The yoga teachings on communication are simple but clear:
Say only the truth.
When the truth will cause harm, say nothing.
I was reminded of that on my walk with Ana Pup last Tuesday.
I wasn’t on Facebook when my German Shepherd Tasha was young. I didn’t have a blog or a mystery series at that time, either. So very few people, other than my yoga teacher training students, know about her first years. When Tasha turned a little over a year, she started losing weight. I took her to multiple vets, none of whom could find figure out why she was ill, much less how to help her. Experimental surgeries were recommended. I stayed awake nights worrying about her. I prayed that if she were suffering, God would take her from me. I didn’t want to send her to her next life too soon, but I didn’t want to allow her to suffer in this one, either.
In spite of the weight loss, Tasha loved our daily walks, and I couldn’t take them away from her. I walked her around our neighborhood sometimes, but mostly she and I strolled around Green Lake. In those final few weeks before diagnosis, Tasha’s ribs started showing, and she needed to rest frequently. She’d lost twenty-five pounds, and she looked it.
People stared at Tasha and made assumptions about me, none of them good. I never understood why people believed a woman who was purposefully starving her dog would walk her around Green Lake, but think that, they did. People stopped me multiple times each walk. Some firmly told me that my dog was too skinny, as if I’d been too oblivious to notice. Others asserted that I obviously wasn’t feeding her or that I was feeding her garbage. Still others angrily threatened to call the Humane Society. I explained over and over and over again that I wasn’t abusing my dog, but many of them never believed me. Still, the walks were important to Tasha, so we kept walking.
Finally one day, a kind man stopped to tell me that my dog was gorgeous. While we were talking he jokingly asked, “Is she working on being a supermodel?” I knew he was hinting at her weight, but the way that he said it was so much kinder than anyone else. So I told him that she was sick, that we hadn’t found a diagnosis yet, and that I was afraid I would lose her.
He replied with a single sentence. “I was afraid of that.”
He then told me that his dog, the gorgeous husky that was walking next to him, had almost starved to death too, and that he had worked with a wonderful vet who had diagnosed his dog’s issue when no other vet could. He gave me her name, and I called her the instant I got home. That’s how I met the wonderful doctors Marta Norbrega and Jackie Sehn at Mercy Vet. I will always be grateful to this man, though I never saw him again. He and the vets at Mercy Vet saved Tasha’s life.
Once we got a diagnosis, (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency) we immediately started treatment, but the path to weight gain for Tasha was slow. The comments about how I was obviously abusing her continued. My vet even offered to write a letter that I could show to the strangers who accosted me.
My experience wasn’t unique. Other owners of dogs with EPI face similar challenges. I know some who don’t walk their dogs in public at all anymore. Some dress them in T-shirts. Some do what Jackie recommended and carry signed notes from their veterinarians. All because people are so ready to make assumptions. Our society has become mean. We don’t ask questions, we make judgments. I find that tragic.
Over twelve years later, I was reminded of my experience when I spoke with a man walking a tiny poodle mix wearing bright yellow dog boots. He volunteered to me that his dog has severe allergies to grass, and without the boots she becomes lame. I congratulated him on how well he had trained her, and he told me that she was his medic alert dog. I don’t know everything the dog does for him, but one of her jobs is to wake him up at night when he stops breathing. This dog keeps him alive. To say that he loves her and takes excellent care of her would be an understatement.
At the end of our conversation, he sighed and said that on his way home, he would have to talk to the “Phinney People.” I didn’t know what he was referring to at first, but he explained that he meant people on Phinney Avenue North, a busy thoroughfare a block away from where we were speaking.
He then added, “People always accuse me of abusing my dog because she wears dog boots. I used to stop and explain to them why she needed them, but now I just keep walking. I tell myself that it’s great to live in a place where everyone cares for all living things, but…”
My heart broke for this man. He’s doing the best that he can, with love, with the resources available to him. And yet rather than ask questions, people choose to judge him.
Which brings me back to the yoga teachings.
We see the world through filters, which are often darker than reality. We make attributions about others’ motivations. We judge people, often harshly. Yoga is about clarifying our filters. Yoga is about learning to be kinder. Yoga teaches us that the only people we’re meant to change are ourselves.
When it comes to communications, I think these teachings have great applicability to our society today. As the teachings assert, sometimes the most important thing we can say is nothing.
Thanks for listening.
PS: If you’re interested in learning more about Whole Life Yoga’s Teacher Training Program, you can check it out at this link.
All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!