If you have seen my posts over the past few months, it’s clear that I have spent much of my time traveling around the property, practicing my new photography hobby and posting the images of the flora and fauna I filmed on this blog.
In reviewing my 2020 goals, which were written before I even thought I would be physically able to drive around the farm, I find that my intention was to have a book ready for the editor in September. Yet, I haven’t made any progress on it since March! With renewed enthusiasm to complete that project, I have adopted the “ass in the chair” standard to get it done! But, I worry that will impeded my ability to update this blog, regularly.
Yet, I want to continue the creation of this novel blog space for sharing my words and images. So, I have come up with a solution. When I opened the BOOKS & WRITING folder on my computer to launch the latest version of my new book, I saw dozens of file folders which contains works in progress. These go back to 2002! Many of them have chapters which could be stand-alone blog posts. Most of them come from a project I call, “The Dog Trainer’s Guide To Human Happiness.” The following is the prologue that I drafted for the book.
Melissa sat calmly across the table. She looked tired. Her husband was standing across the room with my husband and another man. They were all US military veterans and it was clear they were deliberating about their time in the service.
I knew that Melissa and Rob had a five hour trip back to Ohio and it was getting late. The sun had set an hour earlier and the building felt colder than it had when sunlight shone through the single window near the door. Melissa pulled her coat up over her shoulders and shifted calmly in her seat. I could tell that she had no intention of interrupting her spouse, regardless of how much she wanted to get on the road. She had shown the same consideration for him all weekend long. I thought of a half dozen chores I had to accomplish before the end of the day, but I took her lead and chose not to intrude on the guys’ banter.
“Melissa,” I said, breaking the silence between us. She lifted her head to look at me.
“I just wanted to tell you that we have had a dozen or so veterans attend this class and most of them come alone, unsupported.”
Melissa cocked her head, and then gently nodded in understanding.
“You know, PTSD is a marriage killer,” I continued. “Many of the guys had great families, but their disease just destroyed everything because of their anger or depression. Many of them begin drinking heavily or use drugs to mask their pain and it just puts a huge toll on their relationships until the wife cannot take it any longer.”
Her eyes had lost their far-way look and she was clearly focused on my words.
“It is very sad,” I said. She nodded.
“You have been a rock all weekend. I have to commend you for your unwavering support. Rob is very lucky to have you. I know your life cannot be easy. I know you have three very small children to care for, and that you are probably the main bread winner, am I right?”
I knew that most of the veterans that attended our class struggled to hold a job. Melissa pressed her back into the chair as she uncrossed her left leg to then shift her right leg across it. She calmly turned her gaze toward the men and then replied, “He hasn’t been able to work for months.”
I felt my lips curl inwards and purse – a strange gesture of recognizing her angst and showing support that I hoped she would understand.
“You have been so patient and helpful to Rob,” I continued with my words of reinforcement, but she interrupted.
“I don’t know, when we were in the farm store and he couldn’t get Ruby to lie down in the isle by the baby chicks, I could tell he was struggling and I’ve seen that struggle turn into a complete melt-down. I just didn’t want that to happen, but I didn’t know what to do to help, that’s why I came to you to ask what I should do,” her words were somber and intentional.
“There will be times when you will need to just let him overcome the hurdle as he is working with her. What mattered is that you cared enough to want to help him, even if that meant simply standing back to let him work it out. You need to know that most of the veterans don’t bring anyone with them. No one. No one to go back to the hotel with, no one to discuss everything that happened all day during class. No one to help them pack up the car because they are learning to handle their new service dog at the same time. I want you to know how special you are and how much I appreciate all that you do for Rob. I want to thank you for sticking with him through such a difficult time. As someone who appreciates what he has sacrificed, I want to also tell you I know how much you may have lost, as well. Thank you.”
Then, the epiphany happened. For both of us.
“Oh my gosh, Tammie. I am not the person you paint me to be. I should be thanking you. I don’t think you realize how much I have learned this weekend. I am going to go home and be a better parent to my kids because of this experience. I have already made that promise to myself. Almost everything you described while explaining how to train a dog can apply to any relationship we have with humans. You can’t imagine what you have done for me. I feel blessed to have been able to experience and learn all that you have to teach.”
The men had taken notice of her enthusiasm and turned to look our way. She briefly glanced back at them, smiled a relaxed sort of grin that all was well, then continued.
“You don’t know how often I lose my cool with my kids. And then I hate myself. I just never knew what else to do. You made everything seem so clear. I don’t have to raise my voice. I don’t have to get upset. I don’t have to get frustrated. I just need to decide what rules I want the kids to follow, I need to pay attention, I need to communicate with the kids if they are pushing the limits and explain the consequences if they don’t behave. I just have to be consistent and fair, calm and relaxed. If Rob can learn in a couple of days how to remain calm with a dog – and I saw how much that changed her behavior, almost instantly – I can do that with my kids. At the end of most days I am so disappointed in myself because I didn’t cherish my kids, I just lost my cool and yelled at them. It doesn’t have to be that way, and I learned this weekend at a dog training class. Who would have thought that?”
And, there it was, clear as day. Dogs teach us how to communicate better with each other. To me, it can be best described as interaction that is wholly based on fairness. It’s compassion at its best – a concept that most people would apply to humans, not dogs. What exceptional coaches our dogs can be. Melissa thought I had taught her how to be a better parent by emulating the approaches we use to train dogs. What she didn’t know was that it was through observing dogs interacting with each other that I learned those lessons, so many years ago.