For as long as I can remember I’ve loved dogs. Some of my earliest memories are of the Basset Hound my parents had when I was born. I never really knew Puddles, as he was called. He died when I was still an infant. For most of my life since, however, various dogs have been a big part of my life. It’s likely that you know what I mean. Since there’s nothing like the love and companionship of a devoted dog, I suspect that they’ve touched the lives of most people on earth at one time or another.
In early 2014 the rescue boxer who had been part of our family for five years died of cancer. Nina meant a lot to our family of four. Heartbroken, we travelled about two hours away to a large rescue facility for dogs. We’d heard they had some Boxer puppies that had been rescued from some horrible situation. As we toured the facility that was home to some two hundred dogs, we passed a cage that held one of the largest dogs I’d ever seen. She was a Mastiff-Great Dane mix. I remarked at her size, and the worker who was showing us around explained that she had been in that small cage for almost two years. No one wanted her because she was so large, and due to her reputation for being aggressive with other dogs.
After a long tour of the extensive facility I turned to my wife and daughter and said, “I can’t stop thinking about that big dog.” My daughter looked shocked and said that she was having the same thoughts. My wife just looked at both of us and said something like, “No, way. There’s no way we’re taking that dog home.” We asked if the dog could be brought out for us to interact with it for a bit. The workers talked it over, and finally agreed. We didn’t understand why they were so reluctant until we met the dog.
We’re not sure what her life was like before her time in that cage, but something was clearly wrong. She would not look anyone in the eye. It was clear that She had been traumatized in some way. She hardly responded to any interaction. Still, we sensed a connection and expressed an interest in adopting her. Even my wife was on board at that point. The worker asked the facility manager, and she felt it was not a good idea. I suppose they meant for her to live out her life in that small cage.
When we got home we wrote a long letter explaining that Nina, the Boxer, had also been an aggressive dog when we rescued her. After time she ended up taking on the calm demeanor that characterized our home. We pleaded with the manager for a chance, and she finally agreed to a trial period. And so it was that in February 2014 Darcy entered our lives. The first few weeks in our home were like that first time we met her. She had almost no personality, seemed to be in a constant state of panic, and she was terrified to walk on a leash.
After some research, our daughter found a training program for dogs with anxiety. I don’t recall the exact name of the approach, yet we purchased a PDF version of the training manual and studied it carefully. The author’s perspective was that dogs need to know that someone, a person or another dog, is in complete control. Without this they will either try to take control themselves, demonstrate signs of anxiety, or in severe cases shut down emotionally. The training involved a series of techniques that demonstrated in a non-harsh manner that we were in control. This included having the human exit a door first, eat first, control the walking process, and various other practices. The overall purpose was to let the dog know that the human is in control, and he or she can therefore relax.
There are probably a million dog training approaches. Each has those who love them and hate them. All I can say is that this approach worked for our situation. Within a month or two Darcy started interacting with us more and more. She eventually learned to trust us, and became a happy and well-behaved dog. In fact, she grew closer to us than any dog we ever had. It was as if she had been suppressing her emotions for so long that once they were released they were far deeper than is normal for a dog.
The time period during which we adopted Darcy was not an easy one for me. I was facing some pretty significant life challenges at that time. I recall thinking about the transformation Darcy went through after she learned to trust the fact that we were in control, and that she could therefore relax. I suddenly realized that, in reality, it works the same for us. To the degree I understood that God is in control, I too could relax. This is clear in 1 Peter 5:7. This verse says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Some read this verse to say that God cares for them. The way I read it is that God is “the one” who cares for us. In other words, we may care for a lot of people in our lives, yet when it comes to our own children, loving parents are “the ones” who care for them. The difference is subtle, yet to me it’s profound. Like so many other verses in the Bible, this reminds us that God is in control. We can trust Him. To the degree we depend on Him, God will meet our needs. In essence, I was reminded by Darcy’s situation that just as she learned to trust that I was in control and she could relax, I needed to know that God is in control and I could relax.
I once saw a bumper sticker in the shape of a dog. It read, “Who rescued who?” I knew exactly what that meant. Darcy meant so much more to me than any of the other devoted and loving dogs I’ve ever known. They were wonderful, yet Darcy was very different. That’s probably why I’ve not been able to get another dog even though it’s been three years since she passed away. I still miss her a great deal, as do many others. Every so often a neighbor we’ve not seen for a long time will say something like, “Where’s your horse? I haven’t seen you walking her for a long time.”
I wonder if you can relate to what I learned from Darcy, and what I’m still learning today? Unlike fear that can be a useful warning to us, anxiety has no worthwhile purpose. The more I learn that God is in control, the more I learn to relax. I’m still learning my Darcy lesson, and hope that you too can learn from her story.