Friday, 27 May 2011

Broken and Grown

Last night I felt like a broken woman but from the experience I’ve learnt a lot.

When we got our dog Harry, I was aware that we had taken on a lot of hard work. He had been mistreated and was bound to have been affected by his past experiences. We took on the responsibility knowing that there was no history or information on his life to use as a guide and that it was extremely important that we didn’t give up as we would then add to his problems. With all the good intentions in the world and a full love of animals we brought him home.

His first week with us was not the way we’d planned. Within 48 hours we had found out that his neutering was infected and that he should never have been released to us. We willingly paid for his treatment to correct the problem but was told that until his infection had been identified we should not introduce him to the cats. We knew the longer we went without them meeting the harder it would be but we wanted to protect all our animals and so we adhered.

Poor Harry spent the first 10 days with a bucket collar on. Not good for his street-cred LOL.

During those first 10 days, Harry began to show his personality. He had obviously not had any discipline or training and so behaved like an excited puppy even down to biting (not viciously) and bouncing over us and the furniture, and chewing everything in sight. He’s a powerful dog with his staffy make-up and with Pat’s disability, I have had to do most of the tugging and absorb most of the biting to try and bring him into line.

Once the bucket collar came off, I thought walks would tire him out so I started a regime of 4 walks a day of no less than 30 minutes. It didn’t help. I believed that God had sent him to us, not just to help him as the infection would have killed him but for him to teach me patience.

The best investment we made was paying for a dog trainer to come and meet Harry and help us to try and get some respect into him.

We’ve had him with us for nearly three weeks now but last night, I was tired, I was behind with writing my service for Sunday and I felt guilty that my lovely cats hadn’t been allowed to roam their own home as if they had done something wrong. I had spent the last 2.5 weeks looking on the bright side and that we would get there in the end but last night, I felt my will break. I felt I couldn’t handle any more and that I would have to break my own rules, do the very thing that I find disgusting in others and take him back. I couldn’t sleep for fear and worry of what he was doing or destroying. I couldn’t get on with anything in the house because he was so unruly. I had hit the bottom.

I got up this morning feeling dreadful, tearful and beaten. When Pat got up I told her I couldn’t take anymore and that I would be returning him back to Cheshire dogs home this afternoon. Problem was that I love him. The idea of letting go of him hurt as much as what we’d been going through and the idea that I’d be doing him damage by taking him back was like a knife.

Thank God we had invested in a dog trainer. A 30 minute phone-call with him early this afternoon laid all our problems to rest. I’m not saying that Harry is any better behaved now than he was this morning but the trainer put some more rules down and even suggested a crate to put him in as a doggie den to give us a rest.

I’ve put the new rules into effect and there is already a marked difference, however, much as I had always thought it cruel to put a dog in a crate, I have to say, not only has it given us time to breathe and let the cats back in the living room to socialise with us, but Harry actually seems to like the crate. The dog trainer did tell us this might be the case as dogs like somewhere they can think of as their own den.

There is no way I intend on sending him back now and both Pat and I are extremely grateful to our fantastic trainer for his support.

I have to say I have learnt so much from the experience of having Harry that I can now see how it’s possible to love someone or something so much but still feel that it would be better to part, and how much the idea of splitting up must hurt. I’m not presuming for a moment that I could ever know what divorce feels like or handing a child over to social services. I’m aware we’re talking about my relationship with a dog, but some experiences are sent in different clothing in order for understanding to be real towards the feelings of others.

I guess God really has sent Harry to us to work on us as much as we have to work on him. Who says things don’t happen for a reason. These lessons could never be learnt in a college.

Harry Tobias, we’ll get there boy 

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

New Addition

People seem to find it shocking when I say that I trust an animal more than I would ever trust any human being. The statement seems to bring people to the conclusion that I don’t like people and that isn’t true. Human beings have a tendency for deceit, we all do it. Most, hopefully tell little lies, ones that don’t hurt anyone, but some tell some crackers. Whichever way you look at it, deceit is deceit but we often seem to find an excuse for its use. Animals don’t do deceit, no fibs or lies, they are straight forward in their attitude to people, other animals, any aspect of life. What you see is what you get.

I know that our cats will come to us when they want affection and trying to force it on them is usually tolerated but rarely appreciated. Our degu are only interested if we’re feeding them or giving them a new toy to play with. In both cases, the main thing that really makes the difference is that, despite their sometimes ignorant attitude to us, if another human being comes in the house, the degu hide and so do the cats. The message we get from their behaviour is that we are known, trusted and that they feel safe with us and that’s all I ask of them.

I think I’m probably a sucker for the underdog by way of concern for children and animals. Cruelty to either is just not acceptable. In all honesty cruelty to anyone or any living thing is unacceptable but in the case of children and animals they are so dependent that to abuse them is the lowest of actions and puts bacteria and amoeba in a higher rank of life than the offender.

What is it that brings this subject to mind? Recent events in our home have brought us a new addition.

My partner, Pat, has always been a dog person but she’s been won over with my love of cats and we’ve trundled along on the feline side for the duration of our 9 year relationship. Our dog, Tim, mainly lived with Pat’s parents and so my experience of our canine friends was a little vague. Tim died in 2006 at the age of 15 and although he and I were good friends (I used to play with him while the adults did the boring talking) we couldn’t have him live with us. It would have been cruel, in his old age, to have been taken away from the environment he’d always known and with both Pat and I working full time it just wasn’t an option.

Last year, while discussing my future ministry training I asked Pat if we could have a dog if I qualified. It didn’t take much for her to say yes. I haven’t even started my training yet but we’ve got the dog.

A couple of weeks ago, and without going into too much detail, a family member asked us if we would have their dog as they had ceased interest since the birth of their baby. We said yes, after all, that way we could be sure he’d go to a good home and he’s a lovely dog. We certainly weren’t expecting the ‘kick-off’ in the family that followed and we had to retract our offer in order to keep some kind of peace. When you’ve had your expectations built up and then deflated so suddenly it can make you change previously sound plans. A couple of times since, Pat has mentioned about us getting a dog, I think she was looking forward to having a canine friend around again. Sunday afternoon, just over a week ago, I asked her if she wanted to go and have a look at the dogs at the local dogs home.

Cheshire Dogs Home is smaller than I had expected but the tragedy of these innocent lives is frustrating to say the very least. Easily 95% of the dogs were Staff or Pitbull breed, which made me wonder if this meant that some people had decided it would be some kind of status symbol which they found also needed looking after and had changed their minds.

Pat fell in love with a beautiful white and tan chap, sitting quietly at the back of the pen. We had a walk round with him and he seemed to very much like us. This was when I was won over. He was so loving and affectionate that I couldn’t help but find myself wanting to take him home. The following day, we went back and adopted him.

These dogs come with little, if any, reliable history and so adopting one is a big responsibility because it means taking on possible problems and mental health issues which have been incurred during their lives. It has to be a decision to do as much as possible to ensure that you do not add to the animals problems and try and give them a stable and loving environment to recuperate from the past and have hope in the future.

Our new addition came to us with an infection which had not been picked up by the home and has displayed behaviours that certainly need checking. I can tell, for a while at least, he’s going to be hard work, but I can also see what a wonderful companion and friend he will make to both of us for seeing him through. We’ll all gain from the experience.

Harry is a cross between a whippet and a Staffordshire terrier. He’s a very strong dog and pulls my arm out of its socket taking him for a walk. The work starts here and that’s fine.

Humanity is truly the most aggressive and dangerous of all animals. If we didn’t cause so much suffering animal homes would not be required. I sadly see so many comparisons between how we treat animals and how we treat children and the comparisons are not always pleasant.

We all come from the same force of life. We are all part of the one divine entity. We are all from the same family and our common parent is God or whatever force you believe in.

Divine Spirit,
Grant us the patience and determination to live with all your creation in harmony and peace.
When our motivation begins to lumber, grant us the grace to ensure the marks we leave on this life are not those that scar the heart of another.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Let the Youth lead our movement

Well, I’ve done it at last!

I’ve been leading worship for nearly 5 years and kept to the hymn sandwich used at every chapel I’ve been to. Opening words, hymn, prayer, reading, hymn etc, etc, etc. I’ve known that the younger generation have been crying out for something more spiritual, something that speaks to them but I’ve done as I was told and done what was expected of me by older congregations who see no reason to change what to them ‘has always worked’.

A couple of years ago I sat through worship prepared by young people and was completely mesmerised by the depth of their spirituality which spoke to my heart in ways Sunday worship rarely achieved. I could see clearer than ever how behind the times our chapels are. How do you get the young into our places of worship when their needs are so different from the older generations?

I’ve wanted to lead a new style of worship ever since those young people showed me how wonderful it could be. Today I did it. My guinea pigs were the wonderful congregation at Chorlton Chapel who are already used to involving all sorts of different things in their worship. Chorlton have long been doing what other chapels refuse to even attempt, they are a Minister’s dream come true and they provide the blue print to our spiritual future. I guess it was a little cowardly of me to make my first attempt at new worship at such an already open chapel but you have to start somewhere and I figured I’d get a much more constructive feedback from people used to doing new things.

There was no sermon/address, the old ‘Order of Service’ was thrown out. The congregation joined in with two prayers, four hymns (from our modern and upbeat purple hymn book ‘Sing your Faith’) and a discussion on Spiritual places and what speaks to our own spirituality. I felt wonderful afterwards and the congregation seemed to think I’d done well too which is what really matters.

If only I could find a way of introducing this style to the other chapels who are so afraid of change.

One of the Unitarian youth leaders is thinking of starting a completely new service for our younger people rather than them keep having to wait for their spirituality to matter at Sunday Worship. She asked me, among many others, for ideas and whether we would be able to help. I don’t know if she reads this blog but if she or one of the other youth leaders does, I’ve already said I’ll help but I’d like to add the following:-
‘Get it going girl, I’m hungry for it. This new style of worship is so much more fulfilling I don’t just want to be involved ......... I NEED TO BE INVOLVED’

To all church goers .............. young people can teach us a spirituality we never even dreamed of. Make them your leaders. We should be learning from them and not the other way round.

I think I’ve caught the bug and I don’t want to find the cure 