It’s great to walk around the neighborhood with Mama Dog, yet we don’t stroll tightly knit streets at peak times like 5pm to 7pm on weekdays. With a dog-aggressive 50-pound Amstaff/ Pitbull, that’s way too much stimulation! So I aim for calm settings at quieter times like later evening in our neighborhood. One such night on our usual route, someone let out their dog off-leash just as we passed by. In the dark I heard the nearing clink of metal tags and braced for a possible encounter. Handling Mama, I yelled to the owner, “Get your dog!” I couldn’t make out the exact words, but the reply was relaxed. Such owners commonly respond with, “It’s alright. She’s okay,” when their dogs approach us, clueless to the danger to which they are subjecting our animals.
Episodes like these tempt me to rant about unleashed dogs, but a more productive parallel came to mind during a walk at Mt. Hope Cemetery. I went there because it was neighborhood peak time. We began walking and came upon a loose dog playing fetch with its owner. Luckily, there was space and time to adjust direction. Between rows of headstones, I pondered how learning to walk my dog-aggressive pooch compares to dealing with conflict. Like an unleashed dog, conflict does appear without warning, regardless of measures taken to avoid unpleasantries. The challenge in both cases is to keep calm and sure-footed.
When I discovered that Mama Dog was animal aggressive, I was afraid of her even seeing dogs when we walked. I used a pinch collar and muzzle, yet still the fear still rose up. I tried a technique to dominate her in the presence of other dogs, but she only seemed to become more panicked. Over time I learned how my emotions impacted her responses. With the help of my partner and a trainer, the muzzle and pinch collar were laid to rest, and replaced by consistent responses to Mama Dog’s behavior. Three years have passed now, and she is improving in sync with my changes.
The journey with Mama Dog reminds me of my journey to deal with conflict, because historically I have lit into fight-or-flight. After phases of knee-jerk reacting from anger, after witnessing and participating in so many unproductive conflict ir-resolutions, I have struggled to be present with uncomfortable tension. These days I sit with emotions stirred by unpleasant situations, then pray and mediate about my response. While not one-hundred percent foolproof, I’m able to repeat this wait-pray-respond mode. I find the old see-saw balancing with less judgment and more release of negativity.
Taking time to sort out what churns beneath the emotional surface is a big help in this process. Questions posed by a f/Friend from Meeting for Worship last spring are very handy: When weighing whether to confront someone, ask yourself is it true, is it necessary, and can it be said in love? While I believe Spirit works in the moment, I strive for clarity about if and when to address a conflict or tension, and for calmness in delivery. I strive even as I falter – like giving a sharp word to a jesting friend – because old stuff appears in sudden ways.
The challenge with Mama Dog is how to manage a dog encounter rather than avoid them all together, and to do so calmly while steering clear (when possible!) of volatile situations that guarantee to overwhelm. So no dog parks for us! This process parallels conflict in a certain way: relationships with loved ones and community naturally involve tension. The point is to live life not avoid it, knowing that some conflicts may result in a parting of ways. Strive to stay real and humble, choosing when to speak and certain words with love.