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 by breaking free from the fixed ways we’ve viewed ourselves in the past.
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 those two breeds as I’d always wanted to please and to be of service (like a Lab) in addition to having a compulsive need to do ten things at once and to constantly be in control (like a Jack Russell terrier.)
Labs believe that the whole wide world is their playground and, consequently, that boundaries are to be ignored. Labs will 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 adore everyone and anyone! Labs never experience a moment’s hesitation about plopping their big muddy paws all over someone in their eternal 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 exhausting to be around at times as they often cross the line of simply being friendly to being intrusive and invasive. As a Lab, I constantly struggle with my desire 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 been made clear that someone doesn’t want my help! Labs are just too much at times. One thing that can be said about us Labs, though, is that we always have the best of intentions! Despite the fact that we can be annoying as we cluelessly jump and slobber all over everyone, in our hearts 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 and that energy is used to make sure that things go the way the Terrier wants them to go! Terriers are stubborn as mules and, as a result of that stubbornness, they have the ability to whittle down the resolve of even the toughest competitor. My dad always said my mind was like a steel trap and that, once an idea had gotten stuck in my head, I’d never let it go. A Terrier’s motto is “Do or die!” Consequently, terriers aren’t the most considerate of breeds as they always put their own concerns in front of everyone else’s!
Of course, until several years ago, I didn’t realize 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. All my life, I’d felt like a leaf being tossed around by a raging river and that the very best that I could do was to simply try and stay afloat. Being a Terrier, though, I simply wasn’t happy when I wasn’t in control. Yet, feeling like a leaf in which the river (Life) could do whatever it wanted with me, I constantly felt helpless and hopeless. Nothing made sense. Being a Lab, I craved connection and for my life to have purpose. Yet, both of those quests had mostly been hit and miss. I was continually miserable as to why my life didn’t work, why everything was a constant struggle. Never having figured out how to accept myself for who I was, I simply floundered through a succession of roles: daughter, sister, student, girlfriend, wife, mother, veterinarian. I viciously critiqued everything I did and, as a result, never felt any true sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. Instead, I constantly felt that I could have and should have done better, that if I’d simply tried harder, I could have been a better person.
In my forties, after a series of unexpected and very unsettling events concerning my family and work as a veterinarian (things I’ll discuss further in later chapters), I made the fateful decision to abandon ship by selling both my home and the veterinary clinic I’d owned for seventeen years. Not only did I desperately need a break from being a veterinarian but, most crucially, I needed a break from the toxic relationships in my life.
Becoming and being a veterinarian had monopolized and defined my life up to the point I sold my veterinary practice. Yet, being completely immersed inside the running of my own veterinary clinic had gradually, bite by bite, managed to 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 and physically depleted and had reached the point where I could no longer do it anymore. Thoroughly exhausted, I raised the white flag and surrendered. I didn’t care what it cost. All I knew was that I needed to escape. Most importantly, I needed to discover if there was some other way for me to live, if there was something else that I might find to do that wouldn’t break my heart out on a daily basis. I needed to see if it was possible for me to find a bit of joy and peace in my life.
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. As both of my daughters had recently graduated from high school and were out on their own, there was nothing pressing to tie me down: no home, no business, no kids. I can’t say that there weren’t moments when I was terrified over what I’d done, that I’d completely dismantled everything that had defined me as a person up to that moment in my life. But, my need to survive trumped my need for security and safety in the staying with what was familiar. I knew at my very core that if I didn’t take a break from the cage I’d built for myself, if I didn’t take some time for myself, that there was no telling what bad things might happen. Despite some nagging fears and doubts, most of the time I was in my car driving across the country, I was blessed with an incredible sense of freedom, that I had managed to somehow sprout wings and was now way up in the blue of the sky smiling down on myself. For the first time since I’d left my home for college, I was as free as I could possibly be! It felt like I was inside a dream. It was almost impossible for me to believe that somehow, in the midst of all the insanity, I’d miraculously managed to extricate myself from everything that had been sucking the life out of me. All I had to do now was to figure out what to do with my life from here!
Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever guessed that it would take me three years to finally decompress from the crazy life I’d been living. Apparently, before I was ever going to be able to figure out what was next in my life, I was going to have to calm down and unwind first. As a Terrier, I was used to being in constant motion without a moment to think. It was so much harder that I could have ever imagined to climb off my hamster wheel. The truth was I didn’t know how to not be constantly busy. Not having work and kids to occupy my every thought turned out to be a good thing in the long run as I was able to finally take note of a theory I’d developed while being a veterinarian as to how people were a lot like dogs.
I must have been gradually forming this theory (as to how people were like dogs) throughout my many years as a veterinarian but I hadn’t actually ever been conscious of it. All it took was all that free time and the right set of circumstances to bring my theory of people being like dogs out 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 absentmindedly answered my phone only to hear the hysterical sobs of my best friend of twenty years, Dee.* Since Dee was most definitely not one to cry easily, I instantly knew that something had to be terribly wrong. I tried asking her what was wrong but she was just too distraught to speak for several seconds. All I could think to say was “It’s going to be alright, Dee, it’s going to be alright” over and over until she was able to calm down enough to tell me the last thing I ever expected her to say: that she was dying! She told me that she’d been sick off and on for several months but hadn’t been too concerned until things took a sudden turn for the worse. As she told me about her symptoms, I immediately realized that she was going to need someone to be with her until she got to the bottom of what was going on with her medically. I told Dee to hang tight, that I was going to rearrange my schedule and would try to be at her house by sometime late that evening (she lived about five hours away.)
When I reached Dee’s house, she told me that she hadn’t been to a doctor yet because not only didn’t she have any health insurance but she had been too terrified of what the doctor would say to her. I told her that I’d take her to the emergency room the next morning and, together, we’d get to the bottom of things. The next day, Dee saw a doctor who was able to diagnose her condition and, though it wasn’t good news, the doctor reassured Dee that, with time, she should make a full recovery. In the meantime, the doctor said she was going to definitely need someone to take care of her.
Dee was a very independent and private person, so hearing that she was going to need someone to take care of her did not go over well. After a lot of discussion, Dee begrudgingly agreed to contact her older brother, Donald* who lived reasonably close to her. Donald was amazing and he rushed to Dee’s rescue like a knight in shining armor. Together, Donald and I got Dee’s belongings packed up. Afterwards, Donald took Dee home to live with him until she was improved enough to live on her own again.
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 and beliefs. Dee was an outside-the-box, hippie-at-heart who bucked the system and hated the regimentation of rules. To make matters worse, she was a bit of a slob. Donald, on the other hand, lived his life as a holy testament to his twenty years in the Marines. Each and every item in Donald’s life had its proper place and each and every thing Donald did was done with precision and mastery. As one can 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 could move out and be on her own.
As Dee and I had become friends while working at the same veterinary clinic, we frequently discussed our personal pets and reminisced about the veterinary clinic where we’d worked together. Despite that fact that it wasn’t unusual for Dee and I to talk about various dogs and cats, I could tell that I completely caught Dee off guard one evening when I suddenly blurted out: “Dee, you’ve simply got to start thinking of Donald as a Chihuahua!”
As there was no response from Dee, I assumed she was temporarily stunned into silence and I simply waited patiently to hear what she had to say. What she said was, “Say what?”
And, as simple as that, my theory about people being like dogs was born. At the time, I was simply trying to say something that would make Dee laugh, to feel a little less depressed. I wasn’t completely sure myself what I’d meant when I’d told Dee to start thinking of Donald as a Chihuahua. But, as I began winging it, my entire theory about people being like dogs started fitting together like the pieces of a puzzle.
I said, “Dee, after working countless years at various veterinary clinics, I know you know that Chihuahuas are quite touchy and grouchy. I also know that you know that if you were to try and pet a Chihuahua and it (predictably) tried to bite you, you’d never ever say, “Oh, that Chihuahua hates me!” No, what you’d say is: “Isn’t that just like a Chihuahua for you?!” I know you know from all your years of experience working for veterinarians that when a Chihuahua tries to bite you, it’s not personal since that’s simply the way Chihuahuas are!”
I told Dee that if she could simply get herself to start thinking of Donald as a grumpy, I’ll-bite-you-if-you-mess-with-me Chihuahua, then she’d be on her way to understanding that Donald’s grumpiness is nothing personal. The truth was that Donald was grouchy with almost everyone: not simply her! Before Dee had moved in with Donald, she’d told me multiple stories about how Donald would get angry with his friends and other family members. Donald just happened to be a very regimented person who liked his life and his household run in a very specific way.
The more Dee and I talked about Donald being a Chihuahua, the more we got to laughing. Dee is a natural comedienne and she’s absolutely hilarious at times. Dee started making a list of all the different ways in which Donald would behave just like a Chihuahua: how he’d stick out his chin and curl his lip whenever he got mad; how, despite the fact that Donald was short and scrawny, he never hesitated 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’d call to check up on Dee, the first thing I’d ask was, “How’s Little Big Dog?” Even though Dee still managed to get her feelings hurt by Donald on occasion, their relationship improved immensely once she started thinking of him as a Chihuahua. Dee told me that as long as she could picture Donald as a Chihuahua in her mind, Donald’s negative remarks simply didn’t bother her as much as they had before. She even told me that there’d been a few times when she couldn’t stop laughing when Donald had done something particularly “Chihuahua-like”. She told me she’d only gotten more tickled when Donald yelled at her asking, “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 imagine people as various breeds of dogs. Not only was it comical at times but, most importantly, it allowed me to transform someone’s bad behavior into a behavior that made sense when I considered the breed of dog I was imagining that individual to be.
One of the first times I remember doing this was with an elderly woman who lived in my apartment building in San Francisco. This woman was extremely challenging to be around as she did nothing but bad mouth everyone in the apartment building. Her whole life revolved around setting fire to any rumor she might have heard from other tenants. She adored ambushing me any time I was coming or going, force feeding me all the latest gossip she’d heard. It got to be where I absolutely dreaded bumping into her and was almost to the point of telling her to please leave me alone when, one day, I magically transformed into a very prickly and peevish Pomeranian! A Pomeranian was the perfect breed to represent her appearance as she sported the same wild, frizzed-out hair that Pomeranian’s do except that hers was dyed a fluorescent Lucy Ricardo red. The woman’s personality matched that of a Pomeranian as she adored yapping and yipping in the same frenetic way that all self-respecting Pomeranians loves to yip and yap! As anyone who’s ever been around Pomeranians knows, Pomeranians are small but mighty and they’re tough as nails. What was most pleasantly surprising about the whole transformation was how, once I’d started thinking of her as a stressed-out, ankle-biting Pomeranian, the woman’s endless gossiping actually didn’t seem to bother me that much anymore! I simply accepted that, like all good Pomeranians, she had no choice in the matter: she was compelled like all Pomeranians to yap about anything and everything that bothered her!
Thinking of someone as a dog also helped me with a classmate of mine who, despite being a very nice person, had a tiresome habit of constantly giving me unappreciated and unwanted advice. I’d started avoiding her around school and had even avoided sitting by her in class (which made me feel terrible about myself!) Then, as thinking of someone as a dog had helped me before, I decided that I needed to think of what kind of dog would explain her tendency to constantly give advice. I finally came to the conclusion that she was the epitome of an 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, she felt compelled to nip at my heels anytime she concluded that I was going off track. Thankfully, just as it had with my Pomeranian neighbor, merely changing the way I pictured my friend dissipated a lot of the frustration I’d been feeling towards her. With my new perspective, I allowed her to rattle on to her heart’s content because I realized that it was simply her way of showing that she cared. Oddly, the less I resisted her advice, the less she seemed compelled to give me advice! Maybe simply allowing her to be the person (or dog) she was made her less insistent because she sensed there was no longer any resistance on my part.
Learning how to transform people into dogs also also turned out to be a big help with a boyfriend I once had. This particular boyfriend loved laying around all day doing absolutely nothing. He’d put off things that he needed to do and was forever late. In the eyes of a never-sit-still-for-a-minute Terrier such as myself, his laziness and procrastination was a major bummer and it drove my absolutely bonkers! Fortunately, things improved the moment I started thinking of him as a lay-on-the-couch-all-day Bassett Hound! Once the idea of the Bassett Hound came to me, I realized that 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 that was accentuated by his sideburns (which were quite long back in the 1970’s.) I discovered that, if I squinted my eyes just right, his shoulder length hair actually looked a lot like long, floppy ears. Picturing him as a Basset Hound helped me immensely to be able to simply accept him for the person that he was. Of course, he was quite pleased when I stopped nagging him all the time about his lackadaisical approach to life. I reasoned that it wasn’t his fault that he’d been born a Bassett Hound! Once I saw him as a Bassett Hound, it made perfect sense that he’d prefer lounging around all day to exerting himself in the way that I did as a Terrier! Not only did I back off my ill-fated efforts to try and pry him loose from the couch, I actually tried to be a bit more Hound-like myself since, as a Laberrier, I was definitely much too anxious and hyper for my own good!
One of the most amazing things that I discovered when I would transform someone into a particular breed of dog was just how much more likable people were as dogs! In the same way that all the different ingredients in a stew share their flavors with one another, thinking of someone as a dog imparts to that person the wonderful essence of dog! The adoration we instinctively feel towards dogs is automatically transferred to anyone we choose to think of as a dog!
There was one aspect of transforming people into dogs that took me completely by surprise: the way it created a major metamorphosis in me! Anytime I started thinking of someone as a dog, I immediately became a noticeably nicer person! Thinking of someone as a dog caused me to be much more thoughtful and compassionate similar to the way I’d be with a real dog! How much nicer might the whole world be if we could simply treat one another as nicely as we do a dog?
In the years that 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 hoped to 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. Being Italian, she was always upset or mad about something and, as a child, all I wanted was for her to be happy. Sadly, my mom and dad had a violent and contentious relationship where bad behavior was the norm. Completely obsessed with my dad, my mom was incapable of thinking of anything else: everything revolved around my dad’s failure to ever get home on time because of his drinking and womanizing. My mom was definitely not one to suffer in silence: if she was upset, everyone in the whole wide world was going to know about it!
Unfortunately, being in public didn’t inhibit my mom in the least. My mom could 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 for me as a child to watch my mom completely lose control. As I got older, it was humiliating and embarrassing. I repeatedly prayed to be invisible, wishing that the Earth would simply swallow me whole since there were apparently no limits to my mom’s fury once she was pissed. There were times when I thought she was going to kill my brother, sister and I as she raged down the road at ninety miles an hour, screaming and swearing that she’d get even with my dad for the latest stunt he’d pulled.
It felt as if we were all living at the precipice of a giant abyss and that, at any moment, we were going to go over the edge. There was no predicting what kind of craziness was going to happen next. All I knew was that something horrible was sure to happen at some point. There were times in the middle of the night when my mom would yank us kids out of bed and load us (still in our pajamas) into the car. She’d drive us around town half the night as she frantically searched (all the while crying and screaming) for my dad’s truck outside one of the countless bars in town. Other times, when all of us were at home together, the tension was so high that I felt like I was always waiting for a fight to erupt. I knew, sooner or later, some remark would pass between my mom and dad and, like a volcano, all Hell would break loose. The same crazy scenarios repeated themselves over and over again like some kind of episode out of the Twilight Zone: the wrong thing would be said; nasty remarks resulting in a lot of yelling and screaming; something would inevitably get broken or thrown (typically dishes); then there’d be the rapid shuffling of feet and chairs overturning as my dad chased down my mom, hitting and wrestling her to the ground. At that point, all us kids would try in vain to get our dad off of our mom. Luckily, the neighbors seem to know their cue in our family drama and, before long, they’d call the police who’d show up before someone got seriously hurt. I worshiped those flashing red and blue lights and the wonderful crackling radios because I knew that the police were the only ones who would ever be able to get my parents to quit fighting (at least for a little while.)
Years later, even after I had grown children of my own, I continued to be hurt by the confusing and unpredictable relationships I had with my mom and dad. When my mom and dad finally divorced right before I graduated from veterinary school, I decided to move my mom to California so that she could be around her family who lived there and thereby hopefully maintain a safe distance from my dad in Texas. After our move to California, I only had to deal with my mom on a day to day basis. Without my dad in the picture, I had hoped that my mom might be more caring and more interested in us kids but, unfortunately, she continued to be a very self-absorbed person. What most people do as a way of simply being polite and thoughtful (such as inquiring about another person’s life or well-being) was completely foreign to my mom. She had no concept whatsoever of give and take: all she could seem to focus on was what she wanted or needed. It was heartbreaking for all of us kids because the only time our mom ever managed to show any interest in us was when she was telling us what we’d done wrong.
After years of waiting for my mom to show me a sign that she really cared for me, I made up my mind that it was high time for me to finally let go of my unrealistic hopes that my mom and I would ever be close. About this time, though, I’d just started using my people are like dogs theory and I decided that I’d give my relationship with my mother one more try. Being an eternal optimist (the Lab inside of me), I couldn’t help but feel a minuscule glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, something might change for the better between my mother and I if I could start thinking of her as a dog.
It turned out that it wasn’t hard at all to pick a 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 is 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 certain Schipperke I’d once met when the dog’s owner brought him in for a check-up. As the Schipperke’s owner and I were discussing diet and other dog-related issues, I noticed that the Schipperke was starting to act agitated (possibly because he wasn’t the center of our attention at that moment?) Whatever the cause, the Schipperke apparently decided that it was high time that he express his agitation, so, this little pint-sized ruffian decided to saunter over to me and, firmly grasping my pant leg in his teeth, he shook my pants back and forth in a frenzy! In all my years as a veterinarian, I’d never had a dog do such a thing! The nerve of that little stinker! The owner and I cracked up and, after trying to guess what might have set the dog off, we resumed our discussion. Well, ignoring the Schipperke was not going to fly as far as he was concerned! Clearly perturbed at our continued inattention, this pissed-off little pooch stomped over to where I was standing and, quite indignantly, he raised his hind leg high in the air and proceeded to pee 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 and tirelessly ratchet up the ante until she gets whatever she wants!
Most people, when dealing with my mom, quickly pick up on her volatility and, in a bid to play it safe, they simply give her whatever she wants in the hope that she’ll go away as soon as possible! Occasionally, though, someone will stand up to my mom and, instantly, my mom makes it her mission to make sure that person will regret it! Once, a few years back, my mom was making a fuss at the local Home Depot, insisting that she be given the sale price on some carpet that was no longer on sale. Since my mom was clearly not going to accept “no” for an answer, the sales person called the manager who politely tried to explain to my mother why she couldn’t have the sale price. To make certain that the store manager realized that no one says “no” to her and lives to tell about it, my mom got progressively louder and more vulgar. Finally, pushed to his limit, the store manager informed my mother that, if she didn’t immediately stop her yelling and cursing, he’d have her escorted out the store by their security guard! This occurred when my mom was in her late eighties! The reader can only imagine how she behaved in her prime!
What always depressed me was how proud my mom was 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 telling is that the store manager finally broke down and gave my mom the sale price for the carpet! Can you believe it? So many times, I’d ask my mom if she didn’t feel at least a little bad about how she treats people, if she wouldn’t instead like to experience some harmony and camaraderie with people? Without any hesitation whatsoever, my mom’d say, “Hell no, who cares what people think? I simply want what I want!”
Considering my history with my mom, I wasn’t overly optimistic that our relationship would change for the better simply because I’d decided to start thinking of her as a Schipperke. Shockingly, there was something that changed though it wasn’t the change that I’d been hoping for! Once my mom became a Schipperke in my mind, what changed was that 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 in the least. What changed was that I wasn’t as devastated by the hurtful things she’d say to me and do as I had before I thought of her as a Schipperke. My mom still had the ability to hurt me but it just didn’t seem to cut so deeply as it once had. The change I was most pleased about, though, was how I was able to be so much more patient with her! I’d always felt terrible whenever I’d lose my temper with her or would secretly harbor a lot of negative feelings towards her. Being able to be more patient and tolerant of her has allowed me to feel so much better about myself and that was well worth the effort to took to try and think of her as a Schipperke.
The hardest thing for me to overcome with my mom was how I’d convinced myself (especially as a child) that I was the one to blame whenever she got mad at me: that, somehow, I’d said or done something to set her off. Throughout my life, I’d believed that I was the problem when it came to my mom, that if I could have found a way to change myself or the way I behaved, my mom wouldn’t have a reason to be so frustrated and angry with me. I realize now that that my mom wasn’t going to be able to change no matter what I did or didn’t do. Nothing can change the fact that my mom was born a Schipperke and, as a Schipperke, she’s 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 didn’t have the capacity (or desire) to change her behavior. The truth is that my mom could no more control her behavior than could that Schipperke that peed on my shoe! What was important for me to understand is that, just like the Schipperke that peed on my shoe, my mom’s behavior had very little to do with me personally. My mother behaved the way she did because that’s who she was as a human being. My mom could never be a Golden Retriever because she’d been born a Schipperke. That’s why nothing could ever change with my mom, especially considering the fact that my mom never wanted to change! It’s not easy for anyone to change but, if someone consciously chooses to try their hardest to change, there might at least be a small chance that some change can occur. But, if someone (like my mom) has no desire whatsoever to change, then it’s not very likely that any 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 like some people are close to their mothers. For as long as I can remember, I’ve held on to a hope that, one day, my mom would miraculously transform into the Golden retriever that I’d always wanted her to be: someone who’d not only be loving and sweet but who’d be authentically interested in me. I’ve made as much peace as I can with the fact that my mother didn’t have the ability or desire to change. I know now that my mom loved me in the best way that she could (as much as a Schipperke can) and, even though it was never going to be the kind of love that I’d wanted from her, it was the best that she had to give. My mom is simply the mother that I got in this world and I can’t hold it against her that she wasn’t able to be anything other than the person she was born to be.
The harshness of this still breaks my heart at times though, with time, it’s gradually gotten easier to deal with. I try to remind myself that, even though I may have not gotten what I’d wanted from my mom, I can’t overlook the fact that I’ve been extremely blessed in countless other ways. It’s important that I constantly remind myself of this truth because it’s the only thing that can keep the sadness and regret from tainting all the good that I’ve received in my life.
Even after I accepted my mom as a Schipperke, there were still times that my mom’s behavior caught me off guard, that she was still able to push my buttons. After all, I’m not a robot. Though I understood intellectually that my mom was Schipperke, I am still a human being and quite capable of being hurt by someone I love. Feelings are both the joy and the curse of the human condition. Though I accepted the limitations surrounding the relationship I had with my mom, acceptance didn’t protect me from being hurt by her. That’s why I had to maintain a healthy emotional and physical distance from my mom in the same way that I would have kept a safe and healthy distance from a biting dog (this is discussed in the chapter titled Managing Difficult Relationships.)
The best thing to come from the realization that my mom was a Schipperke was an emotion that I don’t remember ever having felt towards my mom: compassion. I was actually able to feel quite sorry for my mom: that she had to live her life as a Schipperke and that she was always at war with the world. I know that if I’d been forced to live my mom’s life, I would have been completely miserable! I can’t imagine living a life where, every day, day in and day out, all one does is argue and fight. The saddest thing was that my mom wasn’t really close to anyone. Of course, being a Schipperke, my mom didn’t feel in the least that there was anything wrong with her or her life! She thought that being a Schipperke was the only way to be since, as she loved to boast, she always got her way! I think it’s tragic that my mom was completely in capable of trusting anyone (including me!), that her entire life was focused on getting the best of someone else before they could get the best of her. Conflict energized my mom and, as a consequence, her primary focus in life was doing whatever needed to be do to prove that she was right and everyone else was wrong! Though my mom always felt like she was on top of the world, I see now what she missed out on as a result of being a Schipperke. I’m so thankful for the compassion I now feel towards my mother.
For me to have ever attained this level of acceptance and compassion towards my mom, I had to do two things: I had to accept what was 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 hadn’t ever been able to do before. Thinking of her as a dog helped me to accept that she had no choice but to be the person that she was born to be (as is true for all of us.) We may not like someone’s behavior but we can’t really blame a person or a dog for the DNA that they received at birth.
The acceptance and peace of mind that I now feel towards my mother has completely altered my life. I no longer feel that either of us was at fault in our flawed relationship. I accept that my mom couldn’t help being the person she was and that I couldn’t help being the person that 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, most importantly, the relationship we have with ourselves.
I hope that you’ll read on so you too might 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.)