It was intended to be a treat for him. A play date. One of my neighbors and I had considered the possibility of Quincy the dog staying at their house while I traveled later in the month.
They live just down the street, and there are four dogs in their family. The dogs all greet and interact with us everyday as Quincy and I walk past their house in the mornings.
The leader of their pack is bossy and smart and owns the entire corner inside his fence; he and Quincy trash-talk a great deal through the chainlink fence, but it’s done in good spirit and with mutual understanding. The newest member of their troupe is a girl dog that Quincy has a tremendous crush on; she’s a flirt and adorable and knows it. The third is a misfit who gets by on his personality; he and Quincy have hit it off since he moved in a few years back, tails wagging til they almost fall apart as soon as they see each other (perhaps that accounts for why this guy has only half a tail). The fourth is a Corgi; the oldest, the slowest, the wisest, the real brains of the group.
So we thought it would be a treat for Quincy to be one of the gang – playing with the cool kids, sitting in with the band. At first it was. And then it wasn’t.
They all got along admirably. The hosts welcomed Quincy into their large, free-range fenced-in yard – into their space and their games. And Quincy romped with them with abandon. After watching and seeing this response to each other going so well, we humans thought: “Well, this is great. This is a plan.” And so I agreed to leave him there for just an hour or so – to give it a sort of trial.
Looking back I realize I should have told Quincy goodbye. But I didn’t want to interrupt his play. I simply slipped out the gate and walked home.
When I returned to retrieve him a scant hour later, he seemed fine at first glance. He was panting heavily from play (we assumed) and running along the fence line. But once outside the gate, he ran all the way home. And then he let me know in no uncertain terms that this was not okay. Leaving him anyplace other than his own house was not okay. Leaving him at all was not okay.
Looking into his eyes, watching his body language, I could just tell … he wanted to slug me in the arm. Hard. And, at the same time, he wanted to cling to me unceasingly. He was just that angry and just that scared and just that confused.
I adopted Quincy from the orphanage (FOTAS) less than two years ago. He had been taken in as a stray, with an unknown past, unknowable life experiences, fears that could only be imagined. He was already at least 8 or 9 years old at the time. He had history. He’d had a life. With all the terrors and treasures we all pick up and carry with us along our ways. All of us have folds and torn bits, worn places and shadows, that give shape to our lives. And one of Quincy’s still-thin patches must involve abandonment.
So we practiced it again. Together. He trusted, and I stayed – until it did become a treat for him.
With all the poignancy and authenticity that only animals and small children can bring to a life-lesson, through this experience Quincy has taught me this: Never assume you know best for another living, feeling being without first paying attention, listening hard to their hearts. Always respect the dignity of another’s fears. Don’t let go of someone’s hand until they let go first. When someone goes back to try again, recognize their courage, but stay near as long as you’re needed. Always say goodbye.