"It should be about the dogs."
Frankly, I have long disagreed with this statement, and didn't even consciously realize it.
But after thinking about all the supportive people I have met over the past few years; all the people who continue to donate toward our foster dogs so we can continue our mission; those who offer their time and gas to transport dogs to their adoptive and foster homes; and those who are simply a soundboard during my hardest days; I have decided that it truly should never be just about the dogs.
As if right on cue with my thoughts, I just finished reading a ground-breaking book, titled Plenty in Life is Free, by world-renowned animal behaviorist Kathy Sdao. This is an incredible piece of literature that challenges the well-intentioned Nothing In Life Is Free philosophy. Plenty in Life is Free teaches us instead to develop partnerships with our dogs where we are skilled and frequent reinforcers instead of strict leaders that ask dogs to earn every privilege.
Although a riveting book, I never expected it to have anything relevant to the thoughts swirling around in my head about rescue not being just about the dogs.
But on the last page-and-a-half of the book, Kathy Sdao reached right through the pages and she smacked me with her wisdom. She too, once found a similar sentiment of human-loathing humorous: "The more people I meet, the more I like my dog." But like any self-improving person, she adjusted her thinking so she could more successfully reach people, and incidentally, more dogs.
On this last page, she shared a Cherokee parable:
"... a young Cherokee man [was] brought before the tribal elders who were concerned about his aggressive tendencies. One of the elders takes the young man aside and tells him that his anger is understandable, since all humans have within them two wolves. One wolf is generous, humble, and open-hearted. The other is aggressive, arrogant, and selfish. The two wolves are in constant battle with one another, since neither is powerful enough to destroy the other. The young man asks, "But which wolf will win?" The elder replies, the one you feed."
Imagine if each of us chose instead to feed the "generous, humble, and open-hearted" wolf? As rescuers, as dog trainers, as animal professionals in any capacity, we are in an ideal position to reach so many people and in turn, improve the lives of their dogs. Which is more productive - to ask our fellow animal welfare soldiers to constantly earn our accolades and respect (as in NILIF); or to develop mutually beneficial relationships in which we strive to improve each other's well-being (as Sdao's PILIF)?
Improving each other's well being in rescue? How empowering, and yet how simple. Applying positive reinforcement techniques - reinforcing "good" behaviors and ignoring the "bad" behaviors -
The dogs we share our lives with are not perfect, but then, - a better, more accurate cliche - neither are we. We all learn through the experiences that "work" for us; the "ah ha!" moments; the instants when all of our hard work has finally paid off and we have achieved something wonderful.
Carolina Care Bullies wants to achieve something wonderful, and those that are "skilled and frequent reinforcers" will continue to be our primary and most successful partners in reaching that goal.