY MOM IN A NUTSHELL! If my mom doesn’t get what she wants when she wants it, she’ll shamelessly ratchet up the ante until she’s given whatever it is she wants!
Most people, when dealing with my mom, are quick to pick up on her volatility and, in order to play it safe, they simply give her whatever she wants in the hopes that she’ll go away as soon as possible! But, occasionally, someone will refuse to give in to my mom and my mom, consequently, makes sure that all hell breaks loose! For instance, a few years back, my mom was merrily making a fuss at the local Home Depot by insisting that she be given the sale price on some carpet that was no longer on sale. Since my mom wasn’t going to accept “no” for an answer, the sales person called the manager who politely explained why my mom couldn’t have the sale price. To make certain that the store manager realized that no one says “no” to my mom and lives to tell about it, my mom got louder and more vulgar. Finally pushed to his limit, the store manager informed my mom that, if she didn’t immediately stop her yelling and cursing, he’d have her escorted from the store by their security guard! And, all of this happened when my mom was in her late eighties! One can only imagine how she was in her prime!
What depresses me is how proud my mom is of her bad behavior! The entire time she was telling me about the Home Depot debacle, she was gloating as if she’d singlehandedly slayed a dragon. What’s even more sad is that the store manager finally gave my mom the sale price for the carpet! Can you believe it? So many times, I’ve asked my mom if she doesn’t feel a least a little bad about how she treats people, if she wouldn’t instead like to experience some harmony and camaraderie with people? Without a second’s hesitation, she’ll say, “Hell no, who cares what people think? I want what I want!”
Considering my history with my mom, I wasn’t overly hopeful that our relationship would change for the better simply because I started to think of her as a dog. Surprisingly, something did actually change though it wasn’t the change I’d been hoping for! Once my mom became a Schipperke in my mind, I no longer felt that her bad behavior was a personal attack on me (just as I hadn’t taken it personally when the Schipperke peed on my shoe.) My mom’s behavior didn’t change but I just wasn’t as devastated by the hurtful things she said and did as I had been before. My mom still has the ability to hurt me but it doesn’t seem to cut as deeply as it once did. The change I’m the most pleased about, though, is how I’m able to be more patient with her! I always felt horrible whenever I’d lose my temper with her or secretly harbored a lot of negative thoughts about her. Being able to be more patient and tolerant of her has made me feel so much better about myself and that was worth the effort of trying to think of her as a dog.
The hardest thing for me to overcome with respect to my mom was how, as a child, I’d convinced myself that I was to blame whenever she got mad at me: that somehow I’d said or done something to set her off. I’d convinced myself that I was the problem. I truly believed with all my heart that, if I could somehow change myself or the way I behaved, that my mom would no longer have a reason to be so frustrated and angry at me. I realize now that that she’s not going to change no matter what I do. There’s nothing that can be done that can change the fact that my mom was born a Schipperke and, as a Schipperke, she’s always going to find something to get upset about not only with me but with anyone who gets in her way. I know now that my mom simply doesn’t have the capacity (or desire) to change her behavior. The truth is she can no more control her behavior than could the Schipperke that peed on my shoe! What’s important for me to remember is that, just like the Schipperke that peed on my shoe, my mom’s behavior has very little to do with me personally. She behaves the way she does because that’s who she is. She’s not a Golden Retriever, she’s a Schipperke. That’s why nothing will ever change with my mom, especially considering the fact that my mom doesn’t want to change! It’s never easy for anyone to change but, if someone consciously makes a decision to try and change, there might at least be a chance that some amount of change can occur. But, if someone has no desire whatsoever to change, then it’s much less likely that change is going to happen.
It wasn’t easy to accept the finality of my mom’s temperament (her Schipperke-ness) and the fact that I wasn’t ever going to be able to be close to her. For as long as I could remember, I’d held on to the hope that, some day, a miracle would happen and my mom would magically turn into the Golden retriever that I’d always wanted her to be: someone who would not only be loving and sweet but who would be authentically interested and concerned about me. I’ve made as much peace as I can with the fact that that simply isn’t going to happen. I know now that my mom loves me in the best way that she can (as much as a Schipperke can) and, even though it’s never going to be the kind of love that I’d wanted from her, it’s simply the best that I’m going to get. This is simply the mother that I got and she’s never going to be anyone other than who she is.
The harshness of this can still break my heart at times though it’s gradually gotten easier to deal with time. I try to remind myself that, even though I may have not gotten what I’d wanted in a mom, I can’t overlook the fact that I’ve been extremely blessed in many other ways. It’s important that I constantly remember this truth because it keeps the sadness and regrets from tainting all the good that I’ve been given.
There’s no doubt that my mom’s behavior will still occasionally catch me off guard, that there will be times when she pushes my buttons: I’m not a robot! And, though I may understand intellectually that she’s a Schipperke, I’m still human and quite capable of being hurt. Feelings are both the joy and the curse of the human condition. Though I accept the limitations surrounding the relationship I have with my mom, acceptance doesn’t magically protect me from being hurt by her. That’s why I’ve learned to maintain a healthy emotional and physical distance from my mom in the same way that I’d keep a safe and healthy distance from a biting dog (managing difficult relationships which is covered in Chapter 8 will discuss this in more detail.)
The absolute best thing to come from the realization that my mom’s a Schipperke is an entirely new emotion that I don’t remember ever feeling towards my mom: compassion. I actually now feel quite sorry for my mom: sorry that she’s had to live her life as a Schipperke and that she’s always at war with the world. I know that if I’d been forced to live my mom’s life, I would have been totally miserable! I can’t imagine living a life where, every day, day in and day out, all one does is argue and fight. What’s even worse is the fact that my mom’s not really close to anyone. Of course, because she’s a Schipperke, my mom doesn’t feel that there’s anything at all wrong with her or her life! She thinks that being a Schipperke is the only way to be because, as she loves to boast, she always gets her way! I think it’s incredibly sad that my mom’s incapable of trusting anyone (even me!), that her entire life is focused on getting the best of someone else before they get the best of her. Conflict energizes my mom and, as a result, her primary focus in life is doing whatever needs to be done to prove that she’s right and everyone else is wrong! How sad is that? Even though, in her mind, she feels like she’s on top of the world, I now feel incredibly sorry for her.
For me to have ever attained this level of acceptance towards my mom, I had to do two things: I had to accept what is so and secondly, I had to quit clinging to what I wished could be so. I think that I would have had a much more difficult time doing these two things if I hadn’t started thinking of my mom as a Schipperke. Thinking of her as a dog made it possible for me to accept her in a way that I’d never been able to do before. Thinking of her as a dog helped me to accept that she has no choice but to be the person she was born to be genetically (just as is true for all of us.) We may not like someone but we can’t blame them for the DNA they received at birth.
So, I’ve come full circle now because the acceptance and peace of mind that I now feel towards my mom has in turn altered my life. I no longer feel that either of us is at fault. I know my mom can’t help being who she is and that I can’t help being who I am. Being at peace with my mom is, by far, the best testimony that I could ever give for the People Are Like Dogs philosophy. Simply learning how to think of people as dogs can heal relationships and not only the relationships we have with other people but the relationship we have with ourselves.
I hope that you’ll read on so you too might be able to find some peace of mind towards yourself and others. The truth is: we’re all so much more lovable as dogs! Woof!
(*The real names of Dee and Donald have been changed.)