Why can a dog’s trauma make our hearts melt?

Why can a dog’s trauma make our hearts melt? 150 150 Jane Evans
I love dogs

But…I’ve always wondered why it is easier for many to feel compassion for a traumatised dog than for children and adults with early experiences of trauma. Is it because humans often show their trauma in ways society finds challenging, and judges harshly?

My friend and colleague Fiona Scott has recently welcomed Jessie, a dog from a sanctuary into her family. This is their story which we decided to share, as Fiona, immediately started see in her beautiful Jessie, what I’ve taught her about anxiety and trauma in humans.

Over to Fiona…

I first met Jane when I was writing an article about her and her work around childhood trauma, adult anxiety and how the brain works. Since then, we’ve worked together for several years on her PR media voice and presence.

Jane is now a regular in print, and on national television and radio, talking about the impact of early toxic stress and trauma. I have also asked Jane to help me on numerous occasions to be a better parent – it never entered my head that at some point that experience would enable me to cope with the adoption of a nervous dog!

First Paw Prints on Our Hearts

Just a week ago (August 2018) my family met and adopted a beautiful dog, a year old, called Jessie (that’s our name for her). As a family with three children at home, we’d decided about a year ago we were going to get a dog, something my husband and I have not done in our adult lives.

The reason? Our son is six years younger than our next child and we realised there would come a point when he would be the only child at home with two parents in their fifties He would be lonely and we needed to take some steps to support him once that came about. We registered with Bath Cats & Dogs Home (our nearest sanctuary) and went through an inspection process to see if we were suitable.

The day Jessie Slipped Into Our Hearts

Arriving at the Dog and Cats Home, Bath. We planned to just look at the dogs needing a home. Perhaps take one for a walk and begin the ‘getting to know you process’. We didn’t actually see Jessie in the pens (she was not kept there as she’s too nervous) however, we’d seen her in their ‘book’ of dogs available for adoption. For me that was the first clue. Such a young dog, yet too nervous to be on view in a pen.

When we asked to see her, Jessie was brought out. She was cowered behind the volunteer. Her tail was right between her legs and she kept looking away. We went for a walk together and began to hear some of her story – she’d arrived there as a stray. In our area lurchers are often abandoned when their owners are caught ‘lamping’ or ‘hare coursing’.

Scared of everything and everyone

Jessie walked with us, sheltering behind her walker. It was painful to see her crumble if anyone approached, or if there were sudden noises. If another dog was nearby – she’d nearly collapse. If they barked she froze. Jessie was silent, no barking, no aggression. We were told she would bolt if she was off the lead and that we may never be able to let her off lead.

Jessie was also gentle, beautiful and seemed to be able to cope with the four of us who were there each day. Our son is a very gentle boy, very loving and she seemed relaxed in that she was able to walk and sniff around in our company.

Our second visit with Jessie

We were asked if we would come back the next day and spend a longer time with her, in a ‘cabin’ they have to recreate a home environment and then walk her on our own. They felt as our youngest child was so gentle and we had no other pets at home, if it went well she could join our family immediately.

The following day we spent an hour in the cabin with Jessie. She whined when the volunteer left her – and paced around. She sniffed us all, took a few treats, climbed up on a chair to look out of the window and jumped at any loud noise from outside. She went outside and sniffed around. We took out toys but she looked at us blankly and went back to pacing.

Finding her paws with us

In a week with us, Jessie has come such a long way. Yet, it’s still clear – as Jane has taught me, that because of her trauma, some things will take a long while, and some behaviours may never change.

Here are five things I’ve noticed:

*She doesn’t know how to play with toys – this is so very sad to see. She doesn’t recognise a toy at all. If you hold one out or throw a ball she will look at you blankly. Now, if you leave a toy outside, after a few moments she will go outside pick it up and race back with it.

*She gets very, very anxious around other dogs– while she can now cope walking past them. If one is noisy or very nosey around her she will jump – quite literally spring into the air. We’ve noticed she’s particularly scared of smaller dogs. No aggression, she just wants to get away.

*She’s more comfortable with men than women. Using what I know from Jane, this makes me wonder if somewhere in her short past she’s been hurt or mistreated by a woman or girl. She’s happy to be around me and my daughters but, I notice if we speak firmly to her, or we’ve gone out and come back in, she is slower to warm to us than to the boys in the home.

*She will bolt – we’ve been very careful about keeping her close to us and also having leads we can shorten and lengthen very quickly. There was one lapse where she bolted out of the front door and ran.

We went after her, and to our amazement, when called, she stopped, paused and came back. This gives us hope that one day she will be able to respond to a recall.

*She will take food (even when not hungry) – this may be a doggy thing of course. Yet I wonder about this due to her being a stray. She will try to take food from us when we are eating on our laps, and take rubbish out of the bin. She is just beginning to respond to gentle commands not to do this. At the moment, to reduce her stress, we have to close a door on her and leave her in her sanctuary while we eat.

Jane explained that a child with a history of abuse. When settling into a new home after been moved from their birth family, or from another foster home, may well display similar behaviours. This breaks my heart.

Journeying on with Jessie

We are on a journey with our frightened Jessie. She is already a part of our family. It amazes me that just a week in we’re already naturally planning our lives around her and accepting the changes we’ll have to make (though I think scooping the poop will always be a challenge).

Thanks to working with, and knowing Jane. I have a useful insight into trauma, all being in humans. But it has really helped me to see it in Jessie. So, I’ve been able to naturally accept this dog for who she is right now. I don’t get upset or offended if she doesn’t want to be near me.  I’m relaxed about her accepting me and other family members in her own time.

I gently warn those entering our home that we have a nervous dog so please remember that and if I ask them not to do something – please don’t do it. Further updates will be available on Facebook!

Final thoughts from Jane

I’ve worked with those impacted by trauma for 25 years. Such compassionate curiosity, patience and atunement, with a willingness to ‘learn them’ is not always extended for long enough.

I look forward to more of Jessie’s lessons for us all. And the joy she is bringing, just by being herself.

Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans

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