Through My Dog’s Eyes

I’ve always been a pet lover. I remember when I was 7, my great-uncle Benji said to my parents, “Allison needs a dog.” It was at that time, my life changed. I was a very quiet, reserved kid, but dogs brought me out of my shell and taught me lessons as my life began to unfold. They were with me during good times, painful times and major life events, and loved me no matter how I reacted to these situations. They remained stable forces in my life, even during the darkest turmoil. For example, my dog Charity stayed with me during the final days of my grandmother’s life. Charity was a healthy dog, but as I sat by my grandmother’s bed, she became sick, which forced me out of my immediate pain and suffering to divert attention to taking care of her. She suddenly became “well” after my grandmother passed away. She seemed to know how I was feeling, even when I had trouble expressing it myself. Charity stayed by my side, giving love and attention that dogs are so good at providing.

I often ask myself whether I’m treating others and living my own life as my dogs do. Am I loving without conditions, judgments or expectations? Am I living in the moment, or do I let the past cast shadows on the present? Do I worry about future issues that may or may not happen? Living life through the eyes of a dog is a challenge, but trying to do so is slowly changing my life. When I find myself defaulting to old habits and patterns, I try to recognize them, which makes them easier to deal with. It brings an almost immediate sense of calm and appreciation that would have gotten lost in the turbulent thoughts that used to take me off course. I’m able to stay on my path without so many diversions. And I use the same skills from my toolbox to teach others who also want to gain more joy in their lives.

I saw amazing results when I took my two certified therapy dogs on visits to a children’s home. Charity seemed to use her sixth sense to identify which child needed extra attention. I watched as she “worked” the room, going to the child who was quiet and reserved, but who lit up when she sank her head into the child’s hands. I started becoming more aware of how she interacted with these kids, using an unassuming presence without expectation or reward. She just sat by them, until finally, their hands reached out to touch her. She let them initiate the first step before moving closer. Then, beside even the most resistant child, she would roll over to get her belly rubbed, to the glee of the child. She loved her visits with “her” kids and knew whenever it was time to visit, waiting patiently by the back door as I prepared her therapy vest and tags. The uniform turned her into a dog on a mission, and she took her job very seriously.

Chip, my golden retriever, takes his job very seriously too. He patiently watches leaves and twigs fall, then runs around gathering them into piles that he quickly shreds into small pieces. He spends a long time on this task, stopping only when I call him inside. He loves his sticks and could be satisfied spending every waking hour gathering them and shredding them. The day in the life of a dog … it doesn’t get any better!

I practiced enjoying the moment as I watched Chip sleep peacefully in a chair on this lazy Sunday morning. A ray of sunlight beamed onto his head as he snored. I stopped writing my grocery list to capture the feeling of serenity and happiness, while watching his legs move as he dreamed. How I love this dog. His mission in life is to bring me dirty socks, towels and sticks, and to roll in anything muddy. Oh, and to bring me his beloved tennis balls!

I finished my “to do” list with a different appreciation for the day and what was really important for me to accomplish. All is well for me … in this moment.

I work with clients who have chronic issues such as depression, anxiety and addictions, and they don’t always feel like there is hope. It’s hard for them to see there is light on the other side of the darkness, and peace seems so far away. As I use my dogs during pet therapy visits, I see that spending time with animals brightens up a person’s mood and brings joy, even if it’s for a short time. That moment allows a small trickle of light into that person’s heart, which may not have been there before. During one session, a client asked if she could get on the floor because she wanted to talk to my therapy dog about something “very important.” She buried her head into my dog’s fur and told her about the horrible week she had endured. As she stroked my dog’s fur, I could see a sense of calm overtake my client in a way I could not have accomplished by merely talking with her. No judgments, no expectations – just a furry hug.

When we’re facing despair, loneliness, chronic health issues, depression, addictions, or anything beyond our ability to cope, a pet may help ease the pain. He or she can give us a reason to get out of ourselves and our thoughts to focus on a sense of purpose, meaning. Even pictures of pets can warm our hearts and make us laugh. I keep cute animal pictures readily available for a quick pick-me-up. The relationship we have with our pets is real and symbiotic. What I give to my pets comes back to me in ways that can’t be measured. If you’re not able to own a pet, there are many ways to reap the benefits of a pet relationship. Volunteering at a local shelter or helping rescue groups or therapy dog organizations are ways to save pets’ lives, and possibly your own.

Wildlife photographer, author and television personality Roger Caras said it best when he stated, “Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.” Now, go enjoy a pet, and allow yourself to reap the benefits he or she will so generously give back to you.

Allison White, ACSW, LCSW, CCDP-D

Wellness Alley, LLC

 

Journey of a Rescue Dog

“What kind of dog should I get? Maltese? Chihuahua? a small one that will snuggle with me?” my friend had been asking almost continuously lately. I knew the time was nearing when she’d find the “perfect” fur kid because her persistence with wanting a dog had been intensifying. As we walked around another adoption event with all the sad eyes peering through the cages, all seeming to be pleading “Please take me home with you,” I could hardly stand it anymore. If I had room for them at home, they’d all be mine.

My friend coaxed me to accompany her to yet another event on another weekend, where we passed several cages of very small dogs. And, then, there he was – fixed stare, adorable face, floppy ears, one white with speckles on it. His gaze followed us as we petted the smaller pups. My friend turned to the rescue group staff and said, “I’d like to play with him,” as she pointed to that floppy-eared, 6- month-old, 28-lb. beagle-terrier mix. My mouth flew open in disbelief since this wasn’t what I envisioned for a suitable apartment companion.

We took him for a walk, played with him in the enclosed area, then handed his leash back to the foster mother with whom he had been living. “I’ll think about it,” my friend said. But as other potential adopters looked at that pup in the cage, my friend knew she didn’t want him going to live with anyone else.

Fast forward … The pup soon had a new home in an apartment with my friend, the new-doggy mom, who had fallen instantly in love with him. His name was Austin, which fit him perfectly. Yes, there would be behavior issues to resolve, but this would happen one step at a time. I said I’d help with training and problem-solving, which, I have to admit, made me run to some professional dog trainers for assistance.

The first task was to create structure and to set boundaries for what was acceptable behavior in an apartment setting. Then, establish a routine, get Austin checked by the veterinarian, find a kennel for safety when unattended, then sign up for obedience training. She focused on not projecting upon him her trepidations about his past life and what may have happened to him as a rescue dog. The lesson learned was that humans may live and think in the past, but dogs live in the moment. They may react from how they were treated in the past, but our job is to help them work through those obstacles without giving in to the “poor baby” mentality. It’s important to reinforce the behavior we want to continue. Coddling an undesirable behavior, such as fear, will only intensify it.

My friend has done all the right things and has a thirst for knowledge that stems from her love and immediate bonding with Austin. Trying times are ahead, especially with Austin’s need for constant attention and exercise, but so far, my friend has been able to offset the negatives with the realization that they have come a long way together in a very short time.

I will continue reporting on this journey, which is just beginning for Austin and his new mom.

 

Allison White
Wellness Alley, LLC
www.wellnessalley.com

 

 

The Value of Puppy Temperament Testing

Here is a video done after temperament testing a litter of 7 week old Golden Retriever puppies. The cicadas provided a very loud symphony in the background.

Lessons Our Pets Teach Us

This week I faced the fear that many pet lovers experience…the realization that my beloved pet was getting older. I found myself watching every move to “catch” any indication of declining health. My 14-year old dog suddenly became ill and it wasn’t resolving quickly. He had moments of energy followed by sluggishness when I wondered whether a trip to the veterinarian was needed. In the past, many hours have been spent in emergency rooms only to be told everything was fine. Should I risk waiting this time? No, so away we went to the urgent care facility. Waiting for “the news” seemed to take hours. Diagnostics were completed then the veterinarian entered the room smiling as she announced everything appeared normal. I could have given her a hug! I had more time with him. My heart went out to everyone in the waiting room and I hoped they would also receive good news.

As I nursed my dog back to health, I reflected on the short time we have with our pets. Watching mine brought up many questions. Have I given him a good life…..no, an excellent life filled with love and joy? As he slept peacefully on his bed, he looked like he could not be happier. He has never had high expectations except to be fed, walked and to greet me when I come home. He gives unconditionally with little expectation in return. On his 14th birthday, I gave him an overly stuffed dog bed, which was placed at his favorite spot by my chair. He sniffed it, turned away, and jumped onto my chair instead. I moved the new bed on top of my chair so now he had a truly overly stuffed dog bed. What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing. It’s what we do for our furry kids and it makes us happy. It’s the least I can do while sharing my life with a dog who loves me unconditionally, who sees me without makeup (and doesn’t run screaming), who smiles at me as I leave for the day and jumps up to greet me after a long day of work or gone for 5 minutes to take out the trash.

Sharing our lives with pets can be hard. We lose them far too quickly, grieve their loss, then somehow, realize that life isn’t the same without so get another. It is the cycle of life, part of love and sharing. The loss after they go is still worth the time they spent with us. It’s hard to explain their impact on us but we know how empty it feels when they’re gone. Dr. Temple Grandin stated in her book, “Animals Make Us Human” that they teach us life lessons. I have tried to adopt this realization in my daily life. Pets practice mindfulness skills by living in the here and now, which I am reminded of when my Golden Retriever stops to watch a butterfly. How many times have I missed these amazing gifts of nature? Our pets have a keen awareness of their surroundings, maybe because they depend on others to fulfill basic needs.

In Dr. Marty Becker’s book, “The Healing Power of Pets,” he talks of how our pets share life lessons if we would only open our eyes to learn from them. It took my dog’s illness to clarify both my fear of losing him and the joy he continues to bring every day. My pets teach me not to be judgmental, to be compassionate, joyful and appreciative of the love I receive and the love I give. They help us become children again – if only for a moment – letting us play, laugh, run and enjoy the silliness of the simplest experiences. Look at the videos shared on Facebook and YouTube. They brighten our days. My cell phone has my favorite dog photos to look at when I need a pick-me-up. Our pets remind us of what’s important in our lives…..the bonds, the special connections we share. It’s what truly makes us human.  It’s also what causes grief and despair when faced with their loss.

Pet lovers realize that loving also means someday saying goodbye to a beloved pet. As our pets age, the realization often brings fear of the inevitable loss. We are never ready for that moment, which means losing a friend, family member, confidante and someone who has loved you unconditionally without judgment. When this time comes, it’s important to reach out for support, whether it’s a friend, family member, counselor or support group.  Don’t struggle alone. Pet lovers may hear others make light of their loss, so it’s important to find empathetic people who will listen without judgment. Acknowledge your feelings and don’t deny the impact your pet’s loss is having on your life. Take care of yourself!  Make sure you get enough sleep, eat and take extra time just for yourself. Many people feel that they must “get over it” quickly without facing the true depth of the grieving process. Our situations are unique so there is no standard time in which to “get over” the loss. There are many pet lovers willing to provide support so reach out and ask for what you need.

The human-animal connection is powerful and the joy, love, companionship, fear, loss and the whole emotional connection adds another dimension to life that’s difficult to replicate. Our pets teach us lessons if we take time to listen. Pay attention to what they’re telling you in subtle ways as you share your life with a pet who loves you the way you are. As we honor their lives, we also honor their memories. When it comes time to say goodbye, you will have received the greatest gift …the deep love and affection of a faithful companion. Those memories will stay with you forever.

Allison White, ACSW, LCSW, CCDP-D

This article was published in MetroPet’s June 2015
 magazine.

Celebration of Life

Are you having trouble regaining interest in everyday life after losing a pet?

Is taking care of pets who have chronic issues taking a toll on your own well-being?

Are you taking better care of your pets and neglecting your own self-care?

Has not reaching a goal in dog-related activities (earning a title, certification), having to “retire” a pet early or facing rejection in the dog show ring impacted other areas of your life?

Our pets are an important part of our lives. They provide unconditional love, greet us with a wagging tail and they enjoy just being with us. Unfortunately, they leave us way too soon. The loss can be very difficult and the hole it leaves, impacts us in different ways. Besides having to handle the grief, we may also second guess the decisions we are suddenly forced to make.

I’d like to help you work through the grief and celebrate your special pet’s life in a unique way that will honor the relationship you’ve had together.

Both individual and group sessions available.

Individual sessions: Monday-Friday (after 5:00 pm), Saturdays

Allison White, ACSW, LCSW, CCDP-D

www.wellnessalley.com

314-899-7140

Access Your Inner Child and Have Fun!

Life’s simplest moments are experienced watching kids play. When young, we played outside until bedtime, with few cares in the world except responding to our parents’ calls.  Wonders of youth were lost between childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood. Exercise helped shed pounds accumulated during college, raising families, and our careers.  Health was equated with boring food, endless hours at the gym, and drinking water until we drowned.  I miss the activities from childhood.  So, I decided to relive some of them.  I mean, exercise doesn’t have to be boring, does it?  I pictured myself as a child, active with endless free time.  What will I choose?  Aha…..I’ll buy a bicycle!

Fun, exercise, and surprise benefits……

Buying the bike was an adventure.  At the bike store, I revealed my desire about riding again to a young salesman.  A very “fit” young salesman.  I  admitted my fear of crashing and breaking bones at “my age.” Then, something unexpected happened…..instead of cracking a smile, he praised me for this brave venture to be healthier.  Wow!  Then, he had a game plan.  In preparation for my test rides, I was measured for proper fit and safety.  This was a new experience; similar to buying tennis shoes at New Balance.  I jumped on the test bike, hung on for dear life, and conquered my fear of crashing.   Away I went…..  My childhood memory took over and my fears went along for the ride.  It was like I had last ridden only yesterday.  I smiled after realizing I had overcome my fear.

Choosing the bike and assortment of accessories, invoked the child-like excitement as years before.  I had a helmet this time, strictly for safety – no fashion statement here – and decided Creve Coeur Lake would be the perfect place for my first ride.  The trails were level and the weather was perfect.  My excitement mounted as I started pedaling.  I admit that there was fear, but this quickly disappeared on the trail.  I was surrounded by people having fun.  Their energy was contagious.  I experienced a sense of mindfulness and the power of being  in the “here and now.”  I had no watch; time was suspended like when I was a child.  What a fantastic feeling.

Mindfulness is focusing on the present moment as it is, without judgment or worries about the past or the future.  I was focused on not crashing or falling.  No cellphone, no “to do” list.  Just right now.  I relaxed into the ride, noticing the sailboats, the rowers, families riding together, family reunions, the smell of grilling, ducks swimming, birds and bees buzzing by.  I was in nature, I was relaxed, exhilarated.  I couldn’t get lost here so I focused on myself, the trail, and my surroundings.

Being lost in the moment is something we should add to our lives.  The energizing music in Spinning class gives me a similar feeling.  How often do kids lose track of time, even when they are being called for dinner?  Their activities relax them, reduce their stress, give them peace. What do we do?  We get caught up in spreadsheets,  “to do” lists, time.  Balance is so important.  Our responsibility to ourselves is to find activities that lead us to peace, to healthier lifestyles, to enjoying life, like children.  Keep this mindset  and… surprise…. you won’t know you’re exercising!

What was your favorite childhood activity that you can incorporate into your adult life?

Allison White

My first bike helmet. I look like a Storm Trooper from Star Wars!

My first bike helmet. I look like a Storm Trooper from Star Wars!

Live For The Moment

Hi!  Writing this blog is a whole new experience for me, but one I’m looking forward to sharing with you!  I believe in the importance of living for the moment, practicing mindfulness, expressing gratitude and compassion. I value all aspects of my life including my friendships, family, pets and career. My hobbies include music, writing, spending time in nature, traveling and just hanging out…… I hope to share some thoughts that you can relate to.  If so, please let me know!                    

Allison