Thursday, December 17, 2015

How we love…

Last month, the city of Minneapolis designated our dog Fawkes a “Potentially Dangerous Animal.” Ugh. For those not in-the-know (like me until recently), this designation is level one in Animal Control’s disciplinary scheme. Level two is “Dangerous Animal.” Level three is “Destruction Oder.” All in all, then, Fawkes got the lightest treatment. Phew.

It came about because Fawkes “nipped” (i.e. slightly bit) our foster boy in early November, while the two were sitting together on a chair. T might’ve squeezed the dog around her tail, or hugged hard. We’re not clear. We were in the room with heads turned. There was no growl. Fawkes simply reacted, and her single chomp caused a small puncture that’s since healed. He’s fine, thank God.

But that little wound was enough to concern Animal Control, since dogs really shouldn’t use teeth to express displeasure. Had T been physically attacking her, that would’ve been a different story. Her behavior here, though, was unprovoked. At least, not in response to a physical threat. Rather, she reacted from some mix of his size v. hers, stress and anxiety. Such is what the trainer we subsequently brought in hypothesized.

Needless to say, we’ve been on egg shells since the designation. The county’s foster care licensers require that we separate T from Fawkes unless we’re training or walking. Animal Control is making her always wear a muzzle when outside and be on a three foot leash. They may let her run in the back-yard, once they inspect whether our fence is adequate. Until then, she’s an inside-dog. So life has changed for the Isners.

Plus, I’ve also been constantly scouring my memory of the past five years, wondering what I did wrong with Fawkes, how I failed her, why I’m not a good puppy daddy. To which the trainer said something that made me feel better. Sure, she admitted, we could’ve been better about training. Most dog owners can. But Fawkes reacted/snipped at other dogs in puppy class, meaning there’s a history. Hence, the trainer’s comment, “Compare Fawkes to an alcoholic. She just has an aggressive tendency. It’s not terrible, but it’s there. There’s no cure. We can modify her behavior a bunch to make everyone safer. But it’ll be lifelong. You simply have to accept her for the dog she is.”

Ever notice how- for almost every significant relationship- you don’t really choose who you love? Your parents, children, broader family, even many friends. You love them because that’s who was there, who was ‘assigned’ to you by The Universe. And even people to whom you say, “You. I chose to love you,” reveal new things over time or change. I didn’t see this about Fawkes when she was young, not entirely. I’ve changed, she’s changed, our family circumstances changed. One of my wedding vows was “To love what I already know of you, and trust what I know not yet.” I still consider that profoundly right.

Fellow church folk are like that too; by and large, unchosen. They’re still family. But once you officially “join,” you’ve given up veto over who else gets in. The next new members won’t ask your permission to join. They’ll simply step forward when invited during worship. And we can have several responses. 1) Shrug our shoulders, avoid connecting with them, maintain “control” over whom we love. Or 2) Joyfully accept the cards God’s universe deals, finding ways to make them a winning hand.

When it comes to new Plymouth Creekers joining, that’s rarely a serious difficulty. You’re all lovely! But even in my dog’s case, with her real challenges, life won’t be miserable unless we chose to stop loving her. Maybe that will have to, one day, and put her down for safety reasons. I hope not. We planning to adjust our routines, our expectations, our training schedules to accommodate and shape this unfortunate character trait of our otherwise beloved Fawkes. Indeed, I pray that now that we know her better, we’re better able to provide her more of what she really needs, not just what we hoped she needed. That’s how to truly love, after all. May we all be so worthy. 

Grace and Peace, 
Shane Read more!