A few weeks ago, I began a new job as a nanny for a family I had never met. But I liked them right away. They live right in the centre of town, with 3 kids, 2 cats and a dog.
This dog…she’s special. But I’m probably a little biased because she’s a golden retriever and I’ve been in love with golden retrievers ever since Homeward Bound journeyed across the silver screen into our hearts in 1993.
(Every time I watch it, a small part of me still worries that maybe, just MAYBE THIS TIME, Shadow won’t make it out of the muddy train yard pit. I REFUSE TO BELIEVE HE’S OK UNTIL I SEE IT.)
While the edges of Poppy’s face are starting to tinge white, her exuberance for life has not dimmed. She’s gentle with the kids, tolerant with the cats, and she always comes back home when you call.
So, last night, I realized something was a little…off. She was napping a bit more, occasionally huffing deeply with a slight whine. I kept letting her outside, thinking this was her issue.
But then, just after dinner time, the children came to me: “I think there’s something wrong with Poppy’s ear.”
They showed me, and I gasped. A very tiny, very tight rubber elastic had somehow been wrapped around the corner of Poppy’s ear twice. It was stuck good, and any time we made an attempt to get it off, Poppy became a snarling, snapping mess.
I told the kids to leave her alone while I tried to figure out what to do. I was bombarded with thoughts: how long had it been there? did it hurt? or had her ear gone completely numb? what could I do?
But, as happens when looking after children, I got distracted when someone broke a bowl that shattered all over the kitchen floor. It still had yogurt in it, so I didn’t really know what was shards and what wasn’t. I took one rag and wiped it all up as best I could, but I still sliced my hand.
Pinched puppies. Blood. Wide-eyed, gulping children. Just another night under my supervision.
I was still cleaning my hand when I heard Poppy snarl and snap her jaws; the eldest child started crying, “She BIT me! Poppy! I wasn’t even trying to touch her ear, and she BIT me! She’s never done that before!”
I hugged her as we both clutched our wounded hands.
The chaos of the evening was able to calm down by the time beds were calling – and then I remembered that after my shift was over, I was going to take Poppy home with me for the week while her family was away on vacation.
I nearly started crying when I thought of her spending her entire week away from her family while her ear was in such misery. Did vets take care of these things? Probably, but for money we didn’t have.
I felt quite helpless.
When the children’s father came home, I related the entire evening to him. What happened next was simple and profound.
He beckoned Poppy to him, speaking very softly. I tried to warn him that she was in a bitey mood, but he disregarded that. He looked at her ear, gently touching it and she whined but did not strike.
Slowly, he got up and fetched a pair of kitchen scissors. With dexterity and gentleness, he snipped that rubber band right off her ear. Poppy began jumping up and down and licking his face. I swear she was SMILING, she was so happy.
She’s been home with us for one night now, and we quite enjoy her. Even the Walter Cat hasn’t flipped his shit yet.
This is my first post towards the online Compassion movement, #1000Speak. I’ll try to post a second one tomorrow (on showing compassion to enemies) and then Friday the 20th will be the big day (showing compassion towards myself and other mothers as a doula who has faced miscarriage).
What I saw last night showed me that, even though animals are so different from us humans, when it comes to pain – we are the same. Our injuries may not even be completely visible to someone else. When all we’re looking at is the wound, then everything else we see is coloured by that pain – to the point where we’ll strike out against someone who isn’t even trying to target us. We just assume that they are.
For Poppy, Compassion meant Action.
For her saviour, Compassion meant Action Even If It Hurts.
But if he’d taken a hammer to her ear, it would have accomplished nothing – only confirmed Poppy’s original mistrust.
If we want to help others, ease their pain, show them compassion even when they don’t seem to want it, we have to speak gently, and use the right tools. As it’s said, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh response stirs up anger,” and “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
If we take the time to do this for others, perhaps healing will come. Even to the point where expected enemies can co-exist.
I’d like that.