Riley (not his real name, to protect confidentiality), a mix of two working breeds, was in the shelter I was volunteering at. He was not up for adoption. I’m not aware of his history, nor how he came to be there, but I do know, that just watching him broke my heart.
You see, Riley paced constantly. It was exhausting to watch him. Every sound cause him to go to investigate, he whined constantly and was on full alert at all times. When I entered his pen, other than a quick sniff, he paid no attention to me or anyone else for that matter. He was on a mission that only he knew of, and there was no time to stop and relax.
The sympathetic nervous system (both in animals and humans) contributes to what we refer to as the “fight or flight” response. Fear and anxiety cause the sympathetic nervous system to increase its activity and it produces cortisol. Too much cortisol can compromise the immune system of an animal which makes them more susceptible to illnesses. However, at that time, I didn’t know much about the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. I just knew I had to do something to provide some relief to this animal. I had to give him the Gift of Calm, if only for a short time.
I hadn’t had formal studies in massage at that time, however had studied some Tellington Touch Techniques as well as some calming acupressure points. I volunteered only one day a week, due to work commitments, and most of the volunteering session was spent cleaning pens, feeding animals etc.. So my exposure time to Riley was very limited.
Day 1 of entering his pen – duration of stay approximately half an hour. Every time he brushed past me, I restrained him for a moment with a hand towel held loosely around his neck like a bandana. With the other hand I applied an acupressure point or a few TTouches, and then let him go. I sat calmly, breathing deeply.
Day 2 of entering his pen – a week later – duration of stay approximately half an hour. He didn’t seem to recognise me at all. I repeated what I had done on day 1. I managed to get him to stay with me for a few extra minutes each time and to massage for a few moments from time to time.
Day 3 of entering his pen – third week – duration of stay – unsure – I lost track of time. He came to me, allowed me to do some acupressure and TTouch. He then came and lay down on his bed (which I had moved on each of these occasions so it was next to me), allowed me to massage him, and fell asleep with his head on my lap.
Even now I recall that amazing moment. I had to remind myself to breathe, to not hold my breath. The amazing power of energy, the amazing power of touch.
I wish I could tell you what happened to Riley. I wish I could tell you that he never paced again, that his owners were found, or that he found another family to love him. I can’t. I don’t know the rest of his story. I think about him often and hope he is living a wonderful life where he is able to exercise to his heart’s content, and then calmly relax. But I do thank him for allowing me to give him the Gift of Calm, as I thank all the animals who have taught me in the past, and I know will continue to teach me in the future.