Kira has been with us for 2 months. I just said to some friends the other day that it would be an amazing when Kira reached milestones like wagging her tail or climbing up on the couch beside me. I also said, “and that might never happen.” We just can’t know what these animals have suffered or the extent of the damage to their psyches. We can guess, we can hope, we can pray, but we can never really know. All we can do is love them, make them safe, and hope that in time they can find healing in our care. Yesterday love won.
I was watching TV with Mocha and Obi on the couch and Kira came out, as she often does, to peek over the arm of the couch and see what everyone was doing. But last night she didn’t run back to her crate. She carefully climbed up onto the couch with us!! At first she lay with her back to me and seemed ready to jump back down. I held my breath for fear of frightening her. Within a few minutes she seemed to relax and she shifted to look at us and take in the room from her new vantage point. For an hour I sat completely still, expecting her to leave at any moment. But she stayed! She watched TV, she leaned over to sniff me and Mocha, and she closed her eyes and stretched out and went to sleep.
I think I probably stared at her for 2 hours, just contemplating this mysterious creature. The way that she has recently begun to suddenly (and quite calmly) take deliberate steps to do new things, makes it very tempting to believe that she rehearses these things in her mind before she does them. Do animals do that? We just can’t know.
She has begun feel safer. Initially her actions were completely driven by fear and adrenaline, resulting in avoidance and hiding behaviors. Now that the fear is not consuming her, she is actually making choices for herself, choices to explore things that interest her. She is seeking companionship and wanting to be part of a group – an extremely strong motivator for dogs.
In one of my first posts I mentioned Suzanne Clothier teaching that before any learning can occur a dog must feel safe. She refers to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In the 1950s Maslow, a psychologist, created this pyramid to illustrate that humans (and other animals) will always seek to meet the needs at the bottom of the pyramid first. He argued that if the most basic needs are not met, all emotional and physical energy will be focused on meeting those needs before meeting needs further up in the hierarchy, such as the need for relationship, belonging and love. In short, you need to feel safe before you can feel loved.
For the first time in her life Kira has enough food and a warm comfortable bed to sleep in. For the first time in her life she has a predictable routine, a person who appears to care for and protect her, a safe place of her very own that she can retreat to when she feels overwhelmed…. For the first time in her life she is safe. So last night, for the first time in her life, Kira climbed up onto a couch and fell asleep.
Here is another interpretation of Maslow’s pyramid:
I find it so phenomenal, so miraculous, so humbling to be part of Kira’s life and to watch as she begins to seek belonging and relationship for the first time ever. How brave she is! She has overcome so much suffering. She has endured many things that I don’t even know about, things that it would break my heart to know. Somehow she has come through it all with her beautiful spirit and soft heart intact – buried deep, but intact.
I know that the couch is not any more comfortable than her crate (because I lay in both places!). What the couch has that her crate does not is her family. For the first time in Kira’s life, she has a family. We have been her family from the moment she arrived, but by climbing up on the couch last night, what Kira communicated was something like, “I want to belong to this group. I want you to accept me and I want to be with you.” Put in human terms, that is something very like:
“This is my family and this is my home.”
Welcome home dear, sweet Kira. Your family loves you so much.