Is it possible to love something and practice non-attachment at the same time?
In his book The Heart of The Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh writes “Letting go is an ongoing practice, one that can bring us a lot of happiness….Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness.”
Since 2006 our family has fostered puppies for the Lions Foundation Dog Guides of Canada. We usually get them when they’re ready to leave their moms and we’ve had them for anywhere from nine to fifteen months.
We teach them to wear the Dog Guide vest, how to ride an escalator and elevator, how to behave themselves when they’re at the mall, in a grocery store or restaurant and generally becoming accustomed to being in different public places.
Once they go back to Dog Guide University, they’re familiar with these situations and the trainers are able to focus on working with them for their specific duties while fine-tuning what they’ve learned during their time with us.
We handle all of the puppy stages and just when they start to get easy we give them back.
“How Can You Do That?”
When we’re in public It’s the recall to Dog Guide U that people most often comment on.
“I could never give the dog back.”
“I don’t know how you can do this and then not keep the dog.”
No, we’re not cold-hearted people. We love every one of the pups that we’ve fostered - even the one who pawed a hole in our carpet - while he was in the crate. (He had a Career Change and became someones well-loved pet.)
There are tears every time we take one back. It might happen in the days before, as we’re pulling out of our driveway or as we get closer to our destination, but there’s always ‘a moment’.
So how do we do it?
In our puppy-fostering minds we live by the mantra “It’s not about us!” We took several months to consider whether we could do this before we started. We had a one year old Golden Retriever and had just survived puppy-hood with him. My husband and sons’ initial reactions were - “Are you kidding? It would be like giving Carson away!”
But its not.
Our first foster Mig, a beautiful strong black Labrador Retriever was definitely the hardest.
He was with us a bit longer than expected and I remember that as the anticipated recall time went by, I was hoping they would call soon because the longer we had him, the harder it was getting.
The day we dropped him off they happened to have a litter of puppies ready to be fostered. We brought home Tatum (the carpet digger) the same day and that made losing Mig a bit easier.
But what really helped us turn the corner was when we went to Mig’s graduation as a Special Skills Guide Dog. Seeing him come into the room in his official vest beside the gentleman in a wheelchair was incredible.
We all cried. When they called us to the front to thank us and my husband saw the mans wife silently mouth ‘thank you’ to him, we started again. Now the tears were of joy and pride for what Mig could do and the lives that he would change.
It’s easier now for a couple of reasons.
We’ve gotten better each time with having an invisible wall or boundary in our minds when we get the puppy. We tell ourselves - Its not our dog! Its like babysitting - just because the children are sweet and cute and you like being with them, you don’t get to keep them! We put an engraved name tag on our own dogs; we don’t do that with our fosters.
We Receive As Much As We Give
What makes it easiest? We go to see them graduate and meet their new people.
Do the dogs remember us? Absolutely! Once the ceremony is over we’re able to re-unite with our pups. We’ve had some wild reunions - the dogs get excited and so do we!
We’ve had dogs become Special Skills, Hearing Assistance, Autism, and Diabetic Alert Guide Dogs. Xila, who I wrote about in my blog Finding Time To Meditate, is training as a Seizure Response Guide Dog. Cider began Seizure Response training but had such a sweet personality they designated her a Future Dog Guide puppy mama and she lives with us when off-duty.
As I write we’re preparing to take her back tomorrow. She’ll be gone for the next couple of months while she takes care of her babies that are due next week.
The people who receive the dogs are so grateful and they share their stories with us. They tell us why they need the dog and the difference they hope it will make in their life. And we sometimes then cry again…..
We’ve had people come up to us when we’re out with a dog in its Future Dog Guide vest and thank us.
We have two friends who have Autism Guide Dogs from Dog Guides of Canada and those dogs have changed their families lives.
That’s how we give back the dogs.
I never thought about it as being an example of non-attachment until one of my fellow meditation teachers commented on a Facebook post about a dog we’d just taken back.
We let the dogs go and are able to find joy in the process by knowing what they are truly destined for. It’s our way of giving back.
Thich Nhat Hanh continued to say, “If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free.”
Our family has made the choice to be free. In order to do this work we had to.
It’s not about us. It’s about the difference these sweet creatures will make in the world. We love them and then we let them go.
I’ll see you on the path. Namaste, Glenda
* Excerpt from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching can be found in Chapter 11, Right Mindfulness. * The sweet pup in the post index photo on the Serenity Blog home page is Idle who became an Autism Assistance Dog.
Hi, Glenda here sharing my thoughts with you.
I've discovered that what I really do is help people find more peace in a way that is real-world, practical and accessible to anyone. I'm a Certified davidji Masters of Wisdom & Meditation Teacher, a Reiki Master and facilitator and host of retreats and workshops.
I welcome your comments and appreciate you taking the time to read this blog. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or would simply like to reach out.