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Archive for July 14th, 2009

My dog Buddy – almost certainly abused during his first months of life, before being adopted out of the pound around age 6 months, and then subtly neglected for another 8 years – has tremendous needs for love and attention, needs for which he only recently has gotten confident enough to directly ask.  And it has been completely clear that there is huge payoff from giving him this love and attention, some of this payoff totally self-serving for me: a happier, more lively, more contented dog is a helluva lot better companion than the mopey, depressed dog i adopted over a year ago.

But how much love and attention is enough?  Buddy is not actually a bottomless pit in this area.  Even as he has, over the last 15 months, learned to drink this love in deeper and deeper – to revel in it, to sink into it – he also has developed more capacity to be filled up: to decide that he has enough and now wants to just go lie in the sun or explore the yard or go back to one of his other favorite spots.

But sometimes he’s still not done with cuddle time when I am.  So how do i decide when to stop?  Unless there is some unusual circumstance (he has been traumatized by thunder or an aggressive dog or a trip to the vet or groomer), I usually choose for me.  I first notice a shift in me from being totally present to him – immersed in the sweetness of our connection, the beautiful afternoon in our backyard, etc. – to being more distracted or restless.  I know at this point that my time on the meter has almost expired.  I usually will hang in some moments longer – and on those special occasions when i realize he has even more need for reassurance, maybe significantly longer.

But finally something shifts in me and i know that i am done.  Frequently the key indicator is that my attention has shifted elsewhere: to a call i need to make or a task that is sitting on my desk or a need to feed myself.  I virtually never try to push myself beyond this point: it’s not good for me and it’s not good for my relationship with Buddy.  It won’t serve either of us if i lay guilty expectations on myself to take care of him when i need to be taking care of me.  It definitely won’t serve either of us if i start to resent his demands on me.

On rare occasions, he will make such a melodramatic attempt to keep me – throwing a paw up over me or even crying a little, stuff that this unassertive dog almost never does – that i will stay a few extra moments.  But finally i know that this just isn’t working for me any more: he has needs, but i do, too.  I may give him a few extra kisses as i leave, but leave i do.

And often i will actually say out loud, “I got other stuff to do, man.”

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