A Tribute to My Favorite Co-Mediator, My Dog

Today’s blog isn’t about conflict.  It’s a tribute to my favorite co-mediator, my dog.

My dog and I had a solid relationship.  We spent a lot of time together and enjoyed each other’s company.  She was a bossy thing, but my husband says that I am a bossy thing, too.

On Monday, just four days ago, my dog died. 

For the first eight years of her life, I sheltered my dog from my work and my clients from her.  She was only in the office on days that I didn’t have private mediations.

However, in the fall of 2015, I started bringing her to the office for private mediations as well.

I wonder what she thought at that first mediation session.  It wasn’t as if I could prep her for it in advance.  “I know that you’ve been coming to the office with me for eight quiet years, but now, when you come to the office, people are going to yell and scream and you and I have to maintain calm and keep the peace.”  That’s what I would have said, if I could have said it and had her understand.  Instead, she just had to figure that all out on her own.

It worked out better than I could have hoped, as she practiced her own instinctive form of mediation.  She always greeted people enthusiastically, doing her part to make them feel at home.  If someone didn’t like dogs or didn’t want her attention, she would generally leave that person alone after the initial greeting.  Sometimes, she positioned herself between the two individuals.  Sometimes, she stayed with the person she thought needed her most.  Occasionally, she went back and forth between them.  And sometimes, she felt like I had it under control and she curled up near me and went to sleep. 

Clients looked forward to seeing her, asking after her if she wasn’t at the office when they came.

While she was being petted by a client, she would give me a look that said, “You see this?  This is how you treat a dog at the office. You should do more of this.”  I got a lot of those looks.  I thought the office was for working, not just petting the dog.

One day, my dog had gone to sleep when the clients were having civil discussions, only to be woken by their loud arguing.  She groaned loudly.  We humans laughed.  The tension was diffused and the argument softened to a disagreement.  She went back to sleep, confident that I had it under control again.

She was a good dog.

I knew she had a health issue and she had been struggling with it.  I had taken her to every vet appointment, trying to find some way to make things better for her, while watching things get slowly, inexorably worse.  I had occasionally cried to the vets and to family members, asking, “Is she going to die from this?”

At the same time, it just didn’t seem that bad.  She could still play with the dog next door or cop an attitude with a dog she didn’t like.  For the most part, she was healthy.  And most of the time, it just didn’t seem possible that she could die from this.  It’s like when someone you know dies from the flu or pneumonia.  You know intellectually that it is possible to die from the flu or pneumonia because people do die of it every year.  However, the vast majority of people survive the flu and pneumonia, so when someone you love dies from it, it takes you by surprise.

We like to believe that our loved ones will be there for us forever.  However, we all only have a finite number of days on this planet and we never know when someone’s time will be up.

Tonight, when you go home, please give your loved ones a little extra love, and let them know how much you appreciate them.  Let’s put as much love out there as we can while we are here.

Mediation Mutt

MY CO-MEDIATOR

MY CO-MEDIATOR

My dog has become a regular in my mediation practice.

When I first introduced her to the practice, I thought that she would be a pretty passive participant.  She has been coming to work with me for years, though it used to be only on days without clients.  In those days, "going to work" meant that I worked and she slept.

Well, now that she has entered the mediation world, it turns out that she wants to have a much more active role in "going to work."

1.  She thinks that her job is to bark when people knock and then greet them enthusiastically when they enter.  I could do without the barking.

2. She knows that if she wins the clients over, then they will pat her during the mediation.  Ideally, they will let her sit somewhere between the two of them and perhaps they will both pat her at the same time.  That is perfect, as far as she is concerned.

3. She also will perform her own interventions during the mediation if she thinks that it will help.

  • If someone is crying, she may go to that person to comfort that person.
  • I had a mediation where the couple had argued heatedly, had settled down, and were ramping up for another heated argument.  My dog groaned loudly.  We all looked over at her and laughed.  The tension was dissipated by a dog groan.

We see service dogs in hospitals and in nursing homes, helping people through some of their most difficult times.  Many therapists in my office building bring their dogs with them to work.

My dog has decided that she can provide some comfort to people in the midst of conflict as well.  And she is right!

I watch people reach out to her or call her over as the conversation gets tough.

When we pet a dog, our brain releases oxytocin, a hormone which makes us more likely to trust and less likely to respond negatively to external stressors.  Oxytocin is a very helpful hormone to have present in the midst of a difficult mediation. 

Petting a dog has a calming effect, helping to lower your heart rate and blood pressure.  This helps to counteract the fact that your heart rate and blood pressure are rising in the midst of a difficult conversation.

So, make an appointment to mediate and get two mediators for the price of one -- me plus my dog.