Enjoy this devotional from FlourishWriters student Sharon Wilson
We should have named her “Sassafras” (“Sassy”), “Gingersnap,” or “Sparky”—names evoking a bright and spirited personality. Instead, I chose the lofty name “Genevieve,” meaning “Lady of the People” and “Blessing.”
My future therapy dog would bless both children and the elderly.
As we got to know this puppy’s dynamic personality, we began to joke people might NEED therapy after encountering this intensely determined poodle. This vivacious fluffball must have missed the purported calm personalities of her genetic lines.
Within a week, she began barking to tell us to “Hurry!” and “Humphed” when she was frustrated. This “therapy dog” even resisted petting and cuddling.
Besides the surprising personality, other factors combined to create potential failure both as a therapy dog and, possibly, as a family pet.
True to her name, she was and still is a “Lady of the People.” She greeted exuberantly every single person—and dog. Because of her unrestrained zeal, we became “puppy school” dropouts at just eleven weeks.
Learning to greet people politely while maintaining our six-foot distance added another obstacle.
Though quite intelligent, Genevieve sometimes misinterpreted the information her mind quickly processed. One morning, while I was seated on a bench with Gennie at my feet and her leash attached to my belt loop, I saw an acquaintance approaching me with his characteristic limping gait. That day, he was wearing a fisherman’s cap.
As I greeted him, Gennie, of course, wanted a closer look and sniff. As she joyously bounded towards him, she pulled me off the bench and onto the pavement. Startled at my sudden displacement, she began to bark and scold the man, believing HE had caused my fall.
In the future, she considered dangerous any man who wore a hat, especially if he walked unsteadily.
Our misunderstandings reached a critical point when she was five months old.
I did not realize the importance of consistency and using positive training methods with a dog of her intelligence and determination. Well-meaning friends and social media experts advised using harsh and painful consequences to change unwanted behavior.
I had resorted to pulling her with the leash because she would refuse to come into the house on her own accord. Anxious and confused by this, Gennie responded by jumping and biting. These unfriendly nips left teeth marks—through my coat sleeves!
Fighting tears and fearing failure, I found a “positive only” behavioral veterinarian/trainer as my last attempt to bring peace into this increasingly frustrating relationship.
Within one week of the trainer beginning to train me, my dog was willingly beside me without jumping or biting. As our relationship began to change, my hope returned.
The trainer’s premise for his processes were simple: “Deepen the connection to begin to understand each other’s language—then develop a partnership enabling the pet to live its best possible life.”
The partnership and best dog life for Gennie and me began by deepening our connection.
My sessions with Gennie changed from an agenda-driven “to do list” to daily play times and a goal of laughing with her every day. We practiced safety and self-control enhancing games like Stay, Drop it, Watch Me, Wait, This Way, By my side is the best place to be, and of course, Gennie, Come.
Of course, those games practiced her appropriate response to my positive commands.
We began to understand each other’s communication as our bond strengthened. She began looking at me to check if she needed to be concerned about a sudden, loud noise. I learned to look for twitched ears, a change in stance, or facial expressions indicating fear, frustration, sadness, or joy.
I began to lead her in a different direction to avoid situations causing her to become anxious and unable to think clearly. Her eyes would light up as she accomplished a new trick as if embracing her “job.”
The dog who had resisted petting now leans against my leg, falls asleep at my feet, and tries to sneak into bed to plop her body close to mine. We are as bonded now as we were disconnected then.
She still “Humphs” if she disagrees with something but consents without jumping or biting. If I’m away from her for a few days, or too busy to play, our connection wanes and she becomes less responsive and more anxious.
(She is still suspect of men who wear hats, especially if they walk with a limp.)
We continue to add to her trick repertoire to prepare for a therapy career our trainer thinks is still possible.
I told a friend Genevieve’s relationship with me frequently resembles my relationship with God.
Like Gennie, I can be quick-thinking, distractible, and reactive, not looking for God’s assistance or perspective. I can be increasingly anxious, independent, and even snippy if I have not had enough time in God’s presence.
Heeding His “Wait,” “Stay,” or “Watch me” commands teaches me patience and self-control, as well as prevents painful misadventures.
Sometimes God has had to speak a stern “No!” and pull me away from something I desperately wanted to keep because I haven’t responded to His initial request to “Come” or “Drop it.”
How often has God said, “This way,” and led me in a new direction because He saw danger ahead?
I am more peaceful when our connection is strong. As Gennie has learned, I too know “By (His) side is the best place to be.” It is.
Responding to His invitations to deepen our connection, cooperate with His will, and learn His language brings me peace and allows me to partner with Him as He blesses people.
Psalms 91:1-2 states, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress, My God in whom I trust” (NASB 1995).
How is your connection? Are you responding to God’s invitations to enter His presence, learn His language, and enhance your peace and ability to hear, trust, and respond?
How might you partner with Him to bless others?
Dwell in His shelter. Rest in His shadow. Strengthen your connection.
Sharon Wilson lives in Michigan with her husband and potential therapy dog, Genevieve. She has enjoyed multiple roles, including being the mother of three now-adult sons, a pastor’s wife, a nurse, and several roles within a pregnancy resource center. Four years ago, Sharon returned to school (grade school) and now helps Spanish-speaking children learn English and assists with second-grade math. Snow days; recess; hospitality; lifelong friendships; creating with yarn and fabrics; capturing beauty through photography; connecting with her Creator while walking on the beach and collecting rocks; and geeking-out reading science textbooks—all these bring her joy.