Call us crazy, but our family adopted a recovered racing greyhound at the end of October.
We went to a recovery center and had a choice of two dogs: a sleek brindle named Perseus, and a gentle black-and-white named Reuben. We decided that Reuben’s cuddly demeanor was more suited to us than Perseus’ frenetic devil-may-care attitude, so a few hundred dollars later (for dog, accoutrements, and deworming medicine) we took Reuben for a 3 hour ride back home. Our son sat in the back and got drooled on.
Reuben was three years old and six weeks off the track. Since he’d been known by the names “Lodwick,” “Jake,” and “Reuben,” (and perhaps others) within the past year, we figured we could change his name one more time without a problem. Since October Zorro has learned the home routine and has a sweet situation: breakfast and naps on a big cushion in the morning, chasing squirrels before a noon snack, more leisurely walks in the afternoon, and a nice dinner and bedtime. He especially likes bully sticks for an afternoon chew.
You can learn a lot about people from animals. An interesting thing I’ve picked up from Zorro is that he has what you might call an “attachment disorder.” Zorro is affectionate and always good-natured, but he doesn’t seem to be bonding to us — he doesn’t seek us out; in fact he will wag his tail and lean against anyone who tells him he’s handsome. I’m thinking that he is a naturally sociable animal but the kennel trainers may have taken him away from his mother and siblings too early, and after that he was put always alone in his kennel except to run a few races on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. No one abused him, but they didn’t engage him either.
Another term for it is “emotional neglect.” Zorro didn’t learn that anyone would be there for him, and as a consequence he’s become the most outrageous self-centered user. He will eat puppy snacks and go on awesome fun walks, then turn around to his comfortable bed in the corner without so much as a glance at you. He doesn’t mind if you pet him, but he doesn’t move either. Our family takes turns once or twice a day with giving him “puppy time” — one of us sits in the comfy mushroom chair while the 85 pound animal stretches across us, and then we pet him for a half hour. Zorro CRAVES puppy time, often putting his front feet on the chair and whimpering, which is what confuses me since he’s otherwise so aloof.
My point in telling you all this is that many qualities from animals can be transferred to humans, and emotional neglect certainly seems to be one of these. People need other people. Babies need their mommies and daddies not just to keep them warm and fed, but to hold them and play with them and teach them how the world works. Children need other children to play with and dream big dreams. Adults need that eye contact and caring phrase that tells them yes, you are important. We all need to value each other as human beings, not just look at each other as a means to an end.
Our family is hoping Zorro comes out of his self-focused world, although even if he doesn’t we’ll take care of him the best we can. He’s a friendly dog so it isn’t even hard. But this condition just goes to show the deep wounds that can be inflicted when you don’t even know it. Be careful with each other. We are all fragile and can be eaily and deeply hurt, and wounds are hard to heal. The proverb says an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — so let’s be careful not to unknowingly hurt others in the first place, and remember that we, all of us, can be awesome when not tied to these painful wounds.