BETWEEN DOGS: More chronicles from the animal shelter

IMG_2946When you volunteer at an animal shelter, you tend to fall in love a hundred times per day.  The dog who has most recently stolen my heart is a sweet and sad little pitbull named Diamond. She came from an abusive situation and was reliquished to our shelter because the good part of her family (the mother and children) were forced to move to a domestic violence shelter. And that women’s shelter, of course, cannot accept dogs.

So now Diamond is at the Ulster County SPCA: sad, confused, bereft, frightened, and shivering non-stop. During her first few days in residence she had to be quarantined because of worms (or some such thing) and to be quarantined (let alone to be relinquished) is no fun despite the staff’s best effort. It turned out that Diamond’s howl is one of those absolutely ear-piercing, heart-wrenching howls that change the entire vibe of the shelter.  It was a cry of despair, of pain, of suffering–and of ceaseless suffering. It’s not an easy thing to hear–and indeed, I know a lot of people who will not visit animal shelters because they are afraid to hear howls like Diamond’s–but I truly feel that our job as humans is to go toward that cry and offer aid. We cannot follow the impulse to run away, because running away doesn’t solve anything. But compassion? Compassion solves plenty.

I went into Diamond’s kennel this past Saturday to do some energy work on her, and at first my very presence seemed to frighten her.  She would not even face me; instead, she kept her body and head facing the wall.  That’s always such a sad thing to see–it’s a sign of such dejection.  Usually what I do when a dog is this frightened is leave the room and work on them through the walls.  But the kennel manager told me that Diamond does like to be with people, so I stayed. And I sang. Medicine Buddha mantra. Mantra of Purification of the Five Elements. Chenrezik mantra. This always seems to calm the dogs down and eventually poor Diamond stopped shivering. Still, she wouldn’t let me pet her, though, so I knew I would have to save that for another day.
Sometimes healing takes place slowly. Again, our job is simply to hold everyone in a state of love and compassion so that the healing can take place.

I told Diamond that she was in a safe place now. That her family loves her but can no longer take care of her. That soon we would find her another family who could take care of her. And that she would sleep on a Thermopedic mattress and eat warm, home-cooked food and enjoy long walks along the dense and rich-smelling trails of the Catskill mountains. And that she would have a new name. Secretly I renamed her Vajra, which is Sanskrit for Diamond.  (I always give the shelter dogs sacred Dharma names, which I think increases their chances of adoption. But it’s a little secret between myself and the dogs…and anyone else reading this post!)

As I spoke to Diamond, she kept her face toward the wall. But at least she stopped shivering. Progress at the shelter is sometimes measured in things like that: the absence of a negative. Which is the precedent to a positive.

Honestly, I think poor Diamond is still in shock. Probably the same kind of shock those children are in–her former human family. To think that one man’s anger and violence–that one person’s lack of control over his own mind–can affect so many lives so negatively. I am not judging here. Just cautioning us all–myself included–to cultivate a practice of working with our minds. Because our minds can snap so quickly, right? Breathe…

Anyway, after I left the shelter, I could not stop thinking about Diamond. Her sweet nature. Her sweet face. The fact that she has arthritis at age six. How could such a relatively young dog be that physically unhealthy? (Poor living conditions, we can only assume). I thought about fostering her, but fostering of course requires a stable living situation, which–as a traveling musician, artist, writer and vagabond–I  rarely seem to have.  Which brings us to my woes: my living situation.

On Sunday morning I was pondering this and feeling sorry for myself that I don’t have the gumption or the wherewithal or the courage to just settle down, pick a place to live, and stay in that One Place.  Because it was also raining outside, and I had not yet done my morning sadhana, my mind decided it would be the perfect day to have a little Pity Party, as is: “Let’s count all the reasons why living the life of a vagabond is a pathetic thing.  These days Pity Parties usually involve a quick check-in on Facebook, to view all the other artists’ fabulous lives and torture yourself as you read all their posts about six-figure book contracts and new houses in the Berkshires and double platinum CDs, or even just a simple family picnic or a perfectly concocted carrot cake.  There ain’t no carrot cake at my Pity Party, because I don’t know how to bake a cake, thank you very much. I was just about to go visit a Very Famous Writer’s page to see if she what kind of delicious cakes her handsome and adoring husband was baking for her, when–SLAM.

One of my Buddhist friends had posted a picture of a bear at a zoo, so bereft and dejected s/he was facing the wall of his/her concrete prison. You’ll see that I posted it below yesterday. The caption read: “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”  I remembered Vajra/Diamond, lying on a thin blanket in a concrete kennel at the shelter, her body likely aching in discomfort and her body shivering with the adrenaline of confusion and fear. That woke me right up. How–or why–could or should I be worrying about my living situation if there was a dog (actually, millions of dogs) lying in discomfort in need of relief? The best way to shut down a Pity Party is to go help someone else. Immediately.

Within an hour I was back at the shelter. Vajra/Diamond was still curled up on that blanket, facing the wall, but I decided I would stay with her until something shifted.  I sat on the floor with my body facing away from hers so that she would not see me as a threat. Then I did Pranic healing on her and sang mantras and held a visualization for her future happy life. Then I did tonglen. Because it was Sunday, the shelter had a lot of visitors and potential adopters. At one point I heard a visitor ask “What’s she doing in there?” which made me laugh. I had been singing the Medicine Buddha mantra, and I love the fact that our shelter is one where having a mantra-lady can be a commonplace thing. As many of your know, our shelter has a number of Reiki practitioners and masters among the staff.

Anyway, I was delighted to see that each time someone came to Vajra/Diamond’s kennel, she would get up and sit by the door to see who it might be. I am not saying that I had anything to do with her enthusiasm–just that it was nice to see. I love the people who come to shelters to adopt. They have a particular caring and kindness. They know that what they are doing–adopting a needy animal–is helping to make the world a better place. But I am digressing–albeit into a large and uplifting territory: the human heart. Long story short: after two hours, Vajra/Diamond finally decided that I was safe enough to approach and came to me, and did that leg-press we all love (where the dog backs up and presses her hindquarters against your leg), and then I gave her a rump-scratch and she almost looked surprised, like she didn’t know that such a pleasure as a rump-scratch existed. But that it wasn’t a bad thing. No, not a bad thing at all.  “There’s plenty more where that came from,” I told her.

She looked at me and blinked. And I like to think that this was a sign that a seed of hope had just been planted in her little dog mind. (Not that dogs’ minds are small, but you know what I mean.) But sometimes the way out of a bad situation is to first entertain the possibility that things can be different. That the days of abusive hands are over. And that the days of healing hands have only just begun.  And as for me, I live on Mother Earth–so maybe that is my One Place for now. And while I am here, I’ll do my best to take care of all Her creatures. There is no time, or room, for a Pity Party in a place like this.
Please join me in praying that Vajra/Diamond finds her new human family TODAY!

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