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The Importance of Being Ansley, Part Three, Finally: Eat, Bay, Love

So if you scroll down there are two previous Ansley blogs that explain who and how and why Ansley is. Now. Here is a true depiction of three dogs.

Bonneville: Bonneville was a foster dog. He was not allowed to stay at my house.

Bonneville had a very terrible life before he met us. When he first came, he peed when Scott spoke. He cringed when I spoke. He knew he was not allowed on the sofa at his old house, but he loved to be on the sofa, so if ANY HUMAN came into the room when he was on the sofa, he immediately panicked and leaped up onto his feet and then froze and peed all over the sofa.

At my house dogs can sit on sofas. (Heck, we have had multiple dogs EAT multiple sofas and never beat ANY of them. We just laughed and said “This is why God made Duct Tape.” We are very classy.)

Every time, I would explain to him he could be on the sofa, and I would clean it, and call him to sit with me on it and pet his ears, but he NEVER came to believe me. If he got on the sofa when no one was in the room, and a person came in and saw him, he would stress pee. Months passed. This never changed.

When he first came, he bit people. Meaning, if any person came up behind him or startle dhim when he was sleeping, he bit first and asked questions later. AFTER, he felt TERRIBLE, because he had weeks and then months of daily proof that we were DIFFERENT from his old people, but he never stopped. He never came to believe he was in a safe place.

He drew my blood twice, and we had a young boychild who could not be counted on to REMEMBER every second not to startle the dog. Inevitably, eventually, Bonneville bit my kid. Hard. He was VERY SORRY, but biting my kid is a felony. He could not be our dog.

Leroy: Lydia’s dog Leroy did not greet me at her door in the cheery way a nice dog generally greets new people. Instead, greeted me like we had been the most dearest of beloveds, separated for a dozen years by cruel fate, finally allowed to rush across a flower strewn meadow and collapse into each other’s arms.

He SLEPT with me. Less than an hour after I met him, he hopped into my bed, packed up in a snuggle against me, and dropped into blissful, snoring belly up utterly trusting and delighted sleep.

Me: Your dog is so WEIRD. He has never met me before, and yet he came to the door POSITIVE that I was GREAT. Not just interested or friendly, but DELIGHTED, as if he already LOVED me and he just knew I already LOVED him. Like I was pre-certified to be GREAT.

Lydia: Why wouldn’t you be great? I got Leroy from a puppy-loving lady when he was six weeks old. Literally every human he has ever encountered in his ENTIRE LIFE has been great. Every person who has stepped in this house has absolutely adored him. OF COURSE you are great. OBVIOUSLY you love him. This is what, in Leroy’s mind, people are like.

I boggled at this. Leroy is what actual innocence looks like. Leroy is The Dog In The Garden.

And you know, he isn’t a PERFECT dog. He is sometimes impatient with the other dog in the house. And he is a little neurotic…when he gets anxious or sleepy, he wants to nurse on people like a fetus-dog, though he is a stately grown-up fellow of six years old.

(I let him nurse on my forearms until I sported two enormous dog hickeys. HA!)

He is not perfect. He is genetically the exact dog he is, with his own personality and preferences and flaws. It’s just, the way his life has gone, he has been allowed to become the absolute best VERSION of the dog he is. Within the range of what was open to him, genetically speaking, he is best. He is the Platonic Ideal, but NOT OF DOGS. He is the Ideal Leroy.

Ansley: Ansley had a very terrible life before she met us. Bonneville Jr. — Scott spoke, she peed. She expected EVERY SECOND to be beaten. She expected EVERY SECOND to have a bad time. When she was naughty and ate inapropriate things, like, say, THE FURNITURE, she waited in a cringing, urinating heap of terror to be destroyed.

Then, after awhile, when she never got destroyed, even once….she stopped.

The day before I left on tour, I watched her RUUUUNNNNN across the floor in a joyous scramble and LEAP upwards and HURL herself willy-nilly into Scott’s arms. She grinned and panted her, erm, let’s say…. “fragrant” breath in his face, and he caught her and said, “OH HELLO, THERE!” and scratched her ears, just as She. Knew. He. Would.

Ansley is not stupid. She has not forgotten. A strange man in the house will send her slinking low-belly to hide behind Bagel and maybe pee if his voice is loud or he looks at her too long.

But in her daily life, she reacts to what is actually happening, not to what she so obviously remembers.

It is good here, and she accepts it and sinks into the goodness, reacting to what IS instead of what was. Life is good NOW. She is loved NOW. She has decided to trust it, and live in this now, and simply be…happy.

Of these three dogs, would it surprise you to know that it is Leroy who breaks my heart?

He breaks it into tiny smashed pieces, because when I look at him, I don’t know how to not HATE people. Why will we not make the WORLD be for kids like Lydia’s house is for Leroy?

If only every single broken awful human one of us would treat every living child in such a way that they grow up thinking people are great and love them, because it is all they have ever known.

But we will not.

We are criminals and cowards, pedophiles and con men, narcissists and liars, and petty, territorial, cliquey unkind buttholes who smash down other folks to feel better about ourselves…We all of of us have our moments.

Since letting everyone be Leroy — @#&^^#*^$(@! — is not an option, then I guess the question becomes, how is Ansley able to love in the now and react to THEWORLDASITIS, not THEWORLDASITWAS when Bonneville could not?

Luck? Her own Choices? Genetics? How can present happiness, the kindness of a decent NOW, save Ansley, and not save us all?

Me? I missed the boat on being Leroy over forty years ago, when my mother decided not to raise me in a hamster bubble on a deserted island in the center of a dust sea on the dark side of the moon. So. How do I BECOME Ansley? I so want to be Ansley. I want to react to my life NOW, not to what has been, and leap trustingly forward, and be happy.

Who gets to be Ansley and who is stuck being Bonneville? Who chooses, or what factors choose for you? What is the tipping point for Grace? Grace should not HAVE a tipping point…but look at the world. I think it does.

Conclusion 1: There is a book in this.

Conclusion 2: All this (&@%^#$_&(%(@_ing yoga is making me try to *^&$&_ing learn things and grow as a &#@*_)ing person which, Beloveds, you KNOW I am CATAGORICALLY OPPOSED TO DOING.

33 comments to The Importance of Being Ansley, Part Three, Finally: Eat, Bay, Love

  • JulieB

    This was worth the wait. Thank you.

  • Shelley S

    I suspect Bonneville vs Ansley is DNA and neuron paths, takes a really long time to recreate neuron paths that form while abused. It’s wonderful that Ansley has found a way to be happy. The question really should be how did Scott know she was going to be able to recover when he met her? What did he think about Bonneville?

  • I’m curious about Shelley’s question, too. How does Scott KNOW?

    And, guh, I am SO GLAD you did not pink sock us, Joss. This was, guh. GUH. I want to read the book you write from this.

  • This is the best dog-wisdom I have heard. Indeed.

  • I had fostered a lot of cats who moved on to perma homes (I several permadwellers of my own) and we got Bonneville AS a foster, which means Scott did not pick him to be our dog.

    He was a dog who needed a place to stay that we COULD have adopted.

    We did not adopt him.

  • Laura

    I wonder about this all the time- with both dogs and humans. How is it that some people can withstand trauma,violence, neglect- all the awfulness that humans are capable of- and come out the other side able to be joyful, and some people escape their childhoods relatively unscathed and are somehow broken? Where does that resilience come from? We adopted an eleven year old dog in May. We were looking for someone a bit more…puppyish, but we met her at a shelter and we were DOOMED. Our sweet CJ was at a puppy mill, she lived her entire life inside a cage, is covered in scars and remains the single sweetest entity I have ever encountered on the planet. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why she is the way she is, but I know she is a blessing in our lives. I hope to be like her when I grow up.

  • Kathy

    Awwww…..just awwww. Dogs & kids, kids & dogs. Always strikes at the heart of me. It’s a quandry why some people turn out ok and others don’t. I have two nieces, both raised together, same environmental background and one is a super person, the other……..has issues.

  • Scottsdale Girl

    I honestly believe that except in actual bad neuron firings and chemical imbalance issues most of us DECIDE how to react to things.

    Dogs, oh my. I cannot say enough about dogs. I loves them, and this post made me tear up a little.

    I have not been helful, but man oh MAN if you write a book about it? SQUEE!!!!!!!!X a frajillion!

  • Sandy in TX

    We have the sweetest, happiest, most gregarious old golden/chow mix named Barney – he looks a bit like Barney Rubble and always seems to be laughing. He came to us because someone dumped his old self on a country road and left him. His teeth were almost black, most are chipped and worn down, he was covered in fleas, ticks and the vet said he’d been attacked by something, which accounted for the wounds. From the moment I picked him up from the lady who found him, but could not keep him he’s been profoundly adored by every creature who crosses his path including our other dog and all three cats. He works the room at the vet’s office like a politician looking for votes, sniffing behinds and nudging humans for petting. 🙂 We always wonder who would treat such a shining gift with such cruelty, but mostly we wonder how he remained so trusting and happy. Who knows? He makes us better for being here though, we know that much.

  • Yes, there’s a book in this. There are many books in this.

    I don’t know how it works for dogs, but for me the definition of courage is having the ability to look into the abyss, see the world, people and oneself as they are – not in the meadowy and violined moments, but with all the incipient pettiness and meanness and violence – and still choose love, hope and compassion.

    On a scientific level, you might be interested in some of the recent studies on happiness. (Dr. Martin Seligman, et al.) One book he recommends is The Resilience Factor by Reinvich and Shatte. (If I were a young sprout, I’d love to be doing this kind of work. It’s fascinating stuff.)

    /geek-out. Sorry.

  • JMixx

    Ooooh, Jan O’Hara, thank you! With all the research out there, I have to be kinda picky about what to spend time on–there aren’t enough hours in the day, and, honestly, how many can a person spend reading dusty dry research without losing the will to live? I shall promptly add The Resilience Factor to my list. One that I have, but have not yet dug into, is “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom.”

    Joss, that is far too deep an issue for me today in my snot-riddled state. On Sunday, I came down with something. Or it took me down. Not sure which. I hope I was not shedding evil virus-particles when I met you. The only thing I can add to the discussion is that, in people, it seems that a glimpse of caring, or kindness, or goodness, early in life, sets up an awareness, or a hope, that it is out there, and can be found again. People whose mothers were dragged unwilling into motherhood, and never let their offspring forget it, and who did not have another person in their lives to allow them to peek at goodness, seem to have a much harder time than those who had that peek and then later–maybe at age 2 instead of as a newborn–came into circumstances involving abuse or neglect. As someone I know put it, “People can tolerate nearly anything, if they know it will end.”

    *sinks back into whining apathy*

  • Before I pose this dumb question, I’ll disclaim that I’m a cat person. Isn’t this why dogs sniff butts? On some level, isn’t it just a matter of becoming a more skilled or experienced sniffer? A pheromone-aphile? I look forward to your thoughts FTKers.

  • Aimee

    This was SO worth the wait, but no fair making me cry while I’m trying to eat my Trader Joe’s salad.

    I want to think JMixx and Jan for the book recs. I just finished “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lamai and someone else whose name I can’t remember and I’m now about 2/3 of the way through The Happiness Project. All with an eye toward maximizing my own happiness and minimizing stress and generally just trying to be a kinder, better person.

    Also, Joss? I hate to break it to you, but writing a post like this is categorical PROOF that you are growing as a person. And? I want to read the book that comes out of this.

  • Hmmm. . .I’ve pondered this myself. But MORE OFTEN I’ve pondered how I managed to draw the gold, shiny card of life while others get a pile of crap. Don’t get me wrong. . .I’ve had unpleasant things happen to me and mine. . .but things always turn out in the end. . .and maybe THAT is the Ansley factor. No matter the road–I believe it really WILL be alright. . .I’ve been told that since I was a tadpole, and it’s always been true–not perfect, but alright.

    A quote from my own ponderings recently, “The road this is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.” Marian Zimmer Bradley

  • Allison in Denver

    As a new mom, this made me weep. I look at my sweet sweet baby and I cannot imagine how anyone could treat a baby the way you read about (and hopefully have no personal experience with). As a teacher, I hope to help my students be Ansley and not Bonneville.

  • JMixx

    Okay, I have some Nyquil Sinex on board, so I am surfacing from the sea of congestion, a veritable Snotlantic, to make another comment.

    Joss,what makes you think that you are *not* an Ansley? You seem like such a happy, positive person whenever I read your blog, and on the two occasions when I have heard you speak. I can’t imagine being as energetic and cheerful; you are certainly more Ansley than I. A Leroy mindset strikes me as risky for anyone other than a beloved pet; it’s not that the world is teeming with evil, drooling maniacs. It’s just that it only takes one evil, drooling maniac to ruin your whole life, if you don’t have the Ansleyish tendency to trust only those people you have reason to trust.

  • We got our cats from a rescue place. They are the most trusting, loving cats I have ever seen. Well, Laverne is trusting and loving. Shirley has no use for someone who is not going to feed her. But Laverne just flops over in front of any person who comes into our house – friends, plumber – ready to be loved.

    In contrast, when I was a kid, my parents got us a kitten. My siblings and I wanted to play with O’Malley, but we were perhaps a little rough. He was a tiny little thing and we scared the heck out of him. He bit and fought when we would try to drag him out from behind the potted plant where he had gone to hide from us.

    It took years of being nice to him after that for him to trust us again. We had created his fear and his occasional lashing out. We had nobody but ourselves to blame. But he turned into a lovely cat. When my dad was dying, we talked about everyone he would see in heaven. “You’ll see O’Malley!” we told him. I’m not sure the theology is sound on that, but if our pets aren’t in heaven, then what’s the point?

  • Jill S. in B'ham

    I loved this one, Joshilyn! As an animal lover, I am amazed at an animal’s resiliency and forgiveness – I want an animal’s ability for forgiveness.
    I caught our cat’s tail in the door – never heard sound a horrible sound – and darn it, that cat still loves me and wants to rough lick my face.

    Please make this one a book!

  • Les in az

    I think there is a threshold for terrible things both man and people can endure and yet some success despite their miserable upbringing and become smiling wonderful creatures, while others don’t. Who knows what the tipping point of misery is? I suspect it might be up to someone a whole lot smarter than me.

  • Michelle-who-is-Shelley

    One word — Wow. I will be chewing on this for a while. I am also someone who is unable to chose the now over the what-has-been, but I haven’t been able to put it into words until today. Thank you for giving me words.

    As for Leroy, I know a dog like him that was born to adoring puppy loving owners who carefully selected my sister’s family to adopt her as their forever friend and there are children for her to play with and middle school boys to run the woods with and a mommy to cuddle her and pet her and yet she is still fearful. She has never known anything but love, yet she still hides, especially from man-persons with tall bodies and deep voices.

  • Carrie (in MN)

    I’m going to chew on this too but once insight I can offer as the mother of twins: I think a lot of it is an accident of nature, not nuture. My girls are getting the same upbringing from the same parents, the same rough love from their older brother, etc. and they have completely different personalities. It’s just the way they are – I tell you, it is very liberating as a parent to figure that out. So some accident of Ansley’s DNA gave her resilience and some accident of Bonneville’s DNA didn’t give him that gift.

  • ebethnyc

    Definitely, the yoga is worming its way into your (alleged) non-existent heart.
    Poor, poor Bonneville. I think people who abuse animals should get the death penalty (I am not joking).
    Cesar Milan has talked about dogs living in the moment. I suspect the fear : recovery ratio is correlated w/the amount and type of abuse ( see above). But as to the Ansleys who can recover, I suspect it’s about digging (perhaps more literally for some than others) deep down and just taking a leap of faith that yes, Virginia, there is still good in the world.

    PS avoid the news at all costs. Except for Brian Williams’ Making a Difference segment at the end of his broadcast.

  • I’m sure you’ve realized this already, but the book that (oh please oh please) must result from this is going to make you grow even more. Probably painfully. Then we’ll read it and have our own growing pains.

  • Cyndi

    I have two children, not biologically related but both adopted from Bulgaria. My daughter, developmentally disabled (slightly) and confined to a crib for nearly two years before coming home to almost immediately be subjected to surgery, is Leroy. She has never met a stranger and thinks the best of everyone.

    My son, handsome and charming and a favorite at his orphanage, is definitely Bonneville. After 14 years in our loving and stable home, he trusts no one and has nothing but the most superficial relationships with anyone. He fully expects, deep down, that we will desert him at any moment. What combination of experience, genetics, and personality make one so much more resilient than the other?

    Heart rending and puzzling, whether with dogs or kids. (And our rescue mutt is probably the most well-adjusted member of our family, by the way.)

  • brigitte

    I’ve often wondered about the resiliency difference, too. Since this blog entry already made me emotional, I will be sure to look for a tissue sale before thev resulting book!

  • Fifi Tinkerbell

    Thanks for writing this, it tugged at my heart strings a little. We have a 4-dog household, no intention of ever having that many, but love is love and we’ll all take what we can get and give what we can give!

  • Jessica (the celt)

    I once wrote a blog post about children who are Ansleys at heart (my blog is now defunct, though). I used to supervise visits between parents and children who were wards of the state, and I was surprised at how much love those children had for anyone who showed them kindness. It broke my heart at the time (for a specific reason), but now I can see that resilience is the key to loving and loving — and loving beyond the hurt to find more love somewhere else.

    I need to Ansley some things in my life, because I’m not an amoeba (Far Side reference!) who only has one response to stimulus.

    Grace’s tipping point, I think, is acceptance that grace just is. It’s there and it’s ours for the taking, but we do have to stretch out in faith to hold it in our hands. Sometimes, I fear, people are too battered to have much faith in reaching out left…

  • Important stuff beautifully said. Thank you.

  • Michelle-who-is-Shelley

    Yes, what Carrie said about nature vs. nurture. That was what I was trying to get at with my dog story. Of course, Joshilyn’s point isn’t about nature, it is about nurture. i.e. not how to get more Leroys, but how to get more Ansley’s.

    Pee. Ess. I am impressed that you can get such clear photos of your dogs. Every time I try to take a picture of one of mine, they walk towards me and sniff the camera.

  • There’s certainly a lot to the nurturing side, but some dogs are just born. . .special. Our Ceilidh (pronounced Kaylee) was skittish and jumpy and acted all manner of abused around strangers. I picked her out of a friend’s litter when she was six weeks old, and I never once hurt her. Around her family, her pack, she was loving and bouncy and interested in everything, but dog catchers couldn’t nab her when she escaped, and she was a serious Houdini.

    She wouldn’t even poop away from home. It stressed her out. It also made road trips interesting.

    She was a loving, caring, protective dog who was a complete freak around other people.

    Our other dog, Dante, was outgoing, friendly, a complete Leroy in all the best possible ways, which may actually have lead to his death. He trusted the wrong person.

    And Ceilidh’s freakiness may have saved her life; she didn’t trust. So it’s hard to say which is the better attitude.

  • Pearl

    Oh, so glad for the dogs of any shape who have found you and Scott to be loved by and to love.
    As for the yoga . . . yaaay, but don’t get addicted to the @$%@!^# ‘HOT’ yoga. It is so pleasing, occasionally, and occasionally helpful for those who are of strong and abundant cardiovascular inheritance, but if indulged in too often can create internal deficits that result in a sort of addiction that can lead to deep-level dehydration and pain whenever not practicing more yoga, which is not the desired outcome for a lovely practice like yoga.

  • JMixx

    When I was in high school, a friend and I used to write melodramatic short stories and (probably awful) poetry. We each made the other read our creations on the bus ride home (which could be pretty long and boring otherwise). We used a term then that we had made up: “Ooey.” Ooey was either a noun or an adjective, and it meant that a particular piece had stirred up so much thought, or emotional reverberation, that the only possible immediate response was “Ooooo…” My friend was named Deirdre, and I called her, “Deej.” Clambering up the steps of the bus, I would wend my way to the seat she had already claimed, saying, “Deej! I think I’ve got an Ooey, here! Read, tell me what you think!”

    The reason I dredge up this history is that I just finished AGUKOP, and it is an Ooey. It is an Ooey in a totally more sophisticated and marvelously-wrought way than I could even have imagined. I would love to say more about AGUKOP, but anything else might be a spoiler, and anyway, I am still saying, “Oooooo…”

  • In psychology this ability Ainsley has is often called resilience. There’s a fair amount of research out there on trauma and resilience. Walking the Tiger by Peter Levine is a fascinating book if you’re interested in reading more in this vein.

    I agree with everyone – can’t wait to read the book you write from this!