The first of a series of blogs from ISCP student Rowena about her experience of adopting Cauta, a Romanian street dog.
Becoming. Post #1
On 14th February this year, my path crossed with a being who, although I did not know it then, would become intertwined with my future. I wrote back then about our first encounter:
And the Romanian shelter director dedicated a post to him:
Since then life has shifted in many ways. The focus has gravitated around this force of nature that swerved into my heart and curled up inside.
For more back story follow this:
I now look at him beside me, nose twitching and eyelashes flickering in sleep, legs stretched out improbably straight. I wonder what goes on in his mind.
Since the beginning, we have been learning from each other and I felt I wanted to share my reflections, which I hope may resound with others who have also found themselves guardians of these beautiful, sometimes perplexing, challenging, and incredible beings we call dogs. So this is the first postcard of our time together, and I will keep writing and see where we go…
It’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll start in the past.
A memory floats up, of his time in kennels, how when I left he would try to inhale my fingers through the bars, as if to suck me back through the door and into him. As if to say, ‘Stay with me. Don’t go. Please don’t go.’ I talk softly, hand to his face. ‘I’ll be back .You’ll see. I’m sorry. Soon you will be with us. I have to go.’ His whine and outstretched paw as I retreat. How I left him each time with the constant drive to better his situation, and ours, which got us to where we are now. Home.
Then – more to the present, the dance outside. The day now structured into heartbeats, the rhythm of waking, his wet nose drawing me into consciousness (at 5:30am). Sigh. The dense fog of sleep dragging my movements down, as I struggle to cope with what order the day needs to begin in…his food? His harness? My shoes? Coffee??
Then the brightness as we emerge. The resentment at losing sleep subsiding, as we step into the fabric of life. Seeing moments that would otherwise pass me by. The clockwork of the early risers, the vividness of the violet flowers, our world for now. The dance of leading and following that we both negotiate, the leash gauging our togetherness. His forensic examination of each leaf, each blade of grass, his world of scent that I can only imagine. I think, who are we together now? A pack of two?
The lurking anxiety that can accompany walks. The apprehension of meeting other dogs. My struggle to keep anxiety down so as not to trigger him. His boundless enthusiasm to meet others, dog, adult and interestingly, particularly child. My dismay at feeling I have become his jailer as I desperately tempt him away from dogs who do not appreciate his advances. Racking my brains to think of ways to avoid situations where he might try to approach another dog, who clearly does not want to join his party, prompting a round of coaxing and apologies from me.
The mini breakthroughs. When he doesn’t insist on pestering the disinterested dog but instead engages with me, because finally I have expanded my voice melody to sound (potentially) more exciting. When he doesn’t make me a water skier on grass to gallop after the squirrel, but instead watches my antics with mild amusement, that block his view to the little rodent.
Seeing him bound and gallop and wrestle and chase when meeting two other young dogs, his panting smile and almond eyes when flopping down for a rest afterwards.
The recall session when he thundered so fast toward me I thought he might mow me down in a heap. Instead he performs a victory lap and rolls over for a celebratory tummy rub at my feet.
The experiences of recall bring to mind the whole area of separation, loss, and fear of abandonment. After being on lead, being bound by a physical thread, the thrill and danger of expanding this is huge. The gains of a whole world of freedom, the perceived losses, and fear (I imagine) akin to a mother’s as a child learns his first steps. He can explore the world himself, without you constantly by his side. What then? What will happen? Will he return?
On his first off leash time he looked at me as if unsure. ‘Will you wait for me? Will you be here when I get back?’ As if a silent conversation took place. ‘Yes, I’ll be here. Yes, I will wait for you’. How then this can so easily evaporate when the world becomes peopled by others, other humans, other dogs, all beacons of excitement. Then it becomes fraught with anxiety, the leash back on and taut. Alarm bells going off in my head, but aiming to keep my voice light, breath even and muscles loose.
I have also been thinking about the communication between us and dogs, inter-species exchanges. As the young of our own species learn so much about themselves and their developing identity through the eyes of another, what do the young of other species see? What does Cauta take in from my gaze? And what do I from his? How do we affect each other’s unconscious? Can there even be unconscious communication between dogs and humans? Just like us they have mirror neurons, so does that mean counter transference can take place? Do I have the potential to experience Cauta’s feelings and vice versa? And can we own what we project onto our dogs, to see them as individual, unique, others rather than what we imagine and want them to be.
Questions hang in the air and perhaps concrete answers are not needed, but opening up the space maybe the only answer needed for now.
This is a work in progress. This is where we are.