I’ve struggled with the idea of wholeness pretty much my entire life. I’m almost certain that most of us do. It’s a subconscious struggle for most, of course. It is for me. I was raised religiously and the whole foundation of religion is based on the premise that a person is not whole without something that exists outside of themselves (god) or, seemingly outside of themselves, at the very least. This is obviously due to misinterpretation of what god is and where it resides or doesn’t reside.
Being raised religiously, among other things, like being indoctrinated with the idea of romance or a soul mate, like pretty much all of Western civilization, and the wellspring of marketable insecurities taken advantage of by those willing and able to line their pockets with our tears and fears, you basically enter this world being told that you need something beyond yourself to give you worth, to justify your existence. That someone is going to swoop down and save you; god, adoptive parents, a best friend, a lover, Santa Clause, Superman, you name it. The illusion has many faces and goes by many names.
I’ve been a first time dog owner (my first dog as an adult that is all mine) all of two months. I’ve had cats for years and I’m an awesome cat mom, if I do say so myself. We definitely share a bond and a vibe. I’ve always wanted to have a dog but never felt I could because I’m gone a lot, traveling to another city for work and enjoyment (I promise this is going somewhere relevant). Once I realized I could get a small dog that enjoyed car rides and didn’t require hours of exercise each day, I decided it was okay to FINALLY adopt a dog. So I did. She’s about 6 years old, I’m told. A small Poodle breed. She was not spayed when I got her and it looks like she may have possibly been popping out puppies for someone at some point, unfortunately. I have since had her spayed, of course. I am told that her owner passed away and the family surrendered her to the shelter. I found her through a rescue. I call her Leeloo. If you know the reference, you get bonus points.
Leeloo was attacked by an offleash dog this past Friday. Not only an off leash dog but a transient’s off leash dog. I only mention that part because part of my frustration about the situation is a total lack of accountability. Not because the owner doesn’t WANT to be accountable. He seemed like a nice guy, genuinely upset, and had possibly newly taken possession of the dog so they may not have been very familiar with each other yet.
I’ve had very few violent encounters in my life. This one was, by far, the worst. The dog latched on to Leeloo two different times, the second time latching on to her lower jaw, which she ended up losing a portion of.
As a new dog owner, I had been doing TONS of research about how to deal with a situation like this. I have lots of off leash dogs in the neighborhood where I live. In this case, I was walking in my sister’s neighborhood, which we thought, incorrectly, was safer. Despite my research and efforts, I walked away from the situation feeling completely inadequate. I’ve been replaying the scenario over and over again in my mind, trying to figure out what I could have done differently to prevent it or to lessen the impact.
After beating myself up as much as possible while still trying to be logical, I’ve come to the conclusion that not all traumatic experiences are preventable. Some are. Drinking and driving and killing someone; preventable. Have a designated driver, use a shared ride service. You get the idea.
However, in a situation like this where your options are to trust the world enough where you can walk to the park and back with your dog or to stay inside and make both your dog and yourself miserable, the thing to do is to go outside. Get fresh air, get exercise, feel good. Your dog will thank you. In the rare circumstance where something horrible does happen, like it did to Leeloo, you might start questioning your decisions, like I did.
So then it comes down to this; what did you really lose or gain in that moment? The moment itself was incredibly stressful, for sure. But what about beyond that? They say that dogs have the special talent of always living in the moment and, after that, they look to you, their pack leader, for an indication of how they should feel and what they should do; who they should fear or who they should protect you from. I have to say, after it was all over, Leeloo’s little jaw hanging from her face, she seemed to have no idea that anything was wrong. I was definitely more traumatized by the experience than she was. I am taking a lesson from her; if you live intentionally in the moment, there will be such rare instances when you wish you were somewhere or some time else.
My guilt eating away at me, of course, I couldn’t help but think about the difference it would have made if I had taken a different route, perhaps reacted a different way or fought smarter to free Leeloo from the other dog’s bite. But I kept finding myself at the same place; how could anyone predict what was going to happen, how it was going to happen and how a domesticated wild animal would have reacted to any of it? They couldn’t. And that’s finally what I’m allowing myself to believe.
So now that we’ve gotten through the blame game, what do we have left? Loss and experience. Leeloo lost part of her lower jaw and she’s in pain, which we are relieving with pain medication from the vet. I was also slightly physically injured in the scuffle, which I’m reminded of daily, but my physical pain and suffering is much less severe than Leeloo’s. More than anything, I lost any fleeting sense of security I may have once had when walking a dog. Just owning a dog feels like I have invited chaos into my life.
So what does that mean? Did security from dog attacks ever exist? Absolutely not. Instead my outdoor walks in neighborhoods where dogs reside, some off leash, increased significantly. Therefore increasing my chances of meeting an off leash dog. Not to mention the fact that I now own a dog, which makes those chances even greater since dogs are generally dog aggressive rather than people aggressive. So this was not a sign to tell me what a shitty dog parent I am. This was simply a numbers game stacked against me. Leeloo and I were just in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong dog.
As far as experience, for my entire life I’ve been holding onto this notion that I’m preserving something. Almost like preserving youth or innocence. Part of my guilt over Leeloo was feeling that I should have better protected her. That I could have done more and she would have lost less. She’s back home with me now. She’s on medication so she stumbles around a bit but she’s eating food, drinking water and doing dog things just fine. She needs a bit of help right now but she doesn’t seem to have lost anything. And, if dogs truly live in the moment, like dog experts say they do, then she has no cause for alarm. Her world is exactly as it was and will be even more so in a week or two when she is completely healed up and doesn’t have to take any more medication, which she hates.
The situation has gotten me thinking; are we really anything without our experiences? If we can straight up live in the moment like dogs do then more power to us; we will rarely suffer. But, most people I know can’t or won’t live in the moment, at least not for every moment of their lives. So their next best option is to strive for understanding. Understanding that we are not here to protect anything. We are not here to make anything whole or to be made whole. We are already whole. Any perceived loss we experience only enlightens us to who we are at our core, what we truly have faith in and what we’re capable of. No one ever found out just how capable of surviving they were without at least feeling heat from the flames. Or without fighting off the aggressive dog. A moment of intense loss or pain tells us more about ourselves than any happy, carefree or even peaceful moment ever could.