When a rescue unpacks: the emotionally difficult work behind the photos


‘Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.’ G.S.Patton

Some of you are probably familiar with the counselling term ‘unpacking’ and all of us are probably over familiar with the term ‘emotional baggage’ – whether our own or someone else’s. Many therapists would argue until we unpack, piece by piece, all that emotion stuffed in randomly – well, we will never get to simply BE – be who we are really meant to be, or have space for more positive emotions. Kinda makes sense, imagine living your daily life weighed down by a heavy bulging, burdensome suitcase. Yep, we get triggered, we get moody, and we simply get worn out. And too often those who care most, get to feel cared about the least.

Animals are no different and being non-verbal, can you imagine feeling all these emotions without having the words to make sense of them? So, too often, emotion quickly comes out in behaviour – just as ours does, when we don’t use our words! Everything is to blame except what’s in that suitcase!

Back to animals, before I realised my love for animals, sometimes I would hear or read about a dog PTS in a pound because of his temperament. Years later, I think of these vast number of dogs who never made it/or will make it to a rescue who would have worked on unpacking that emotional canine baggage. Anger is a secondary emotion after all. It comes after a primary one – usually like fear, sadness, rejection, and yes, even feeling hungry or possessive over the sight of food.

When we adopt a dog we usually open our hearts and homes to a dog ‘ready to begin again’ because their rescue or rescuer has done the time consuming task of unpacking their emotional baggage. They try connect the triggers to the contents. They try join the dots to build a picture of needs and remedies, replace bad memories with good, break old habits and replace with new, and finally, try to create that secondary picture: what their new home should look like. Imagine taking on this task with many dogs, every day. Yes, just imagine!

And so that brings me to the 67th and 68th heartbeat that’s fills another piece of my own heart: Tyke and Brie – Madra rescues – now well known as two of the Croga (courageous) Collies. They arrived on Friday morning with Madra’s Carrie, who happened to give me grinds in dog behaviour supports specifically for Tyke and Brie. Of course being an eager student, I hooked on to one technique I got quickly ‘treat and retreat’ until she politely pointed out that it might not work too well with Tyke! Well, he is blind afterall!!! Oops!

Being locked away from the world amongst many others in a confined space is going to quickly fill that emotional case. Rescuing this family of collies from the only home they knew was just one part of a long process for Madra. From that day on, I can only imagine that the Croga Collies consumed their days and for some I’m sure many a sleepless moment. They had to figure out how each one could live in homes as pets.

It’s like when the road divides or the luck of the draw. Can you imagine if they went to some pounds in this country. They would have lived and died with all that negative emotion/ experiences – never knowing any other life. Never knowing what it’s like to just BE: be a carefree dog: be truly loved and cared for.

And so on Friday two beautiful collies were lifted from Carrie’s car, their crates were opened, and for the next few hours time was given to soothe them into their new surroundings. Unsure at first, but little tails didn’t go between legs or heads didn’t try to hide. They were ready to adapt and ready to explore. Because their rescuers took the time to unpack with them. We, as the people adopting, get to see them just be who they are now: Tyke, the handsome explorer and snoozer. Brie, bouncy and beautiful, who crawls over to you on her belly until she knows it’s OK to play. Yes, their years of confinement has conditioned them and yes, scarred them, but they are scars that are part of who they are, they no longer define them fully. You see, like counselling, they got to be in a safe space with kind, knowledgable people who walked the recovery road with them. And with no words, or no stories, their rescuers were not privledged to be able to just listen. They had to observe and observe and then show these very frightened dogs that it’s OK to be afraid or even angry but ‘here, this will make you feel less afraid!’ That could be a cosy bed, a comforting toy, a walk with no other dogs or maybe with a dog, a walk on lead or maybe off-lead. Or simply just to sit with them.

Saturday morning about 5:30am Brie was barking so I went out to her as she hadn’t barked since she arrived. And at that moment through sleepy eyes, I sat on a slow feeder (to avoid the dewy ground) and just simply said: it’s going to be OK Brie, and after a few minutes she went back into her bed and fell fast asleep.

Over the last few days, I’ve caught Brie and Tyke having these special, short but sweet moments of togetherness. Brie licks him and he licks her back and she bounces around him. Of course, I’d like to think if they had words, they would say: ‘can you believe it? Can you just believe it? We made it out of there! Life is amazing! And of course, where have these cats being all of the time? (Yes, Brie loves her daily CatFlix!)

* With thanks to Madra for their never-ending rescue work. From the minute I posted a twitter comment, the adoption process was so very professional, seamless and supportive for both the dogs and us.

4 thoughts on “When a rescue unpacks: the emotionally difficult work behind the photos

  1. Thank u Catriona and Pat for adopting these 2 beautiful dogs, who have literally won the lottery of their lives in becoming part of your family. Your brave generous hearts have again reached out to the most needy of creatures, may you have many happy years together. ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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