No Shame

“You’re doing a really good job.”

That’s what the first vet who saw Titus back when this whole saga started said at that first lameness appointment, as I gave what has become a standard apology for him not being the very best patient in the world: “I know handling skills are important. We’re working on it. He’s touch-sensitive and hasn’t been with me long enough to have made much progress yet.” Now I add, “And he’s been poked and prodded a lot recently.”

“You’re doing a really good job.”

I could have hugged her. I kind of wish that I had.IMG_4002

It’s been interesting — in a really unpleasant way — to watch how reactions have changed since then, when I walked in with an anxious but fit and clearly in-training dog. It’s been a rough going-on-eight months. No one is fit now. Everyone is rusty. I’m pushing harder for answers on relatively mild but persistent not quite rightness that, I guess, most people would let go.

And everyone, it turns out, has an opinion.

Everyone has expectations.

Here is a short list of things that I’ve been questioned, challenged, and/or outright shamed about during Titus’s recovery and Lilo’s various events. Sticking by Titus. Trying to fix him. Not giving up on his athletic future. What I feed my dogs and how much (that last repeatedly by someone who had no idea how little). What I give them to chew on. (There is literally nothing you can give a dog to chew on that someone, somewhere, will not shame you for.) Doing too much with a rehabbing dog. Not doing enough. Using Trazodone. Letting him be too active. The degradation of training and manners. Accepting delayed loss of the extra weight in the name of actually getting some training done.

A short list. I could go on.

(I’d add especially, Not spending enough time with either dog, but that one, I mostly do to myself.)

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And the thing is, I understand where every single person who said every single one of those things was coming from, just about. They all have points and concerns that are valid enough on their face. They’re all noting things that are more or less true.

But you guys, I just don’t care.

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Shame is a terrible way to teach or encourage.

And doubt is a terrible way to show support.

I’m not against discussions or questions or disagreement. I’ve also had wonderful, heartening and healing, useful conversations with people whose perspectives and priorities differed from mine. I’ve even changed my mind and behavior more than once.

The difference is, those came from a place of support not conditioned on whether I was doing what they thought that I should. Those were with people who said, or clearly meant, “You’re doing a really good job,” before we talked about how to do better. Those were the conversations that kept my chin up when the other kind, even when I held my own and pushed back, crushed me flat.

I don’t have some earth-shattering conclusion here. Just, this stuff is hard enough on its own, I guess. For values of “this stuff” that include “loving a dog who is struggling” but also just “being a human being in the world.”

It has made me kinder, I think, and more willing to stand up for my dogs and myself, and more willing to believe that other people are doing the best that they can.

I just wish we could all be nicer to each other.

So I’m trying, anyway.

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7 thoughts on “No Shame

  1. You ARE doing a great job. Your blog resonates with me in so many ways, so just hearing about your experiences is so helpful for me. I so feel ya. No shame. One thing at a time, it will all get done.
    Thule’s second surgery I pushed for. I saw the compensating, the subtle but clear signs that her RH was bothering her. I opted to do surgery right away, the day I brought her in she was completely sound. But I knew eventually, she would need it and I didn’t want to live worrying about when, or dealing with it when she was 3 years older. The recovery that was going so well until it wasn’t, I didn’t accept as just loss of conditioning or her new way of going. We found out yesterday there is some infection brewing under the plates in each leg. So those are now going to come out. Luckily her bone has healed so she does not need the plates any more.
    Reef has been one thing after another. Potty training a dog who is too distracted to remember to go poo when we are outside. He is reactive on leash in our neighborhood. Installing a recall so he doesn’t run out into the street. And now, a terrible fear of the dishwasher. I have SO MUCH more appreciation for people who I can see are working with difficult dogs. For sticking with the dog and trying to help them. It takes a lot to put up with people’s looks, with the dog’s up and down improvements and your own thoughts about it all.
    I (and my husband) are doing all of this so we can get our adventure dog back to adventuring and include our new guy in on all the fun. It’s a lot of work, but I know eventually it will be worth it, and that’s what I keep my focus on. You have to stay positive.

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    1. Ahhh, thank you so much — I appreciate it and I’m glad you enjoy the blog!

      And thanks for the recap of Thule’s story; I’d looked back a little, but I know I didn’t find everything. Sounds like she and Titus have a lot in common all around. I’m not thrilled with the progress of his recovery and we’re going for a second opinion next Wednesday in part because he’s lamer now, sometimes, than he was walking into surgery. VERY interesting that you guys found an infection! Hardware removal and culture is on the top of my questions list. I hope this puts her on the right track for a full recovery. And poor Reef — certainly sounds like you guys have your hands full! But they’re good hands for those pups to be in. One step at a time and celebrate the progress and yes, stay positive. 🙂

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  2. I’ve said it before: you’re one of my models when it comes to handling animals, and you’re doing an amazing job with Titus. He’s obviously not an easy dog to handle, especially given the situation, even if he’s completely adorable (he is!), and if I should tell you you should do something (I sort of don’t want to at all, given this topic), it’s to hold your head high and be proud.

    This post, though, does ring a bell – from the dog world from decades ago (when I was part of it), but mostly from the horse world now. Shame on you; you’re not riding that horse the right way. Shame on you, you don’t have enough blankets – or too many blankets. Shame on you; you should really let someone else have that horse, the horse has potential. Shame on you; you’re not competing (or you are competing; one should just have fun with the horse). Et cetera, et cetera. There are so many ways to go, many of them even leading in the same direction. Sometimes, people need to accept you’re going in a different direction, and even if you think what someone is doing is downright bad, shame isn’t the way to get them to change.

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  3. Thank you all, so much. <3<3<3

    And Monika, I *absolutely* agree that the horse world is so very prone to this. It took me longer than I am proud of to break out of the cycle, there, but I am so glad that I made the effort (however imperfectly).

    Especially about the blankets! LOL

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  4. Ah, I hate that shame thing. You *are* doing a really good job. Fate has handed you difficult circumstances, and you’ve done your best by both dogs despite it. I used to get a lot of the kind of comments that you’re mentioning, and now I don’t. Perhaps my attitude that I really don’t care what your average observer thinks is apparent to others. I am very open to suggestions/criticisms by those with the knowledge to help me but not from others. When someone does suggest something that I really don’t plan to try, I just thank them for their input (after all, they do seem to be trying to be helpful).

    My most criticized period was when I had a dog who needed a wheelchair (her hind end didn’t work due to a spine issue). I’m fairly certain that you cannot imagine how many random strangers told me that I was humiliating and making my dog miserable by forcing her to go on with life in a wheelchair. That was more than a decade ago, and I still get angry when I remember the comments by strangers – “You should just put her down”. They didn’t know that my dog was happy, and that I did everything in my power to keep her life full and rich. They really knew nothing at all besides the fact that they saw my dog using a wheelchair, and they had a visceral reaction that it wasn’t right.

    Anyway, I long ago decided that strangers can hold no power over me with their opinions about my dogs!

    And, again, your blog shows us all how hard you’ve worked through this past year of ups, downs, and unexpected setbacks. You’re a great dog owner, and you should be proud of it! 🙂

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