Molly was scarred on the inside where it didn’t show right away. But if you spent any time with her, the damage began to seep out through her skin and reveal itself. It showed in the way she scurried under any table or chair she could find in an effort to become invisible. It showed in the way she gobbled her food quickly, ferociously, before anyone could snatch it away from her. It showed in the violent quivering that made her whole body tremble with anxiety with very little provocation. It showed in her reluctance to be picked up, stroked, cuddled.
Molly’s damage was understandable. She spent her first year of life in a small trailer home with more than 150 other dogs. They lived among mounds of shed fur, piles of feces, the stench of urine, and probably a few rotting carcasses, but with no light, no air conditioning or heat, and most significantly, no human contact. When you thought about her first home, it was easy to understand why she was so scarred.
When I first brought Molly home, she gulped her food frantically because in her first year of life she had to compete with 150 other dogs for every bite of food she got. She trembled with fear from head to tail so often because she had never known love or security before. Everything was frightening. She scurried to hide under any available piece of furniture in an attempt to escape detection. She refused to be held because she didn’t trust people. Why should she? She had never had anyone to trust.
How do you set about healing that kind of scarring? With love, liberally laced with patience. When Molly hid under the furniture, I lay on the floor and tried to coax her out with soft, sweet, soothing words (and a few doggie treats). When Molly gulped her food and growled at Finn, “Get back! This is mine!” I gently chided her, “Friends don’t growl at friends, Molly”, but I let her learn in her own time that she no longer had to fight for food. When Molly shivered violently from fear and anxiety at the slightest little thing, I held her tightly (whether she wanted me to or not) scratched behind her ears, and murmured sweet nothings to her.
Little by little, baby step by baby step, moment by moment, we made progress. The hiding-under-the-table episodes became fewer. Eventually I only had to chase her under two, rather than five, pieces of furniture when I needed to pick her up. Gradually, the gulping and growling and snapping over food diminished. She even let Finn eat first once or twice while she waited her turn – she was busy having her backside scratched! After many months, the frequency of her whole-body trembling decreased. Instead of shaking uncontrollably over every little thing, she saved that response for really serious situations, like someone ringing the doorbell.
Wonder of wonders, Molly even began to seek me out. At first, she jumped up in my lap once every few days, stayed a second or two, then jumped back down. “Just passing through. You happened to be in my path,” she seemed to say. After a few months, she jumped up in my lap at least once a day and stayed just a little longer each time, but not quite settling in. Eventually, she purposely came to me more and more often - jumping up on my lap frequently, and settling in to stay a while each time. We snuggled together. My heart swelled with love, gratitude, delight.
While I was determinedly busy healing Molly, she was surreptitiously healing me as well. Focusing my attention on her wounds helped me move beyond my own heartaches a little. Holding Molly in my lap and scratching between her ears not only soothed her wounded spirit, it also infused my fragile heart with calm and peace. Providing Molly with a safe, loving home where she could recover from her trauma brought rewards to me as well: compassion, laughter, joy, contentment.
Molly still carried her scars on the inside, as I do, but her wounds no longer showed quite so much on the outside. Her scars, faded and softened with time and love, no longer determined the way she viewed life or guided all her actions. I hope mine don’t either.