– revised and © 2008 – Louis B. Cady, M.D.
The Love Machine, perched to slobber, six weeks before his big adventure.
“It was,” as that venerable canine author Snoopy once typed, “a dark and stormy night.”
I was returning from a speaking engagement. It had been raining and the weather was turning colder. Pulling up into the driveway of my home, I hit the zapper button to retract my garage door. The first thing that I saw was my now ex-wife’s legs, then a little blur of brown and white, and then a brown bolt of lighting that loped past the headlights of my car. The brown and white blur was grabbed; the brown bolt of lighting was Storm, our four month old Doberman puppy.
“Storm” was a name which he had earned. We might just as well have called him “The Love Machine,” because as he developed he clearly showed a desire to lick on, slobber on, and basically demand the love and affection of everyone he met. We decided to name him “Storm” because he came on strong and was a little “storm” of affection as he would charge you playfully, hop up on you, and want to love on you.
In an uncharacteristic mental lapse, my ex-wife had been in the process of shepherding the Cady canines back into the house from the back yard, but without their leads. She knew that I was not one to go prowling about the town or hanging out in bars after giving talks.
Clearly my return home, garage door zapping and all, should have been anticipated. But it wasn’t. And now a very exuberant, forty pound, temporarily irrational red Doberman love machine was on the loose.
I immediately stopped the car, put on the parking brake, and started off in pursuit on foot.
“Storm!” I called. He took one look over his left shoulder and kept running. It was my impression that he had run down to a gully between the row of houses where we lived and the row on the other side. But I couldn’t see him clearly. My ex-wife and I returned to our house, grabbed flashlights, and set off again in separate directions. This time I armed myself with my secret doggie-attracting weapon. We called them “woofies” around the Cady household. They are yummy tasting little chew-treats for doggies. They were also favorites with the two Cady doggies: Storm and Parsley.
I set out in pursuit. With my five cell Mag-Lite in one hand and the box of woofies in the other, dressed in a pin striped suit, black wing tips, and dark overcoat fresh from giving my talk, I must have looked like some cross between a detective decked out in Brooks Brothers and some doggy commercial pitch man.
“Storm! Storm!” I called as I prowled the neighborhood. I whistled. I shook his box of woofies vigorously. “Come get a woofie!” I whistled. I called. I rattled.
No luck. No Storm.
There was no apparent initial reason that he should have been alarmed and fled. I couldn’t figure that out, at least not immediately. What was there to be afraid of? He was in his familiar garage, going toward his familiar back door, into his familiar house. What’s with all the excitement about a little garage door and car action?
On the other hand, from a doggie perspective, and a doggie puppy perspective at that, the large round headlights of my car, the fog lamps, and the engine sound, all coupled with the ominous appearance of this vehicle as the garage door went up must have been a temporary overload of his little immature emotional system.
I walked all the way around the block, shaking woofies, calling, and whistling. I shone the flashlight between houses. Fortunately, no one came out with a gun. But Storm didn’t come out, either. My ex-wife leashed up Parsley, our Cardigan Welsh Corgi, for tracking duties. Parsley sniffed and charged off in pursuit, but ultimately to no avail.
More drastic measures were called for. We hopped in our SUV, flashlights in hand, and set off in search of the missing doggie. We drove all over the neighborhood. With his long legs, good musculature, and blast of energy from his fright, I figured that Storm could be a mile or two away from our neighborhood already. Still no luck. We searched until after midnight. Then I had to call it quits. I had patients the next morning; I needed sleep, and could not see that we could do anything else constructive. I was, also, frankly hacked off at this dog, and his stupidity. At least, that’s how it seemed to me in a somewhat overly tired and grumped-out state.
I mean, he had it good! Lots of love and doting attention. A nice safe, warm house in which to live. Plenty of chow. Not to mention free medical care for life – that would be the “Cady system”, not some liberal-gone-wild “free, equitable and available care for the uninsured” – man and beast alike.
My wife former wife was not so easily persuaded to quit. Back she went in her vehicle, searching high and low. No luck. I was dimly aware when she came to bed a couple hours later.
Morning broke. The next thing I knew, there was the unmistakable slobbering all over my sleepy face of an extremely happy and excited Doberman who was greeting me like some long lost friend – make that, shortly lost friend. I was relieved and delighted to see him, slobber and all, but I was stunned. Where had he come from?
I sat up in astonishment. My ex-wife, it seemed, had gone out early that morning, prowling around the neighborhood with Parsley, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi, now newly dubbed “Tracker” in the Cady household. Parsley had been sniffing around vigorously and then led my wife down into the gully behind our house. Some distinctive barking was heard – an unfamiliar bark in our neighborhood. Storm’s head, I’m told, poked up from underneath a porch swing as they approached, but he seemed disoriented. Little “Tracker” went up, wagging her little tail, and communicated in the doggie language to her much larger “brother.” Janet grabbed Storm by his collar, and then led him by hand back to our home, just three houses away. She then plopped him up on our bed to awaken me with a big canine surprise! Needless to say, we were all incredibly relieved.
It’s interesting to review what must have happened in retrospect. Storm had charged off, disoriented, but then with his doggie instincts decided to “go to ground”, hunker down, and see how things looked from his perspective in the morning. Fortunately for him, although the night was cold, it was not frigid. In reflecting on his doggie behavior, I was fascinated to realize that he had been well within the sound of my voice calling to him, and close enough that he should have heard his woofies rattling. But he still hadn’t come out.
At this point, in most stories, it would be “The End.” An irrational, dumb animal does something stupid and is rescued. All live happily ever after.
But, the probing “shrinky” mind is always in pursuit of some morsel of truth or edification. I actually found several.
First insight: in dealing with people and problems (as well as Doberman’s), it’s all a matter of perspective. For some people, situations of mild unfamiliarity will be no problem. For others, it will “rock their world.” Whether or not one takes things in stride is dependent on one’s level of emotional maturity and psychological robustness. I suspect that had these antecedent events transpired a couple of years into the future, Storm would have been unflappable and just stared at my car, wondering, “OK, so when’s he going to get out?”
How one deals with problems and solutions is also determined by one’s emotional maturity and intellectual development. Put yourself into a doggie mind – or, at least, try to. Some dude you love is out in the night, calling you, offering you woofies, and trying to get you back to your nice safe, warm bed, free food and medical care for life, and all the love that your little wagging stump of a tail can stand. Heck, wouldn’t you RUN in that direction?
Ordinarily, for a “sane” doggie, you would. But Storm was disoriented. In human terms, one might call it a “brief reactive psychosis.” I’d call it a doggie CPU overload.
In my psychiatric practice, however, I’ve seen people – not doggies – behave in a very similar irrational manner. They are not psychotic; they are simply self-defeating. Creative and workable solutions are offered for their consideration in psychotherapy; they bat them down. In the worst case, some of them literally kill themselves when solutions are available.
Let’s face it. In this country, as one wit remarked, the only way that you’ll starve is if you can’t sign your name. There are multiple social programs available – fully justifiable and appropriate – for those who can’t take care of themselves. If you have a clean record and are willing to work, you can almost always get a minimum wage job and, through effort and hard work, “work yourself up.” It’s the American way. If it weren’t so, people wouldn’t be dying trying to get to this country and then into it.
Another take home point: sometimes people won’t even be in the position to reject help. They won’t have reached out for it to begin with. They will be hunkered down, keeping a low profile, in a totally passive, regressed state. If they are to be helped, help will have to find them, not the other way around.
In the business world, these will be people who supervisors and coworkers can see are having problems but who won’t do anything about it on their own initiative. They will have to be pushed, or, in the case of Storm, “found.”
In consulting work, sometimes people won’t tell you what the real issues are, even though their company is about to go bankrupt. They will have to be asked. Skillfully. Tactfully. And sometimes repeatedly.
In marriages, one partner occasionally is simpering and unhappy, but won’t do anything about it and won’t reach out for help. Help needs to be offered. “I can see you’re hurting and upset. Let’s talk about it.”
In psychotherapy, sometimes the patient will not volunteer what is truly on his or her mind. In all forms of therapy except classical psychoanalysis, some gentle and empathic prodding on the part of the therapist is almost always appropriate.
Third point: things can always be worse. Had Storm fled the scene the next night, he would have frozen to death: the temperature dropped precipitously and it began snowing that day and on into the night. What we experienced was a few hours of heartbreak and anxiety; what we didn’t have to face was a dead pet found days later.
The final thought to this doggie parable is that there are two acceptable results from overcoming a moment of adversity. One is automatic: relief and gratitude. It’s natural for us to feel grateful and overwhelmingly relieve and happy when something which we thought was going to be a disaster works out well and “everyone lives happily ever after” in the end. But that stops short of really deriving the maximum benefit from dealing with, and overcoming, life’s adversities. The most important result is to learn from your mistakes. The rule of thumb now at our house became that when I puledl up to the garage door I honked the horn to let the family know I was about to pop the door. This allowed a quick grab of any dog’s collar if it was loose in the garage on the way to or from the back door.
In psychotherapy, it frequently takes multiple times of “working through” similar problems before the patient “gets it.” In business consulting, it sometimes take multiple, spaced repetitions before the client “gets it” and understands, in sharp, clear, and holographic detail, the more optimum way to consider aspects of his or her business.
But when you are faced with the loss of a much loved pet, a “love machine,” or “little Stormie-poo”” as he was known as a puppy, it only takes once. When faced with great loss, great learning takes place… and swiftly.
We never expected him to be lost in the Storm, ever again… and for the remainder of his much loved life, he never was.