It has been a week of firsts. The first time Cauta returns to my call when half way between me and an unknown dog. The first time he lays his head on me. And then, the first time he falls asleep laying his head on me. From heavy, stressed panting he falls into a deep, bottomless sleep, amid a symphony of muscle twitches. He begins to offer more and more physical closeness in a way he didn’t before, as he warily kept his distance. Previously every attempt to sit together ended in me walking away, as he could only mouth and nip on the borderline between excitement and anxiety.
These moments of quietness seem to be the change makers, marking a shift in the relationship. All the training, whistling, loose lead artistry can get us so far, but I wonder if this is closer to the essence of what it means to offer a home.
Offering a home means far more than an external house and a garden. It is attachment. It is having space for the dog to find a mental and emotional home in the carer’s internal world. The question is whether there is enough space for that particular dog and all their challenges, and whether there is a way to think about them reflectively, without the crushing weight of projections.
By projections I mean this in the old school analytic way, put forward by Carl Jung and later Melanie Klein. The novelist Chuck Palahniuk describes it: ‘Carl Jung called this his shadow work. He said we never see others. Instead we see only aspects of ourselves that fall over them. Shadows. Projections. Our associations.’
For strays and feral dogs, a coming home is a process of ‘making a home’ rather than a ‘rehoming’. Perhaps even the concept of a home, a secure base, needs to be introduced. As child psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Winnicott wrote in 1986, ‘home is where we start from’.
When I witness Cauta’s desperation to meet other dogs, his rush toward them, I wonder if he is frantically searching for a place to belong, others to belong with, but outside himself. When (or if) he turns back to me, he is returning home. When we recall perhaps what we are asking is for our companions to come home, we are offering a belonging together.
I think of how a home is made. Not in a patchwork quilt of ‘bits’, the walking bit, the feeding bit, but how all these moments in time coalesce to form a ‘being with’, an ‘existing alongside each other.’ This moving along, encompassing ‘moments of meeting’, and inevitable mis-attunements is well documented by the developmental psychologist Daniel Stern. He writes about the human care giver and child, but I think this also seems relevant to our lives with companion animals.
I wonder if Cauta is at home in his body? Sometimes I look at him sitting and he looks stacked together, all parts of a dog but somehow not as a whole, legs at awkward angles, spine kinked. He often bumps into things, his spacial awareness, or sense of where he is in space seems off kilter. Like an adolescent who hasn’t quite grown into his own body, sometimes he looks painfully lost and unsure of his own space in the world. Only when running, in full motion, can his fluidity be seen.
For the first time this morning we visit the dreaded park and he fluidly runs with me and his rope ball, bounding and charging around, chasing and tugging.
Ok, it only lasts until a dog appears, but I’ll take it. It’s a place to start from.
Through the fields. Image shared with kind permission from Jemma Stedham
D.W Winnicott’s 1986 book, ‘Home is Where We Start From’.
Some more thoughts on the process of projection by Jungian analyst Frith Luton:
..and the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein:
And a little about Daniel Stern and his work: