Life with Reggie has been a rollercoaster to say the least and given the opportunity, I’m sure he’d say the same about life with me. He is a trusted friend and confidant as well as being the most incredible Muse. Working with survivors of rape and sexual violence has led us both down a path that we had never dreamed existed.
Sitting at my feet, looking at me with a quizzical look, Reggie couldn’t understand why I was so frustrated with the rectangular box I had been tapping and staring at for days. The laptop, as it is otherwise known, was the recipient of my frustration as the book I was attempting to write consisted of approximately fourteen words. These words were not in any particular order and far from being inspirational tale of hope that I had planned.
I had been working with survivors for a while and when I was with young people in particular, it became frighteningly apparent that there was a lack of positive role models, language and terminology that implied an element of blame or a lifetime of suffering. I wanted to create a story that could show that there is an alternative, that there is another way through the journey of recovery and that there is, most certainly, hope. Despite wanting to believe I was cool and groovy when I was working with young people (I do understand the irony of using those words), I was only really popular when Reggie was with me.
How could I have missed something so painfully obvious? There he was, sat at my feet, my canine hero and soon to be leading man in my story of hope; Reggie.
The journey of a rescue dog has a synergy with the journey taken by survivors. Both have been let down by humans, both have been hurt in some way and both have an uncertain future ahead of them. This is where we have a lot to learn from our canine companions. Reggie’s character in the book who is aptly called, Reggie, is rescued by a teenage survivor, Dani Moore, and her Mum as they start a new life in a new town.
Dani has a lot of challenges to face as she embarks on her final year of secondary school and just like the reality that is ‘life’ for all of us, it isn’t plain sailing. As ‘dog people’, we know that there are immense benefits to living with our canine companions, yet how many of their traits can we adopt or learn from to make our own lives more purposeful and positive?
As the book grew in popularity, the desire to share the countless aspects of canine characteristics was overwhelming. Our social enterprise, Canine Perspective CIC, does just that. Our aim is to train humans, from a dog’s point of view, with our social mission focused on workshops and retreats for survivors and rescue dogs. What we offer is different to the approaches taken by ‘service’ dogs or ‘therapy’ dogs. They do incredible work, but they are already beautifully trained to undertake those duties. Training the rescue dogs, as part of our programmes, is what makes us different.
The story of each rescue dog is a fundamental part of the journey. How have they been let down? How have they been treated? Is it the dog’s fault? Did that last question make you shout ‘WHAT?! No, of course it wasn’t the dog’s fault.’
At that moment, the survivors can take some time to reflect. Guilt and shame are often felt by abuse survivors, yet there’s a powerful message that can be shared from the experience of working with the dogs. There is only one place to lay the burden of responsibility and that is with the perpetrator.
Then the fun really begins! What else can we learn from these awesome creatures? Let’s go back to basics with a good stretch in the morning, a drink of water and a run around in the fresh air. Even the most disheartened human can allow themselves a small smile to appreciate the unadulterated joy that a dog finds in racing around a field. That small smile begins to open the door of possibility.
I couldn’t do that without the dogs. As entertaining as I can try to be, they have a way of reaching the depths of the complex human condition that I can barely comprehend.
What next? There’s the honest communication through the dog’s body language about the way they are feeling. I haven’t met a dog who tells me that ‘everything is fine’ while their tale is between their legs. They are honest about how they feel and it is our job to allow them to tell us and work with them from where they are.
Teaching a dog something new is a process. We start with something small, something easily achievable and set them up to succeed. We get excited when they master the first, small steps and reward them along the way. We give them a break, time to rest and then start again. As they get further along the process we get even more excited. They are getting closer to their goal and we love every second of it. Then they do it; they actually do it! The excitement is palpable.
What if we follow this process ourselves? Give it a try!