What makes a human’s destiny has been the subject of endless debates – is it predestined conditions, family genetics, life experiences, or life choices? Is it written in the stars, or can a human make their own good luck and good fortune?
What is even more mysterious is what makes the destiny of a dog? Anyone who has lived with dog siblings from the same mother and father will attest that there is more to it than genetics or astrology: animals born on the same day, to the same parents, under the same conditions, develop differently and have different life paths. Is it karma? Is it chaos? Who knows?
Kinook’s life started with stability and care, together with a Mama, a Papa, two children and another dog, a female Lab. Then, when she was one year and a half, she ended all by herself in a Humane Society cage, where she lived for two months until we found each other. She came into our home fully loved and wanted, a calm dog with serene brown eyes who trusted us from day one, and had no fear of vet visits or thunder. You know how you can tell if a dog has been abused and beaten? You raise your hand above when she can see you: if the dog lowers her head in fear, she’s seen that gesture before, and it caused her pain. Kinook had no connotation to the raised hand, it meant nothing to her, and she watched me and my arm with slight boredom, the experiment proving that she had no history of trauma or abuse.
Her new home, our home, was a detached house on a suburban corner lot surrounded with lawn, flower gardens and cedar hedge. The Eastern side of the garden, connecting the side door with the driveway, was fenced, and safe for Miss Pup to go and sit outside on her own as she pleased. The upstairs had a living room, three bedrooms, the kitchen and bathroom; the basement recreation room, one bedroom and bathroom were claimed by my healing arts client work and Reiki classes. My office desk was in the large recreation room, with my back against the wall and my face facing the stairs. The utility room with furnace, washer and dryer, and storage, were also downstairs and across from my desk, to the left of the treatment room (the bedroom).
At first Kinook was clumsy walking down the stairs; she sounded like a herd of cattle trotting around, neither her nor I being quite sure of how exactly she placed her feet on those steps, in which order. She didn’t go downstairs if she didn’t have to, and her first reason was to be there where interesting action took place.
On a Saturday morning, as my Reiki students would start to come in for a class, Kinook would come to the basement to check them out, each one of the humans passing a nose test of her sniffing, often a taste test of her tongue as well. Students were seated on chairs forming a circle, and Kinook would lie down inside or outside of the circle and soak in the soothing feelings of the Reiki class. During attunements, the transmission ceremony through which I, as a Reiki Master, initiated the participants into becoming practitioners, Kinook would stare attentively at my hands and at the space above my head, making me wonder what was she seeing that I didn’t.
Then there were the times when the basement was sought as a refuge...
My husband J.’s moods were unpredictable, and anything could trigger him, at any time. Sometimes it was something that someone had said at his office, at other times, a fellow passenger in the bus on his ride back home. Most of the times, it was me, something I had done, or said, or didn’t do, or didn’t say. No one would know in advance when his cheerful mood would turn to gloom, and when it did, he’d be changed, his eyes bulging, his lower lip pressed outward, his face distorted with anger, nose wrinkled, forehead frowning. His voice would thunder and his pace would quicken, the sound of his barefoot heels hitting the floor tiles with a thud, and he would rant about the object of his anger, calling them (or me) names, wishing them (or me) bad things to happen. The air around him would change, and a feeling of dread would arise: my heart would race, my stomach tied up in knots, the upper body collapsing over my waist, my limbs would feel cold, weak and shaky.
If I were at the computer, downstairs, behind my desk when J. would arrive home triggered, Kinook would run down the stairs in her rushed, clumsy way, and come to hide behind my chair. I would try to soothe and reassure her, pretending I was calm; and I could lie with my words, but not with my body: I was as scared as she was. Were we afraid of being harmed by J.? Or did we both tune in empathically into his fears and trauma, and became ourselves vicariously traumatised? All living things are like cells in an organism, we communicate with each other whether consciously or not, and through the mirror neurons that science has discovered, or perhaps through the energy fields that mystics talk about, we tune into each other’s states of being, and influence each other’s thoughts, feelings and sensations.
J.’s moods were unpredictable, and he was verbally violent, cursing, threatening and insulting. He didn’t hit Kinook, but I found out from neighbours that when he would walk alone with her, he’d tug at her leash violently, impatient with her disobedience of him. When the three of us went for walks, and when Kinook and I were alone, she obeyed me – I was her Alpha, and my gentle voice and touch was convincing enough for her to come when I called, stay close, within eye sight, or sit, or lie down. It was not so when J. walked with her, and the more turbulent his emotional state, the less inclined Kinook was to follow him; the more she’d disobey, the angrier, and more impatient he would get, and when his leadership failed, he’d compensate with force by tugging on the leash.
Kinook’s calm slowly changed into anxiety and allergies. Her skin became itchy, her eyes teary, and she scratched crying with irritation, until her skin was bleeding, and an odor would ooze from the wounds. No one can really say what caused the allergies, and to what extent they were psycho-somatic and triggered by mental distress. The calm this gentle dog had when she joined us was eroded, and gave way to anxiety and fear from sudden noises and lights, from the camera flashlight to fireworks to lightning and thunder. Her body shook often, and she sought refuge behind me.
On June 13 2003 I was getting dressed to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I had signed up for an art summer camp with the Ottawa School of Art, a week of daily drawing and painting classes. I was already taking weekly classes with a local community centre and painting watercolor on paper, and acrylic on canvas. When in good mood, J. and I called each other ‘Motek’, Hebrew for ‘Sweetie’. When in good mood, J. would watch me paint and fondly call me; ‘Toulouse Motek’.
This afternoon the mood turned gloomy:
“How much did you pay for the classes?” J. asked.
“Two hundred dollars” I replied, my stomach tied in knots.
“Two hundred fucking dollars?!” he thundered back. “We don’t have two hundred dollars! Where did you get the money?”
“I charged it to my credit card” I replied sheepishly.
Everything else went into a blur in that moment: his thundering voice, something he said about this painting of mine being an expensive hobby, his pacing with heavy, stiff legs, shaking the earth with resounding thuds. I could feel my heart high in my chest, close to my throat, and my hands were frozen. I watched helplessly Kinook who had started to pace, ears back in distress, her eyes spelling fear, as she looked at J., at me, and at the door. No-where for her to hide behind me now, she scratched the door with her right front paw, asking to be let out. I let her out and thought, I can’t subject this dog to this, it’s cruel. My thoughts were racing and muddy. I have to rescue her. I’ll call the Humane Society to come and rescue her. I reached the cordless phone, no phone number in mind. I muttered something about calling, and J. came quickly towards me, towering over me with his fist hovering up in the air, as he hissed: ‘Want to call the cops? You cow, you stupid, stupid cow! I’ll give you a good reason to call the cops, I’ll hit you so hard, you won’t be able to dial!’
That’s when I dialed. I dialed the only phone number I could think of. I dialed 911.
J. stooped and soon after an operator answered, he unplugged the phone from the jack.
Within a few minutes, the living room phone rang. I ran to answer.
‘Did someone at this number call 911?’ a female voice asked.
I blurted loud and quick, as quick as I could, my home address.
‘Is someone ill, ma’am?’ asked the voice
‘No, my husband threatens to hit me!’.
J. ran to the living room, struggling with the stiffness of his body to stoop low in order to find the phone jack behind the furniture and unplug the chord.
‘We’re on our way to you Ma’am’ the voice reassured me. ‘Where is your husband now? Can you put him on the phone for me?’
J. took the phone and controlled his voice: ‘Hi, no-one is going to hurt my wife, Ma’m. She’s fine, there’s no reason to send a car here. You folks have better things to do’.
The car arrived. The things that always happen to others, or in movies, but never to me, today were happening to me, to us. Police officers separated J. and I, and compared our stories. They handcuffed him, and took him away. An officer offered to drive me to the hospital, as I was shaky, crying uncontrollably, and had sharp pain in my chest. I declined, unwilling to risk being sedated with drugs, and I signed the papers for it. My friend Lucie came by and remained to give me a hands-on Reiki treatment to help me sleep.
Kinook and I remained on our own, both shaken and unwell. I had nightmares, dreaming that J. would take revenge on me and come to kill me, and would wake up startled, hallucinating his voice thundering: ‘Fuck!’.
Kinook became too scared to walk, and it was heartbreaking seeing her on the top of the driveway, looking suspiciously in all the directions, planting herself on her behind on the pavement, unwilling to budge. I had watched Cesar Milan’s Dog Whisperer programs, and using some of his methods I managed to gently coax Kinook into going for walks; we’d make it to a school’s fenced yard where dogs were welcome after hours, and once unleashed, she was looking worried towards the gate, ready to head home on her own. She had no joy in socializing, no joy out of our walks. And I felt guilty to have brought a peaceful animal into my home, and wreck her mental health like that.
Before the summer was over, I managed to find a classical homeopath veterinarian doctor to treat Kinook, Femma Van As. Kinook and I both embarked on a journey to healing and coping. It was not easy, but we had each other.