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Introduction

 

April 2006 (4 years old)

Upon seeing the title of this book, “Saved By Shayna: Life Lessons From a Miracle Dog,” the first two questions one might reasonably ask are (1) “How do you define a ‘miracle dog’?,” and (2) “From what did Shayna ‘save’ you?”

My answer to the first question is: I think a “miracle dog” is any dog that comes into your life at just the right time, with whom you are 100% compatible, and who gives you the love, laughs, and loyalty that make every day a gift.  We now know that dogs have far more brainpower, and are far more capable of experiencing human-like emotions than they’ve been given credit for possessing.

My answer to the second question is: I accept that when people say they were “saved,” they usually means that someone saved them from some kind of harm. Or, that they were “saved” by religious belief.

Washington, DC July 2002 (7 months old)

This book, however, tells the story of how, by adopting this “miracle dog” and becoming her “dad,” I was saved from the crushing grief that I was experiencing after the 9/11 attacks, and an unrelated series of preceding traumas. It also describes how, together, those incidents combined to unleash more complete memories of childhood traumas that I’d not been able to address, let alone resolve – yet which I now know affected every major decision I made since they occurred. Basically, I was an emotional wreck, especially upon realizing that the origins of many of my most vexing difficulties stretched back thirty years.

In a very real sense, however, I’m the last person who one might expect would ever write a book like this.

I don’t subscribe to the victimology complex that bedevils so many facets of our culture, in which one’s pains and deficiencies become, as the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand described, “a moral claim upon the lives of others.” I’m firmly in the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, rugged-individualist camp. I am a creative entrepreneur, and have earned a good reputation for developing distinctive advertising, legal, educational and skills training media.

I don’t believe in wearing one’s emotional baggage on their sleeve(s). I’m not interested in gossip, collective whining or dirty-laundry exposes’, or in “someone-done-someone-wrong” stories – unless they contain useful lessons. (Example: The story of Guglielmo Marconi, whose family had him committed to an insane asylum due to his insistent claims that he could build a device that would transmit sounds through the air, which could then be heard on a similar device, a great distance away. Marconi, however, had the last laugh, when he built his first functional radio. I feast on such inspiring “underdog”-type stories, and my spirit and creativity depend on a steady diet of them.)

But sometimes, as I’ve learned, something can happen to a person like me that changes everything. Not that it causes one to abandon his/her core principles, but rather, to see them from a completely new perspective. Such as being in an accident that leaves one with a partially-disabling neuromuscular disorder that produces chronic pain and fatigue (fibromyalgia and intercostal neuralgia), rendering him/her unemployable, at least in a traditional full- or even part-time sense. Or having to decide, as the situation becomes more desperate, whether to swallow one’s pride and seek financial assistance. Or struggling to maintain a positive mental attitude when it seems nothing is working, there’s no money coming in, and the humiliation becomes like a gradually constricting vest, making every spiritual breath more difficult. Or being at a point at which one feels that Thomas Paine was speaking directly to him/her, via his famous words that helped give birth to America, “These are the times that try men’s souls…”

Were I to not “open up” to some degree about all the things that pulverized my psyche on 9/11 and before, my desire to adopt my first dog, and my concern over whether I could fulfill such a responsibility, this book would merely be a fun, amusing tribute to Shayna, and her apparently limitless ability to teach herself and learn amazing tricks. Here is a sampling; follow the links to see videos:

“Frisbee skiing”: A self-taught trick, she turns a frisbee upside down, backs up, runs up to it, puts her front paws inside, and pushes herself along.

Retrieving toys by name: She’s now memorized the names of 32 toys, and can go get them and put them away, in a box or bowl, by name and command.

Retrieving toys using flash cards: She is learning to look at a flash card with the picture of the toy I want her to get, and she goes and gets it.

Retrieving one tennis ball or two in her mouth, at the same time, depending on command: She taught herself to retrieve two tennis balls in her mouth at the same time. Now, I can throw out one ball or two and tell her to go bring back one or two, and she knows the difference.

Stacking ring toys on a pole: She has two “ring”-type toys that she will stack on a pole, on command. (towards the end of this video)

“Waving”: She will raise her right paw high in the air on command, and it looks like she’s “waving.” (towards the end of this video)

I could have written a book that honors the “miracle” that Shayna is, from that limited perspective, easily.

April 7, 2002 (12 weeks old)

The purpose of this book, however, is all that and much more: it is to tell the story of how a remarkable dog and I helped each other to begin healing from our own individual traumas – and how, by becoming a first-time dog “dad,” I became a more complete, mature, self-assured person.

It tells the story of how, by learning to care for and train a sentient, intelligent creature who speaks another language, and earning her love, devotion and trust, I began developing real self-esteem. The book also presents twelve of the “life lessons” I’ve learned through this experience, that I believe other current and aspiring dog “parents” may find of value, in enriching their and their dogs’ lives and relationships. And as an added bonus, Shayna also “wrote”* four supplemental “life lessons” that she wants dog parents to know, as well (*through “woof-recogntion technology”!).

Ultimately, my hope is that this book can serve to inspire others who come from backgrounds similar to mine, and who may have thought about adopting a dog, to take the plunge – if they do so with care and patience. This hope is based on one, core belief: that there are quite a few people out there who are leading lives similar to mine, pre-Shayna: to the outside world, they are meekly happy, adequately (if not hyper-) productive, but have trouble (or are incapable of) trusting others, or engaging in meaningful relationships. Who have been quietly, invisibly suffering from horrible things that happened to them, about which they cannot speak – yet which still haunt their nightmares. Who would like to adopt a dog, but aren’t sure they are capable of becoming an effective dog “parent.”

It is largely for such people (perhaps you?) that I’ve written this book.

Of course, there are no guarantees. One cannot go to a website and order up a dog that will be as perfectly suited to them as Shayna is to me, or with whom they will share the human-canine love of a lifetime, as we do. But if one approaches the task of selecting a dog with honesty, care and patience – and of being the best dog “parent” one can be – they may find themselves beginning to heal from the traumas that bedevil them, just as I have, from those that have bedeviled me.

The specifics of what happened to me in childhood are fairly detailed in some areas, but sparse in others. Suffice to say that the worst of what you read is sometimes only the starting point, and descended from there into things I cannot discuss. Perhaps you’ve had similar things happen to you; or perhaps what happened to you was even more depraved. Of course, this is not a competition, and the point is not the details.  Rather, it is how your own traumas have affected you, and your life – and how the process of becoming a fully-immersed dog parent may help you to begin healing.

I know that a dog is no substitute for professional counseling. To recover from severe traumas, whether recent or from the distant past, takes real work, and as most mental health experts will tell you, the best place to begin is with an experienced therapist. My view on this, for your consideration: that to begin that process means developing the courage to heal – and the self-esteem to believe that you are worth healing. It means developing and holding fast to the belief that another, better life is possible for you – and that there is no one in the world who is more deserving of that life than you.

That is what I believe a loving dog – a “miracle dog,” if you will – can potentially bring to a person who is really ready for one, and who goes about the dog selection process with care. Or who waits for the right dog to find them.

What Shayna brings to me is ultimately… me; the “me” that I could and should have been, so long ago.  The “me” that can look at myself in the mirror and doesn’t see shame, humiliation, pain or scars – but rather, sees a decent, intelligent, inventive person who is capable of loving, and is worthy of being loved. The “me” that grew out of the little boy I once was, who was so severely betrayed, traumatized, neglected and exploited, for whom I still silently weep; whose hand I have now taken in mine, and am finally leading out of the abyss into which we were cast so long ago.

That’s what my “miracle” dog, Shayna, brings to me, and how she’s helped to “save” me.

May those who read this book be as fortunate as I am, to enjoy the love of a “miracle” dog.

Perhaps together, we can work to help liberate the many dogs from shelters around the world, each of whom yearns to be someone’s “miracle,” in a loving, forever home.