On My Mind

Did you know my pups and I wake up each morning around 4:30 am in order to open our doors at Rex’s Place? It’s really early – REALLY early. I get myself ready and take care of my two. Then it’s on to work and while, in my corporate years, there were a morning or two I just didn’t feel like going to work, I don’t find myself feeling that way too often these days.

If you’ve walked through our door dropping your dog(s) off, you are used to the amazing greeting you get from Dana. “Good Morning my friend. We’re going to have a really great day.” Although she is not QUITE as happy to see me each morning, saying good morning to HER is a great way to start the day.

Typically new clients ask why they should come to daycare. I always explain we provide a structured environment, with trained staff, to get dogs out of the house, socialized and give them a little mental stimulation. All of this is true but there is another reason that you should bring your dog to daycare, and it’s a really selfish one – it allows me to block out the ##@@ that’s going on in the world and just be.

For the hours I’m on the floor at the daycare, I have nothing to worry about other than if Meeko and Pablo are going to get exhausted from playing. Or is Percy going to try and swallow another ball? If Bruin’s poop is a little lose. Whether or not we’ll close our doors at the end of the day with no injuries among the dogs or staff. And while I’m contemplating all of this, I’m wondering – why the heck does this work? Why is it that these dogs, all shapes, sizes, personalities, colors, ages, health, gender, etc. can co-exist in a room. Some quiet, some not. Not only can they co-exist, they do so with relatively few squabbles. How does this happen?

At the daycare, we use traffic signals to trigger where we put each dog. Green dogs are never a problem. Yellow dogs have a bit of an edge to them – they need to be watched a little more carefully. Red-dogs are aggressive and we never accept them. We group dogs by temperament – and play style. And it’s important to know that a dog’s play style in the first hours may be very different from that in the middle of the day. We try to provide flexibility to the dogs visiting us.

Okay, I admit I sometimes use the same approach with people. When I think someone is a “red-light” person, I steer clear of them. What am I you ask? I’m yellow all the way. During my teens, I protested the war in Vietnam. Every weekend I was out there, rejecting the idea that the war was a good thing. I lost friends in the war who disagreed with me and lost their lives in the process (I miss you, Jim) and others who, while they didn’t lose their life, rejected my right to express an opinion. Since the election, I find myself remembering this time. I thought we’d never see such a divided country again and that we had all learned from it. And yet, since this election I see that same division, that same anger. But I digress…let’s get back to the floor.

Within hours of the dogs arriving, it’s evident this is something special. The dogs that come through the door are all different. There are no two dogs that are alike. Often when a new dog comes in you’ll hear a whole lot of noise and, if Gunnar is in the room, he’ll get everyone to sing a song of welcome to the new entry. Papi has started doing that too. After the chorus, sometimes quiet exists. It doesn’t matter what size the dog is, what color, or the personality, they always bark or sing their welcome.

They soon swamp the new dog entering. Touch noses. Smell butts. Use a paw (or two) to swat and let the new dog know that play time is awaiting them as soon as they make their move. Tail wags take place. The sweeping wag showing acceptance and interest, the small tight wag showing a resistance toward moving any closer. Still, if that is the case, they move on and ignore each other. They communicate and let the other dog know exactly what they are thinking. If the other dog doesn’t understand, and that does happen sometimes, that’s why our handlers are there.

On any given day we have 50 – 70 of these amazing creatures hanging out together. How they choose to spend their time is totally up to them. They have options. Some dog’s play, some watch; others investigate something on the floor, jump on a handler, sit in a handler’s lap or lie on the floor. They have discussions with each other (as you know when you walk in the door). They find dogs they want to play with and those they don’t. They have disagreements at times, but they are usually quickly settled. There are some that “agree to disagree” and just don’t hang out together. At the end of the day, each dog remains true to themselves and, as a group, they ALL GET ALONG.

I find myself thinking about this. A LOT. Why is it that we (humans) can’t do the same? Embrace different point of views, evolve, learn from them or help teach others? Why do we bunch other people in groups and put labels on them? You’re a Democrat, a Republican, A Christian, a Jew or a Muslim, black, white or brown. The list of labels goes on. Why can’t we, human beings that we are, accept others as they are and embrace the diversity of culture and beliefs? Find the commonalities and celebrate them. Ignore those that “rub us the wrong way” but accept their right to exist. Why is that we (humans) can’t do the same as the dogs that visit us each day at Rex’s?

The dogs have one thing in common. They are all dogs (just as we are all humans). But the similarities end there. It is why Meeko, a very large dog, takes puppies under his wing to teach them how to play. And boy do they play. They sing. They run, and laugh and wrestle I have no doubt that at times they don’t feel well, but they soldier on. Some of them have jobs, either outside (Lazlo and Gibbs are our resident therapy dogs) or inside when they teach a new puppy how to play. When dogs don’t listen, it is often the other dogs that put them on the right track. Hurley was great at that. A teacher’s assistant if you will. They usually play in pairs, but sometimes they play together in bigger groups. Inevitably, one dog takes the lead and the others follow. And then,THEY CHANGE LEADERSHIP. Each dog in the pack is given the opportunity to lead the pack.

Yes, there is time for a little jealousy once in a while. On occasion, one dog will get upset if you pay too much attention to another. They will push their way in the remind “the human” that there is another dog in the room that wants (needs) a little bit of attention. But still, even then, they get along.

At the daycare, the staff recognizes stress and discomfort as important. We monitor play and provide a watchful eye as things can change quickly. We understand canine communication. They seem to understand each other. And we recognize EVERY dog as an individual

So I go back to my main question. Why can’t WE (humans) do this? Why can’t we seem to find a way to get along? Why do we seem to be talking AT or TO each other rather than WITH each other? The lack of tolerance and understanding of differences seems to be the new normal. And I find myself asking how these dogs do it. How do they manage to co-exist, ignore differences, and continue to grow and develop a personality of their own?

People often ask me why I didn’t get married again (yes, for those of you who didn’t know I got married at 19 and was a battered wife). My answer was always the same: I had the perfect guy. He greeted me each evening with kisses. He always wanted to do what I wanted to do. He never had a problem expressing affection and he didn’t hit me or steal my money. He was loyal and wanted nothing more than to make me happy. It was about a year ago that Rex left me and, while I miss him every day, Seaquel and Picasso fill the void that Rex left.

Maybe it’s those same characteristics that make dogs able to get along when we (humans) seem to have such difficulty. They don’t seem to care if one dog is better looking, taller, smarter or comes from a “better” family. It seems unimportant to them when someone gets to the ball first, or not at all. If someone doesn’t want to play and just wants to relax under the front counter, so be it. No hard feelings. No judgment occurs.

So I want you all to know that this is why I love my job. This is why I thank each of you for sharing your dog with us. In this most difficult time, I find myself inspired by them. And I find myself wondering why it is that dogs are so much smarter than we are when it comes to relationships? Why is it that they can overlook differences, and not get caught up in the foolish little minutia that seems to “dog” us humans. Your thoughts?