A Christmas reflection
This is Maxie. We took him on as a rescue dog seven years ago. When I first met him, I thought he was very sweet, sitting in his kennel, forlorn, with big begging eyes. For anyone who has a dog, you know exactly what I mean.
But I have a confession. I’m not really a dog person. The suggestion would bring loud protests of laughter from my wife Sue and all my girls. But, and this is a big but, they are all dog people. So, I have some simple choices in life, one of which is, if I want to live harmoniously with dog people, I need to move the dial up my emotional register of dog love. Maxie, though…well, let’s just say I’ve had to put a lot more effort into moving my dial for him.
We soon concluded after we brought Maxie home that he probably hadn’t received much care or love from his first owners (we believe he was abandoned). He imprinted on Sue more than anyone else and would fret whenever she left him, even if it was to check the mail. In fact, every time she came into the back of the house, which was Maxie’s domain, it was as though she had returned from some long overseas trip that had taken her out of his life for months on end.
An anxious doggy
Maxi had lots of anxious behaviours. One sign of his stress was that he would tear things up. Tissues and toilet paper were his favourite, but he could expand his repertoire to include one of our sofas and many iterations of his bedding.
I’m glad that Maxie finally grew out of this behaviour. He occasionally showed anxiety over the years, but generally has been much better. (There was an incident where he became an overnight fugitive, being spooked by an insect zapper every time an unsuspecting mosquito flew toward the light and got fried. We’d forgotten to turn it off when we left the house and returned to discover that he squeezed through a tiny opening in a bedroom window and ran away. Mosquitos being zapped must obviously be traumatic for him. Thankfully we found him after much of our own fretting the next day. The zapper went into the bin that day too.)
Sue and Rachel, my youngest, put up our Christmas tree earlier this week and laid out some presents. We thought that Maxie would be fine as he’s shown no interest in ripping up things for years. However, Maxie being ever resourceful decided to prove us all wrong. One day when we were all out of the house he decided to unwrap one of the presents, as you can see by the next image.
The amazing thing is that the gift, some delicate beeswax wraps, remained perfectly intact. Somehow, he patiently chewed the outer tissue wrapping paper and removed it from the gift.
After my initial shock, I had to applaud his skill. There wasn’t a single tooth mark on the wax wraps. But why the stressful behaviour now? Christmas coming up perhaps? It will remain a mystery.
Expecting Maxie not to stress doesn’t help anyone
I’ve learned that good breeders won’t allow puppies to leave their mothers before they are at least eight weeks old. They need the time to attach to their mother and siblings for their own sense of security. If a puppy hasn’t attached properly and you add to that neglect and possible abuse, you can end up with one anxious dog.
As much as Maxie gets the attention and care he needs now, there are some things we can’t undo. So, I keep telling myself, be patient and don’t tempt Maxie.
What about us?
Maxie has become a bit of a metaphor in my Christmas reflections. I wonder, if this is what happens with dogs, how much more so does this apply to us? I mean, us humans. Neglect, abuse, mistreatment, misunderstanding will always find a way of leaking out in our behaviour that may not have an obvious connection to its source. Often we can look at other people’s “challenging” behaviour and come up with all sorts of conclusions that are two-dimensional:
That person is so shallow… She always brings the conversation back to herself… He is nothing but a bully… They always think the worst…All he does is whinge…She is such a racist!
Our observations may be accurate, in one sense, but having a two-dimensional view of someone is really like treating them as a caricature, rather than as a real person. Let’s face it, it takes thought and humility on our part to go beyond the caricature. We may even get some satisfaction from looking down at others, if we are to be honest.
Self reflection and forgiveness
It’s a sad fact that a season we traditionally celebrate as “peace and goodwill to all” involves some of the highest incidence of stress, anxiety and domestic abuse on our calendar. Perhaps it is because our stresses and anxieties finally spill over when we are actually brought into closer proximity to others experiencing the same sorts of things. This may become even more evident at the end of an extremely disruptive year.
Coming up to this Christmas season why don’t we try to get below the surface of our own behaviours as well as not treating other people as caricatures, even when they behave badly? I guess that is another way of saying, let’s be more self-reflecting and forgiving. After all, I might be the caricature in the other person’s story of me.
But, I’ll leave the final word from someone infinitely kinder and wiser than me:
so, in everything, do to others as you would have them do to youJesus