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The best therapist in the world can be our dog enthusiastically wagging its tail to greet us
as we come home.
Sometimes when we are working in therapy or as a therapist, counsellor or psychologist, we really wish to give our clients everything they think they need and want. In therapy though, sometimes what is best is us holding appropriate boundaries for them, until they know how to do that for themselves. Part of the therapy work is being real and authentic and rolemodelling a ‘no’ to certain of their destructive patterns and behaviors. An unconditional ‘yes’ to continuing addictions or self harming is not helpful to the person.
I recently saw an English television programme about dogs and their owners. Now those who know me totally understand that I am a complete softy about dogs and frequently post about dogs on my Facebook page. It takes me a supreme effort not to allow the dog on the bed, at least for not more than one minute! Which I am well aware is a double message to the poor animal. Many of us dog lovers actually feel and believe that they are almost human and they are certainly treated as part of the family. We sometimes relate to them with more love than other family members. It is said in certain circles that the form of the dog is their last incarnation before they return in their next life as a human being!
Their unconditional love, total loyalty, seemingly understanding of our moods and sometimes child – like mischievous behaviour touches our heart. Their absolute acceptance of us in all but ongoing abusive circumstances connects us to our loving nature more than some people do. Dogs can teach us how to be in the present moment and let go of the past. They are always so happy to see us and can shift our moods and help us out of depression or anxiety.
This programme though, really started me thinking about how we came to a sorry state of affairs where people dress their Chihuahua and bulldogs in wedding dresses and obsessively insist that their pet only eat scrambled eggs for breakfast, chicken for lunch and steak for dinner! The dogs eat better than most people in third world countries. The owners spend hundreds of pounds buying little wellington boots to prevent their paws from getting wet and paintings for their dogs to gaze at so they won’t get bored! They are carried everywhere in handbags and sleep in the bed under the doona! Having a dog used to mean that we would at least take them and therefore ourselves in the process, for one or two walks a day. Now it seems, there is an epidemic of overweight dogs and people. Vets are continuously treating overweight animals through overfeeding and lack of exercise.
One man said that he was taking his dog for a walk and showed him sitting on a motorized bike with the dog perched sitting on a flat sidecar being pulled along. No walking happening there! These folk were obsessed with the animal to the exclusion of everything else. Yes, pets provide an escape from loneliness and problems that we face and give the love many need. Research also shows that if we own a pet, we live longer. When I first arrived in Australia from England many years ago, I was taken aback that dogs were generally treated as working dogs and slept outside the house. They were certainly loved but given treats only occasionally and treated as dogs, not spoilt or pampered children. I realised after a while that this cultural difference was probably healthier, although I still have a tendency to give in to demand barking just for peace!
So, is it time to say enough is enough? We are harming ourselves and our pets through inappropriate giving. We seem to be stuck with a sense of lack and poverty inside of ourselves which for many is not reflected on a material level. So we keep buying things we don’t need and reaching out for more, whether that is love, food, attention, possessions etc. We actually not only have enough but we have never ‘had it so good.’ Yet, emotionally and psychologically, we don’t know it. Of course there are people in the West that are genuinely in need, but when we start taking the dog to the doggie grooming and beauty salon, doggie day care, dog spa bath etc every day and spend so much time and money on our pampered pooches, it is time to say, enough.
If we don’t know how to say no and constantly indulge ourselves just because we can, while millions of people die in other parts of the world through hunger, disease, lack of shelter and war, can it really make sense? A spiritual illness has come upon us. It is called thinking too much, worrying obsessively about unimportant things and fearing that the worst will happen when it rarely does. Kindness to all animals is paramount. However, when we have had an empathy bypass for humans and treat our pets better than our friends, neighbours and those in need, we need to learn how to examine our values and behaviors. Maybe we have become terrified of spending time alone, sitting in stillness and responding to life in a deeper and more meaningful way. Surely a change is required.
A dog is meant to take us away from our obsession with our self, not add to it.
“Perhaps one central reason for loving dogs is that they take us away from this obsession with ourselves. When our thoughts start to go in circles, and we seem unable to break away, wondering what fearful event the future holds for us, the dog opens a window into the delight of the moment.” Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.
What do you think?