The empathy dog
We're on a road trip that came up at the last minute, too late to make arrangements to board here. She handled the trip part spectacularly. We'd been worried about that because she'd been in the car only once in the four months we've had here, and that was during the brief ride from the shelter to home. My sedan that seemed huge when it was just Big Guy, me and the commute to work is getting a little cramped, so Rita spent part of the trip hanging her front paws over the edge of the back seat. But she made it work without complaint.
Serious trouble started once we arrived. It's a place where dogs are not allowed in the garage, let alone in the house. Rita, who's never slept more than two feet away from people since joining the family, doesn't understand that. Nor does she understand cold - we've traveled through a 20-degree temperature drop. Nor does she get all the strange dogs who keep barking at her all night.
So Rita did what any dazed, confused and discombobulated dog would do. She howled. She whined. She cried. When neighbors started shouting, we'd go out to reassure her but, just as when I give in to the guys' tantrums they cry longer the next time thinking I'm going to break again, the visits only motivated her to hold on longer. Surely if I keep howling, they'll let me in with the people, where I rightly belong, she thought.
Sorry, girl. It's not going to happen.
"Why is Rita being so bad?" Big Guy moaned, more out of distress that people were getting mad at her than out of concern about her behavior. "She never barks at home."
Rita's not being "bad," I told him. "Rita's doing what any dog - or human - would do in a strange, stressful situation. Just think about it from Rita's view. Imagine what's going on in her head."
"She's probably cold," he said. "And it's dark, and she doesn't know this place. And I bet she's scared, too. She's not used to being that far away from us."
And with that statement, Big Guy had leaped light years ahead in emotional maturity. Granted, he was talking about a dog, not a person, though she is a dog who's so dear to him that he practically considers her a person. And he was able to mentally put himself in her position, to see things from her perspective.
"What can we do to help her?" he asked.
"Well, nothing right now," I replied, though our hosts did eventually relent on the garage ban. I think that was mainly to muffle her howls, but I'll take it. "Tomorrow, though, you should give her extra special attention. She still won't understand when she can't come in, but it will make her feel better."
And that was exactly what he did. She was treated to extra romps, extra pats, extra brushings and extra treats, all day long.
Like I said, she's "just a dog." But Big Guy's amazing show of empathy to the canine world gives us something to build on when it comes to dealing with humans as well.
Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.