Understanding the Animals in our Lives

Last Saturday, Shirley Lynn and I (Lucy) led a workshop on enhancing connections with our animal companions. The group shared stories about our connections with animals past and present. We spent quite a bit of time talking about what connection really means and how we go about achieving it. In preparing for this workshop, I spent a lot of time thinking about my connections with the dogs and cats in my life now and in the past. What have I learned from these relationships?

One of my biggest revelations has been to view the world from the perspective of my animal. To actually put myself on the same physical level to see what they see, what catches their attention. I don’t think it was any one animal that asked me to do this, but on numerous occasions when out walking with a dog, I would notice them intently looking at or reacting to something that appeared relatively benign to me. But when I got down to their level, things looked very different and my perspective shifted. *To see what I mean, and especially if you have a little animal, I urge you to lay down on the sidewalk and experience the world from that level. Any wonder that it could be a little frightening and intimidating?

By observing the world from the perspective of the animals in our presence gives us a broader understanding of them as well as our world. Taking that extra moment to pause and look at things from a different position gives us greater insight and appreciation – for the other being as well as the situation at hand. How can that stray plastic bag be anything but alarming yet intriguing? Who’s been to the lamppost today that everyone leaves their ‘post-it notes’ on? How do we react to strangers who immediately want to touch and request tricks? The examples are endless…

One of the exercises we did in the workshop was to put ourselves in the paws/claws/hooves of an animal companion and look at ourselves from their perspective and experience. What do they see? What do they feel? What do they wish from and for us? *I invite you to try this on your own. Truly allow yourself to be open to the insights you receive. Do they see a happy loving person who engages authentically with them and others? Do they see someone who is angry and aggressive, someone who is scary to be around? Are you respectful and trustworthy to them and others? Do you consistently provide fresh water, good food, interesting walks and other stimulation?

For the most part, we have chosen to have our animals live with us in our world. So the responsibility rests on us to make that a positive experience for them. But I also believe that who that animal is and when they join us on our life journey isn’t totally random.

I have a friend who is struggling a lot with her dog’s [mis]behaviour and she is getting increasingly frustrated and angry with him. She acknowledges that her rage is really not about her dog but still he bears the brunt of it because he’s there and repeatedly triggers her anger. Regrettably they are in a perpetual cycle of extreme frustration, anger and unconnectedness. While the situation isn’t easy for either of them, and resolution seems to be far-removed, I believe he is in her life to help her confront this demon (none of her previous animals were strong enough to stand in the face of it).

I think that if she would step inside her dog for a bit to see and feel what he does, she would be able to find her way forward in a way that she never envisioned. She would realize he loves her so much that he is willing to stay on this tumultuous journey with her. His courage and tenacity would surely inspire her. He is calling out for help in a way that she has been unable to. She would see that he has not, nor will not, abandon her in her darkest moments. She would see that he is her rock.

And in return, he wants a trustworthy and loving partner in her. Someone who looks out for him, provides for him in ways that he can’t for himself. Someone who makes life simpler, not harder. Someone who understands and loves him for who he really is and hopes to become.

And when it comes right down to it, isn’t that what we all want in our relationships – human and otherwise?

Submitted by Lucy Martin