“We’re here to help, Shannon,” the confident young man overseeing the kennel at Main Line Animal Rescue assured me as I struggled to get the collar off a cranky young Beagle I had just taken out for a walk. The frustration must have been written all over my face, prompting him to gently enter the dog run and assist me.
A host of emotions arose with my battle with the Beagle: disappointment (why can’t I figure this damn collar out!); fear (don’t bite!); impatience (that cute little boxer one dog run over is waiting for me!), to name a few.
I’m about two weeks into my animal shelter volunteering gig, and clearly have a lot to learn. More than I thought, actually. My intention upon signing up was to simply help these furry guys out. You know, give ’em some love, toss ’em a treat or two, scoop their poop. Easy, right?
Hell no, I’m discovering. These dogs are nudging, and in some cases shoving me right into the epicenter of my soul. They’re forcing me to look at myself honestly – without words, without filters. And the view isn’t always pretty. And through all this, my yoga practice, my yoga teaching, and even my relationships are benefiting. Here is sampling of what I’m learning:
Struggling is a choice. There were two very different approaches to removing that Beagle’s collar. Mine was to wrestle and yank it off as fast as I could to escape what I perceived as a scary situation. How many times do we do this in a pose, or unexpected life circumstance we aren’t comfortable with? Imagine how different a typically wobbly half moon would feel if you approached it slowly, patiently, and with a sense of curiosity instead of fear? Or how an ill-tempered co-worker would respond to a random offer of assistance on an assignment instead of an audible sigh for not ‘doing their job’. As I observed the patient kennel overseer take his time in removing the Beagle’s collar – alternating between gentle strokes behind the dog’s ears, reminders of ‘good boy’ – I realized that my struggle got me absolutely nowhere.
Lose the empty talk. Without words to communicate, my new pup friends do so through their bodies. The sweet Chesapeake Retriever likes to nuzzle his snout into my thigh. The energetic 8-month old Boxer wags his tail wildly when he sees me coming. That Taco Bell-looking dog rolls onto his back awaiting a loving belly rub. When I teach yoga now, I’m noticing when I sound like I’m reading from cue cards. Or when I’m talking too damn much and no one can hear their breath. We humans say ‘I love you’, but these pups are showing me how powerful it is to show it without words – a genuine smile and eye contact, a tight embrace, a stroke of the head, to those I care about.
Keep the faith. I am going on year five of daily handstand practice. I still only have about 50% stick rate. These dogs remind me – every time I visit – that they believe. They believe a new loving home is on the horizon, and continue their work of becoming more adoptable with daily socializing drills and interaction with other dogs and humans. My work is to keep going up into handstand. Again and again. As B.K.S. Iyengar says, “practice, practice, practice, and all is coming.”
Don’t judge me. That clipped-eared Pit Bull stared intently through the glass at me, waiting for a much-needed recess break to the big field outside. Yes this breed, as some others, have had their share of bad press with reported tragedies. But I’m learning, through careful supervision in a safe environment, to let go of an unfair presumption that all Pit Bulls are dangerous. How many times do we judge someone or something based on a previous experience gone bad? These dogs are proving that an open mind and heart goes a long way toward happiness.