Over the past two weeks, Buddy the Bio-psycho-social Therapeutic Friend with Four Paw Drive, took to moseying — FOUR TIMES — out toward the distant neighbor northwest of us. (We’re surrounded by woods, with open space over about half the distance to that neighbor.)
Apparently they have the grand-kids staying a spell and one of them is an irresistibly (to Buddy) screamy girl (maybe it’s a boy, but I wouldn’t bet on it) playing in their pool, which sits very close to the wall of their house that faces our Balsamea, echoing her voice more toward us than in any other direction, sometimes helped by the west wind and humidity.
Measuring in a straight line, their house is about 350 yards away, on the other side of the road. That is highly unacceptable moseying, definitely off the reservation. Buddy does not have a license to operate on blacktop or to rescue screaming girls that far away.
I wear a loud whistle on a lariat all day, every day, everywhere, the way people wear watches and rings. It’s like a club uniform accessory for Balsameans. I have spares hanging by the door to give guests, whether to use while here or as souvenirs. (In truth they are just backups.) I hang it on the doorknob and never go out without it. It is Buddy’s 1000-foot leash.
It doubles as a black bear deterrent and an emergency SOS broadcasting device. (We spend a lot of time in the wild.) Also works in urban neighborhoods. I’ve also used it to get somebody’s noisy dog to shut up.
On all four of these recent atypical wandering occasions, the whistle reached him at such a distance that the ringing of his collar bell at first sounded to me like the far-off chirp of one of those birds with the tiny jingling sound to their call.
I believe that his run toward me began beyond the range of my hearing, given the way the sound gradually rose from nothing to unidentifiable bird chirps to barely perceptible tinkling to reassuring high-speed jangling, quickly closing the distance, at which point I winced in fear knowing he was madly charging across the road at a full run, intent on satisfying me.
The bell is for sonar tracking. It reports his speed, distance, bearing and course.
Then I see him tear into the driveway, and my body language changes from fear to cross-armed displeasure with the distance of his wanton foray, and he reads my posture loud and clear. At that, his excited run slows to a half-run coming up the driveway, then his body’s message changes to that woeful, head-lowered, droopy-tailed, eye-diverted, ear-fallen, slow walk.
I don’t have to say a word. He feels terrible, and knows why.
Short of being tied up, our relationship is now such that the worst punishment I can give him is to just stand there in that cold, unhappy stance, refusing to reach a hand to him, refusing to speak, just glaring into his eyes.
There are generally two ways he tends to reply. One is to lay down and go into an unfocused gaze at the ground. The other is to come to my side with his ears slicked back, and nuzzle at my leg or my hand if it is available. The first seems like resignation. The second seems hopeful.
Arms crossed, in the dreaded low and stern tone I say, “Aren’t you supposed to stay with me?” He lays down in his favorite sandy spot. “Where did you go? You’re supposed to stay with me. You gonna stay with me? You better stay here. You wanna be tied up? You gonna stay here? Stay here now, dammit.”
Operative word: STAY, the only one that matters to him in all that gibberish. The tone, the face, the eyes and other body language matter even more, and his remorse amplifies it. I wonder if he thinks I talk too much. Once I thought I heard him say, “Yeah, yeah, I get it already.”
He does not come to me in that remorseful way when recalled from a merely mildly unacceptable distance in a direction not involving the road. He knows when he has gone only a little too far. He forgives himself such small indiscretions, and expects it of me. So he comes trotting up with the usual attitude. “I’m here! You wanna play, walk, explore, love life like me? Got a cookie in your pocket?”
Then there are also the telepathic messages he radiates into my brain, often wordless.
He even has a way of saying, “Hey, I know I was out of bounds, and I regret it, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it.” For that, he gets the same reward and praise as when he returns eager to reach arm’s length.
That JUST HAPPENED NOW as I write this.
I glanced out the big windows near my seat here. He wasn’t in his favorite spot where I made a sand pile for him to make into a bed designed to his liking. He wasn’t in one of his other usual locations. These are places he chooses because they are within view and hearing of the kitchen door, where his favorite toy (me) might emerge at any moment.
I got up and looked down at the special always-shady place at the bottom of the north wall of the house, where I created something like a sand box for him at the end of the rock patio under construction, where he can still monitor the Western Front, including those important things like the entire driveway and things on the road passing or stopping or making noises as if they might stop, or if they speak in discernible voices within 400 feet of the driveway to either side of the driveway, through the 100-foot deep forest to the road, as well as keep ears and eyes on the Northern Front, those fifty acres of woods across the yard, plus have a view of the Eastern Front, out a couple hundred feet east at the treeline of our nineteen-acre forested back yard.
I swear I heard him once say inaudibly inside my head, with a deep sigh, “I’m a lucky dog.”
When I could not see him from the window anywhere, I did this procedure I’ve been recently teaching myself to make into habit, for when I want to go out checking on him. I tap two or three minutes (depending on gut instincts) onto the kitchen timer and I go back about my business. This is about patience and trust.
At the beep, I check the windows again. Then I get a fingernail-sized piece of one of the expensive 80% real chicken breast dog-treat patties, because he’s usually nearby, comes quickly and deserves it just for being there (and to remind him to stay with me because I have the good stuff). Then I go out and saunter slowly and silently around the house scanning for him (and scanning my dominion, too).
In summer I often hear that dingle-bird whose deceptive chirp sounds exactly like two soft dings of Buddy’s collar bell. I try to be mindful that he may only seem to be gone, but is really just thirty feet into the woods, studying, or monitoring wild activities, his collar bell silent.
He can silence the bell by slowing to a certain pace or standing still. I’m sure he often consciously, intentionally stops it.
Sometimes I want him to be quiet, so I take off the collar. I think he knows that it means we’re in stealth mode, maybe especially because I whisper to him, and look like I’m being stealthy or stalking. And he reads my mind anyway.
Most of the time within one lap around the house he becomes available to eyes or ears or both. Sometimes I look right past him, and find only after whistling that he is right there, thirty feet away, scratching his head. It’s like my whistling tuned ME in to his location.
For a couple of years now Buddy has demonstrated increasingly that he is nearly 100% cured of his youthful wanderlust. (He is now about seven years old.) I can trust him to stay home. (It was not always this way.) That means staying within a couple hundred feet of the house, except toward the road. The boundary before the road is the rock wall about a hundred feet from the house, roughly parallel with the road.
Thus, when I feel I need to actually go outside to check on him, I try to remember to call upon this maturing trust that he has not just earned, but taught me. I wait a bit first, then listen and look carefully all the way around the house, again waiting, listening far and near, allowing him to spot me and come trotting over, as is so often the case, or allowing him to take a poop in peace without my interrupting, if that’s why he left the yard.
He never poops in the yard, but the middle of a trail is suitable to him. I did not teach him the former and I won’t trouble either of us to prohibit the latter. I immediately remove the land mine he leaves in the trail, on the odd occasion when he does that.
My relationship with Buddy cultivates patience, trust, and forbearance, among other precious things.
It’s not just about a fictional relationship that I create in the way that humans like to anthropomorphize and personify their pets. It’s because I have certain needs that this relationship meets so well that it helps protect me and the world from some things about myself. I’m a better human because of the kind and quality of relationship I have with this canine, for which he is so well suited, naturally, without special training. I’m a lucky dog.
Stephen R. Kellert, professor at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, in his chapter on The Biological Basis for Human Values of Nature, in the 1993 book The Biophilia Hypothesis, an anthology co-edited by Edward O. Wilson (creator of the word biophilia) — just a little of my recent light reading — wrote,
The therapeutic mental and physical benefits of the companion animal have been documented in various studies, at times even resulting in significant healing benefits. … The humanistic experience of nature can result in strong tendencies toward care and nurture for individual elements of nature. From an adaptational viewpoint, the human animal as a social species, dependent on extensive cooperative and affiliational ties, may especially benefit from the interactive opportunities fostered by a humanistic experience of nature. An enhanced capacity for bonding, altruism, and sharing may be may be important character traits enhanced by this tendency.
(Deep geek, I know.) The gist:
Mental, physical and healing benefits, he says. Tendencies toward care and nurture. Enhanced social bonding, altruism, and sharing. A better human. And not just from animals. From experience of nature.
(Kellert references three of the studies and the work of three experts who contributed chapters to the book. Since those times, more than a decade ago, there have been many more revealing investigations of the benefits of human exposure to nature and the benefits of companion animals.)
You probably knew this, but most people don’t know it’s an aspect of biophilia. Look it up. But transcend Wikipedia. Try Biophilia Foundation, for example.
I mention it to help raise a point in my grasp of the biophilia hypotheses, or a related hypothesis of my own. I posit that a relationship with a companion animal can help liberate a human from some of our natural human relationship dependency tendency, or perhaps ameliorate consequences of a solitary lifestyle, one lacking those “affiliational ties.”
That is, if you’re really fed up with people and moving out to the boonies, alone, it could be a good idea for you to get a dog for prophylactic reasons.
From an adaptational and hypothetical viewpoint, that is.
The proof of my notion may lie in what becomes of me during the first year after Buddy dies, if I’m still kicking at the time. Proofs of existence get a lot of support from non-existence.
How many times have you read famous quotes about people liking dogs more than people, or dogs being better friends? Do I have to dig them up and paste them here? Let’s try this instead:
Getting back to some other point:
I can’t say this to a scientific certainty, but I believe that the combination of the screamy girl at the “pool wall” and Buddy’s never getting to play with children, who sound so delightful to him at play, breached his normally self-controlled, human-inflicted, neurotic bounds of moseying range.
I say mosey because his self-disciplining strength is enough to deter his just taking off in a trot or a run for this sort of thing. That would be deliberate.
In his weaker moments, I imagine him saying, upon return, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I don’t know what came over me. I guess I just lost my mind, dog-gone-it.”
Furthermore, second to meditating and studying, moseying is Buddy’s primary avocation. He fits Thoreau’s notion of sauntering. You just follow your sense of wonder through the glorious woods until you hear the word, “Here!” or a loud whistle.
Buddy never does a mosey that does not include exploration and watchfulness. One might regard it as mindfulness, too. He lives ever in the present moment, fully and simultaneously mindful of things heard, smelled, felt and instinctually suspected, near and far at the same time, too. And he has to continually watch to see if I’m changing course. Who can blame him for losing his mind now and then?
If it were not for him, I would have Saunter Deficiency Syndrome (SDS). That’s the illness where you don’t realize how much you want and need to get out on the trail until after you’ve felt like crap for a week or more. It’s a kind of blindness.
Buddy’s presence is a good SDS preventive because he demands walks in the woods and other outdoor activity at least three times a day. I guess it’s because for him SDS symptoms start within less than one day, because the onset is seven times faster in dog time.
I did some serious estimating today. There can be no doubt that Buddy is the reason I have walked a thousand miles per year more than I would have without his leadership. I mean it. 1000 miles a year. For seven years this August. We could have gone to California and back.
I wonder if he’s concerned about the price of dog food. It went up 3% this year. That’s 21% in dog money.
One last thing about the psychology of life with this companion animal. Sometimes I detect a likelihood that he asked to come into the house just to apologize — or possibly for a self-imposed incarceration — for an instance of going off the reservation that I did not know about. At first I pick it up in his behavior. Then I listen, wondering what is wrong. Somehow he seems to be saying, “I’m sorry.” Going out of bounds is the only thing he’d regret enough to voluntarily confess and relieve his remorse.
Other times that he asks to come back into the house, rare unless it’s cold or raining, the body language is almost the same, but upon close listening there’s definitely a different message. “Man, I wish you’d stop that and come out for a walk.” For example, he’ll come in and lay down for a minute, then go back to the door and stare a hole into the back of my head.
Speaking of psychology, or things in the head … some day, surgeons may be able to patch your brain.
Scientists create mini human brains in lab
Researchers have developed complex human brain tissue in a 3-D culture system that allows pluripotent stem cells to develop into cerebral organoids – or “mini brains” – that consist of several discrete brain regions. … Read the story in EarthSky.org Science Wire …
The musical accompaniment to creation of this scribblement has been repeating plays of the entire soundtrack CD from Dances With Wolves, the Kevin Costner (acted and directed) movie of 1990 (wow, has it been that long?) It is one of the best Indian movies ever made.
Buddy’s Indian name is Thunder Paws.
John Barry composed and conducted the soundtrack, as he did for so many other blockbuster movies. You cannot go wrong with Barry.
This is the Wolf Theme track from the movie. It is music befitting the soul of deeply meaningful animal companionship, including its mystery and joy. It’s a miracle to make good music.
So how did the screamy girl AID Buddy’s effectiveness as therapy for me?
You figure it out. (Let me know if you want some help with that.)
- Animals, Healing, and Therapy (letsgetalong.wordpress.com) – By Lea McLees, MS, NCC, LAPC, “an associate staff counselor at the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia.” This comprehensive 2013 article describes animal-assisted therapy, and lists many physiological and psychological benefits of human-animal interactions.
- Animal Assisted Therapy Approved for ASHA CEUs (pdresources.wordpress.com) – From the blog Professional Development Resources; Continuing education for health professionals. We need some of its cost covered by health insurance, too. (See also www.pdresources.org)
- Pet Therapy and Depression (www.everydayhealth.com) – The article also talks about animal-assisted therapy in other areas besides depression, and not only mental health issues.
- Therapy Dogs Behind Bars (cherierenfrowstarry.wordpress.com) – A comprehensive report (2011) on the world of animal-assisted therapy, including its historic roots. “The first hospital to use animals as therapeutic agents was established in York (England) in 1813. Patients suffering with mental and/or physical afflictions were allowed to care for domesticated animals as companions.”
- It’s not just for the dogs. Find out why at the blog site, Harnessing the Power of Equine Assisted Counseling. It’s about the 2011 book of that title by Kay Sudekum Trotter, PhD, LPC-S, RPT-S, NCC, “a licensed professional counselor and supervisor, registered play therapist and supervisor, a national certified counselor and a certified equine assisted counselor. She holds a doctoral degree from the University of North Texas where she studied and practiced Play Therapy and Equine Assisted Counseling, and has authored articles on both these topics.”
- Autumn Air (thinkcaroline.wordpress.com) – A nice taste of the mind of Caroline, for whom Autumn and a Dachshund inspire creativity and love.
- A (Foster) Mother’s Work is Never Done (mustlovebullies.wordpress.com) – A fun read about the challenges of being a foster Mom to several dogs. “The whole time I felt like my brain was floating along behind my body like a brain balloon–detached, airy and completely useless.”
- Just Like a Little Dog Would (imageoftheheart.wordpress.com/) – A painful read at first, but it reveals light eventually. “This dog has helped my recovery. Our puppy has decreased my anxiety and loneliness. … everything that was bothering me settles … “
- My Life on the Roller Coaster (writerinapril46.wordpress.com) – A woman answers severe life troubles with the aid of her cat, Chester, saying, “It will be just me and Chester laughing all the time.”