We were excited but also a little nervous as we boarded the suburban train. Having spent many months discussing the pros and cons of adopting a dog, my partner and I were finally on our way to look for a new addition to our family!
We were off to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, a modern facility located behind a huge derelict power station on a triangle of land between two busy railway lines in South London. Every year, almost 12,000 lost, abandoned or abused animals pass through its doors and we were hopeful that one of them would be coming home with us that very day.
We approached the reception desk expecting to be welcomed as knights in shining armour riding to the rescue. Instead, we were presented with a long application form which, in addition to our names and address, required us to state our occupations, work hours, income, previous dog-owning experience and reasons for wanting to adopt. We even had to write a description of our house and our neighbourhood. Having filled out the form, and after a considerable wait, we were summoned for an interview where a rather stern lady checked our answers and asked us more questions. Finally, we had to give permission for one of their inspectors to visit us to make sure that our home was suitable.
The excitement that we had left home with that morning had almost completely disappeared and a part of me wanted to rebel against all this bureaucracy and red tape. It wanted to remonstrate, “Why are you making this so difficult? We are here to help you out. Do you want us to take an animal off your hands or not?!” I recognised this as the internalised voice of my father who had a healthy disrespect for any kind of officialdom.
At last we were allowed into the kennels, and almost instantaneously this voice subsided. The dogs were housed along corridors on three floors and as we walked past the individual enclosures they tugged at my heartstrings inducting my softer, more compassionate self. I was struck by the pure uncomplicated energy that they embodied. They were simply what they were at that moment - happy, curious, sad, shy, cautious, aggressive, hungry…...
I noticed my reactions - how I praised some as “intelligent”, “handsome”, or “confident”, whilst others I judged as being “stupid”, “ugly”, or “timid”. Sometimes my partner and I agreed and sometimes our instant appraisals differed. Of course the words that we used said much more about the qualities that our primary selves valued than they did about the dogs!
After looking at well over a hundred animals and meeting several of them one-on-one, we felt completely overwhelmed. Worse still, we couldn’t agree on what characteristics we were looking for. I was attracted to the larger, longhaired variety - especially the ones that seemed alert, intelligent and strong. My partner, on the other hand, was entranced by the smaller, shorthaired dogs with sweet temperaments. With so many conflicting voices in our heads we realised that we needed time to process our reactions, and decided to come back another day.
For a month, we held the tension of these opposing positions as consciously as we could while pondering our choices. Then, hoping that we would find a compromise, we went back. As before, I felt an energetic pull towards some dogs and my partner to others. As much as I wanted us to choose a dog there and then, I was aware of a voice in my head that was saying, “No. Not yet. You are not ready.” It felt as if we were being tested. Were we honestly acknowledging the different selves at play in our deliberations? Did we have the patience to sit with the process and sweat the choices? Once again we returned home empty handed and waited for something to stir in us that said, “OK, now you are ready.”
Our perseverance was rewarded. On our third visit to Battersea we felt drawn to one particular enclosure. From behind the bars a pair of big brown eyes stared up at us out of a jet black face. As we peered in, a bushy two-toned tail wagged its greeting as if to say, “There you are at last. It’s me you’re looking for!” We were taken aback. This wasn’t the type of dog either of us had expected. We hadn’t imagined that our new dog would be a Rottweiler/Collie cross! But it was too late. She had found us. And that same wise voice in my head said, “Yes, this is the one.”
We named her Peppar, and she has settled into our home so well that it’s difficult to imagine the time before she arrived. Her interesting genetic mix matches the wonderful pairs of opposites she embodies. She can be both bright and obtuse; eager to please and rebellious. At times she is unbearably sweet and affectionate and at others grumpy and independent. Asleep, she is the picture of relaxation, but when chasing cats or squirrels nothing will distract her razor-sharp focus. Mostly sociable and playful, she can also be fiercely territorial and stand her ground against other dogs.
I know that Peppar has come into my life as my teacher. I watch myself getting into the same positive and negative bonding patterns with her as I have with other pets - she is the child to my Controller, my Strict Father, my Indulgent Mother and my Proud Parent. At the same time, I can also see that all the many aspects that enliven her being are potentially available to me. I’ve started to practise just hanging out with her, following her lead and resonating whatever energy is running through her in the moment - much as I would when facilitating a client. This is sometimes easy for me - as when she is in a pleasing, playful or relaxed mood - and sometimes difficult - as when her more instinctual and fierce sides take over. In this way, unbeknownst to her, she is helping me to recognise, explore and embrace some of my more disowned selves.
Peppar knows exactly how to be a dog. But of course, she does not know that she knows. Much as I marvel at her ability to be totally immersed in the moment, more marvellous still is the potential I have as Homo Sapiens to self-reflect, to develop an Aware Ego process that can stand between opposing energies, and to be able to make more conscious choices.
So welcome Peppar and thanks for being my teacher! I’m so glad we chose you. Or did you choose us?