About a year ago, I had this great ambition. I was going to write a blog post on my website consistently. I was going to be clever and witty and I was going to give you all wonderful insights into dogs, training and life in general. The vision in my head was clear and I had certainty. Life had other plans for me. A very short time later I took a pretty hard fall and broke my hand in two places. Now of course, that happened at 5:30 in the morning of the day that I am supposed to go to the home inspection of what is my now home. I left the ER and went to my home inspection after having the bones set and in a splint. Life had many changes in store for me over the next 10 months. Lots of physical therapy, lots of one-handed navigation of moving boxes along with a lot of humility that comes along with asking for help doing things that I never needed help with before. (Opening a jar with one hand can be very tricky)
Flash forward a year later. My arm after many, many months is healed and is mostly normal. I have been working with some wonderful dog/human teams and life was returning to what I thought was normal. My first blog post back was going to talk about spring training and puppies, social interaction, public access work and socialization. Well…….
Needless to say, a few weeks ago, normal changed. Defining our new normal, whether temporary or not has been a challenge to us all. One thing I think we have all discovered (or are discovering) during this time is our need, our NEED to connect with people or animals or even to ourselves. We have been stripped of all the superficial and remain exposed to the real.
The key to our emotional recovery during this time is to explore ways to find joy again and to regain a sense of peace. I am finding joy in the simple and the extraordinary – reconnecting with a childhood friend, the sunshine peeking through on a cloudy day, the connection to my co-workers that I cannot see in person, my conversations on the phone with my 92 year old mom, an unexpected apology from a time many years ago, and of course, the never ending love of my dog. My new home has a training facility that yearns to have dogs and people – learning, sharing and discovering new ways of connecting and communicating. For now, that facility instead is where I go with just my dog. We play, we train, we dance… and I make plans for the day when my world opens back up for dogs and their people.
Last night, I went into the training studio and sat on the dog grooming table with my dog CeeCee and talked with an amazing friend on the phone. Our thoughts and stories about life and people flowed and the conversation was easy and brought me contentment. Although we are many miles apart, it was as if we were in the same room. Distance sometimes is physical, sometimes it is emotional, other times it is created by things beyond our control. But at that moment, there was no distance. It was a moment in time where I felt sheltered from the craziness of this world.
When I got off the phone, I just sat there for a while with my dog leaning up against me. No words needed – a girl and her dog. I am lucky she is in my world. She is an ethereal being who lights up space in my life. She has kept closer to me than normal. She knows our world has changed and she is aware that I’ve been more worried, more tense and perhaps more distracted by news and ever changing events. She also saw me laugh, smile and talking in ways that relax her state of being, knowing that all is right in her world at that moment as it was in mine.
I try to be there for her too, like she is for me. I continue to provide the structure she needs, the affection she loves and the activity to keep her healthy. So what can you do to provide your dog enrichment if you aren’t going to the park, hikes, walks, doggy daycare, training or playing with other dogs? There are great ways to provide your dog with activities, either with our without you. But the act of engaging with your dog (or cat, bird, rabbit, llama, etc.) is not just about enrichment for your animal. It truly is a wonderful time for you to be in the moment with them and to forget for a while that our daily lives have changed. Play hide and seek using toys, treats or of even yourself or another family member (sometimes finding you is the biggest reward). Use this time to teach a good solid down-stay or a retrieve. Don’t forget that your dog needs activity, even if you are not leaving the house. That doesn’t just include physical activity but mental activity as well.
Finally, I think we are learning how to live with ourselves better. We are making changes, some very difficult to adjust to with COVID-19 becoming a topic at some point in our daily conversations. I am learning about myself and how much I am drawn to physical connections with people in my life. I realized that at some level, I mourned for that part of my life that has now ceased to exist. As a trainer, I watch body language of people and animals. When I have been out and about (when necessary) , I notice people not just wanting to physically stay apart but there is some emotional distancing as well. Some people actually avoid making eye contact as they quickly walk by. This is an understandable emotional response. We are navigating strange waters. I still want to be able to reach out and touch someone’s shoulder and tell them that it will be ok again. I can’t do that so I am learning to live with that for now. I am looking for ways that I can connect and reach out to people. I hear people say “we are in this together”. I would like to find ways that I can help you, although from afar. My training studio for the time is closed, but my heart is open. Do you have something that I can help you work on or maybe just chat with you about a concern you have with your dog’s behavior (some people are seeing their dogs having some anxiety issues)? I will try my best to help you from afar. I will gift my time as much as I can. I do truly believe… we ARE all in this together. That is my hug to you, old friends and new. Take care of yourself and each other. – Ramona