Stuck Between a Rock and a Chew Toy – Spiritual Direction for a Pet Owner

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By Jodi Cohen

As someone who leads a self-examined life, I did not like what I found this past week. As always, the lesson involved Morty. Ah Morty, my little mirror, my reflection pond. The invisible choreography of the Universe making a match between me and MortyPie never, ever escapes me, try as I might to downplay it.

For the record, can I just state that I was not in the mood to be brought to my knees spiritually?

Like so many of us, I am worn out from all things pandemic and keep hitting my pandemic wall. Grief just heightens the exhaustion. It doesn’t take much to make me feel like I need to lay down: I have to open an envelope? I have to cut off the ends of the Brussels sprouts? I have to put on my shoes? Oh lord.

Early in the week I asked Morty one morning, “What does God want from us today?” After a few seconds of silence I said, “Okay, I’ll go first.” I can’t remember what I thought God wanted from me, but I was glad to have taken a few short moments to think about that. I thought God would certainly give me points for trying to connect or at least acting like I was trying. Mostly what I remember from that morning is how funny I thought I was when I said, “Okay, I’ll go first.”

So Morty attacked a small dog at day care on Tuesday shortly after I dropped him off. This was his second time attacking another dog, so I was asked to come get him with the understanding that he was not welcome back.

Morty is a reactive dog. I ended up with a dog that barks and lunges at people and dogs, no matter how close or far they are from us. Once he barked incessantly at a washing machine that was on the ground next to the delivery truck. On Tuesday I was triggered by Morty’s reactivity and spent most of the day reacting (poorly) to everyone and everything. I was crunchy and untethered on the inside, with a side of snappy, mean-spirited behavior. 

My knee-jerk reaction was that I had no choice but to return Morty to the shelter where I got him. I’d show him: I’d get a dog that was docile, that I could take to visit sick kids in the hospital, which is something I originally wanted to do. Can you just picture Morty in a hospital: barking at anyone walking with an IV pole, chomping on small children who make noise, attacking people pushing a gurney. Lawsuit Central, please hold.

I was so mad at Morty and told him so. I told him that I was most likely going to give him away. If I was in a cartoon there would have been steam coming out of my ears.

Tuesday evening was my zoom session with my spiritual director Jinks Hoffmann. I sobbed and sobbed, asking Jinks if God was punishing me by giving me a Dog With Issues. I felt stuck between a rock and a chew toy: I did not think I could endure living with Morty’s reactivity and also would not survive the grief of returning him.

I took my crankiness out on Jinks, who read me the riot act, as she is wont to do when I fall off the rails. I wanted to leave the country, as per usual, and she encouraged me to stay in the conversation, noticing that she was there with me and for me. Once I got on my knees metaphorically and actually became present, we prayed. And then we listened for what God was saying or wanting us to notice.

I consider most of my praying as really ‘placing my order with the Universe.’ I even picture an angel as waitress, with a small pad and pen. I pray for outcomes I’d like, I make requests and what I think are Helpful Suggestions. I am very busy talking to God. It is the listening that I struggle with; the getting quiet and still. The waiting.

Often in my conversations with Jinks when we’re being quiet together and tuning in, I’ll see colors or images, I’ll recall a dream, I’ll hear song lyrics or lines from a poem. Discovering what Spirit has to say isn’t a linear process, which both frustrates and delights me.

I cried some more. Deep belly cries. About Morty, about missing my Pop, about all of the clients I talk to every day who are being evicted, who have lost family members, whose electricity has been cut off, who don’t have enough food.

The great thing about crying is that it clears out the feelings I’ve been schlepping around on the inside. While it isn’t so much fun when it’s happening, I always feel lighter afterwards, with a bit more clarity.

Jinks encouraged me to refrain from making a decision about Morty, to keep asking Spirit for help and to try my very best to listen for any updates from my soul. She said the work was to live with the uncertainty of not knowing what I was going to do. As someone who has done improv since the late 1800s, the not knowing can still be so challenging. I said okay, I will do my best.

Tuesday night Morty was on my bed, just lying there, minding his own business. I talked to him about what was going on. He can be such a good listener. No judgment. Wednesday was not one of my better days, as I was exasperated by small things and um, quite reactive.

It finally occurred to me on Thursday how reactive I am myself. The buzzers sounded and the lights flashed during my aha moment. Oysh. It is incredibly embarrassing to finally notice what is so damn obvious. I am not proud of how reactive I am nor the fact that I spend way more time apologizing for my behavior than I want to, which is not at all.

When I was 17, I saw the movie Billy Jack and loved Jean. She was quiet and soft spoken. Plus she knew how to ride a horse. For the longest time I wanted to be like her. Over the years I’ve been told to lower my voice, stop making so much noise, dial it down, get a grip, reel it in, calm down and to stop being so dramatic.

How do I honor my big, bold spirit and also create more even keel?

Under the guidance of my dog-trainer Bobbi ,I am working on walking Morty by shortening the leash, tucking my elbow into my waist and moving forward with my head up.

I am curious about how to do this with myself. At the end of Postcards from the Edge, Gene Hackman makes a great speech to Meryl Streep about how change occurs by saying it’s not like in the movies where you have a realization and then suddenly life changes. He tells her that you have a realization and your life changes maybe a month later. 

So for now I am keeping Morty, who is having his third nap of the day as I write this. I wanted a dog that I could take on long walks, who was people-friendly, who would be easy. I ended up with a dog who challenges me at my very core. Go know.

I am praying for help and for patience. For real. I am tuning in, waiting for what Anne Lamott refers to as the next step of ‘operating instructions.’

The sun is out, the wind is friendly. Thank you for listening.

Oh so mortally yours,

Jodi

Jodi Cohen loves writing, playing, her puppy Morty, and making art. She returns to the starting line repeatedly, in all things life-related. She is the author of the blog Love, Morty.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Rachel

    Blessings Jodi,
    What a wonderful story teller you are. I could feel where you were every step of your journey. I have a little dog too. He is a wonderful teacher and when he “reacts” I see it as a mirror as a shadow aspect of myself. Which I think is where you landed. As we work with our pets we can become more aware that they are showing us so many things. I hope this comes as a healing balm to some of your frustrations.
    Warm blessings,
    Rachel

  2. Jan Spragge

    Hah! Such a wonderful share! Thank you my fellow SDI Mortal friend! My little long-haired dachshund by the name of Franklin teaches me much too….and, with thanks to your transparent beautiful article, even more now…probably about a month from now. 😉

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