Love Dogs:
Abandonment, Abuse, & Rehabilitation


Tom Wilson, Ph.D.

"There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them."
In Rumi’s poem “Love Dogs,” a man cries out to his God and a dog howls for its master, both of them feeling abandoned. What they share is a deep longing for connection. We know that without connection, people and animals can die of broken hearts. What we can easily miss or misinterpret is the many ways our animals (and humans) howl for connection. So many animals come to us abused and abandoned, deeply wounded at the start of their lives. And so many abused and abandoned animals, deemed beyond rehabilitation, are “put down” because of aggressive behaviors.

That doesn’t have to be the case. Why? Because we have hands that are extensions of our hearts. Open hands and hearts make the vital connection that can rehabilitate our animal friends. I have encountered hard cases, but never a hopeless one. Emotional and behavioral problems, including aggression, are simply a cry for help. What I want to share with you in this article is my experience working with a hard-case dog with abandonment and abuse issues, and the role acupressure and other modalities of healing touch play in animal rehabilitation. Over time and many sessions, I have been refining a flow pattern of highly effective acupressure meridians and points for abandoned and abused animals—and one particular acupressure point that simply works miracles. As always, however, it’s more than knowledge and technique. We are working in something much bigger, a mysterious field of energy that connects all living beings and nature itself. The animals know this terrain far more intimately than we do. So let’s go meet Vegas.

Vegas is a Rat Terrier from Santa Cruz. Aptly named, he is Mr. Showtime: energetic, quirky, funny, lovable, a performer. He just has one problem; he can at any time turn vicious and attack other animals and people. He has frequently attacked the other two dogs in the house and recently bit one of his guardians, Bekah, in the face, drawing blood. He came to Bekah and her husband Andy after enduring a string of owners and a history of abandonment and abuse. Though he could not have landed in a more loving home, his old wounds ran deep; and under stress he would turn medieval on those close to him. In many ways, Vegas was like the frightened school yard bully who preemptively attacks you before you attack him. Bekah and Andy were out of ideas for helping Vegas when Bekah’s mother recommended that they bring him to Nevada City to work with me.

Two weeks before bringing Vegas up to Nevada City, I spoke at length with Bekah about Vegas and my approach to help rehabilitate him. My experience over the years is that animals, through abandonment and abuse, lose connection to their true nature, lose confidence and trust, get confused, fearful, and live in a perpetual state of anxiety and worry. They forget who they are, lose the vital connection to the joy of being alive, being a happy dog—all attributable to the violent emotions and behaviors of humans who have abused or abandoned them. My approach is simply this: to use healing touch in ways that help animals come home to themselves, to reconnect with and to re-member who they truly are at the core of being.

And here’s where the story starts to get amazing. In the two weeks before coming to Nevada City, things started shifting in Vegas, Bekah, and Andy. All Bekah could say was that they all felt something moving in them, something palpable, a sensing. Perhaps our deepest experiences happen in the realm of the unsayable. It was clear to me that the work we would do together had already begun. We had agreed that when I arrived at Bekah’s mother’s house to work with Vegas, our initial contact needed to be outside with Vegas on a leash as he would be in attack mode for a stranger; and we did not want that to happen inside where we would work. And, yes, he was all teeth and frenzied barking, straining the leash so tight to get at me a dancing bear could have done a high wire act on it.

Once inside the house, I sat on the floor while Vegas sat on the couch beside Bekah to give everyone a chance to settle in. At one point in our conversation, Andy said something incredible—that he had decided long ago that nothing Vegas could ever do would make him give up on him. Those words literally pierced my heart, and I knew in that instant that Vegas was going home to himself. I turned and asked Bekah to put the soft muzzle on Vegas and let him come down onto the floor with me. Soft muzzles often can effectively preempt an animal from moving into its attack persona. Before I had a chance to call Vegas to me, he walked over and sat down beside me. Now we go deeper into amazing. With his head bowed, he leaned his body into mine. He was ready. He knew what we were going to do. He wanted this, wanted to lay his burden down.

My initial contact in the flow was a light stroking of the part of the bladder meridian that runs down both sides of the spine from the neck to the sacrum. The bladder in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is related to the Water element, which presides over the fluidity of all aspects of the body-mind, and can restore the ability to flow with life, not fight it. The Water element is also about the will and the courage to be. Because the 12 organ meridians of the body have association points on the bladder meridian, they all can be balanced by addressing the bladder meridian. (Acupuncturist Dianne Connelly likens opening the bladder meridian to “the break shot in pool.”) The negative emotion associated with the Water element is fear, which can be alleviated by working the bladder meridian.

After only a few strokes, Vegas closed his eyes and sagged to the floor beside me, completely surrendered. We were now moving very fast. I knew that we would not need all the steps in the flow. Sometimes one acupressure point is all it takes, and I knew instinctively that we were going to the one that would bring Vegas back home to himself. The next two steps of the flow were simply prelude, and to ensure that I didn’t rush the work. I worked the gall bladder meridian that runs down the side of the body from head to toe to address frustration. Then I went to the stomach meridian, which runs from the face, down the front of the body to the feet, to address worry. Animals, like humans, have serious problems digesting their thoughts—and, clearly, Vegas has been a captive of human thoughts and emotions.

We were ready. Vegas was lying on his side, eyes closed, very still; but I knew he was conscious of everything. Sliding my right hand under his neck, I laid my left hand over his heart, as well as over a small galaxy of supportive kidney, stomach, and conception vessel points. My left hand then moved down his stomach on the midline to the acupressure point called Conception Vessel 6, Sea of Qi (or Sea of Energy). On a human body, the Sea of Qi is about three finger widths directly below the navel. When I felt the resonance of the point, I began slowly pressing my middle finger (fire finger) lightly inward, then waited for an invitation to go deeper. Vegas was in a very vulnerable state, and had given his trust to me. I had to remember that there could be no forcing, no attitude of “fixing” him. At this point, we were connected by trust on a journey of the heart. Very slowly I allowed my finger to go a bit deeper into the Sea of Qi. In about five minutes of working slowly, my finger was in very deep, almost up to the second knuckle, and I knew to rest here and wait with stillness and presence while the deepest work happens. This acupressure point resides in the locus of the Hara or Lower Dan Tien, the center of personal power and inner strength. I sensed that I was touching the core of his being. After a few minutes, Vegas opened his eyes and got up. His legs were wobbly. Everyone in the room remained silent.

Vegas then got up on the couch, cuddled up beside Bekah, put his head down between his front paws, and with heavy eye lids looked around the room. I sat against the couch with my back to him to be sure he knew we were done. After about half an hour, I turned around to look at Vegas. When our eyes made contact, Vegas lifted his right paw into the air and made several reaching motions toward me, though he was so tired he couldn’t lift his head. So I placed my hand on the couch directly under his outstretched paw, and he brought his paw down on top of my hand in the sweetest gesture of connection.

Vegas is doing well back home in Santa Cruz. The fear-based aggression is gone. Vegas is free to have his birthright, to spend his days in the joy of being a love dog. As I come to the end of this story, I really don’t know what to say in closing. The flow I use for abused and abandoned animals continues to work wonders; but I think it’s almost incidental to the larger work being done on some higher level of being—at the source that Lao Tzu calls “dark-enigma within dark-enigma, gateway of all mystery.” I remain in awe of the innocence, consciousness, courage, and preciousness of our animal friends, of how much they know, of how dialed-in to life they are. So, all I can say is trust them, love them, and never give up on them.

* * * * *

© Copyright 2010 Tom Wilson, All Rights Reserved

© Copyright 2010 Tom Wilson, All Rights Reserved
P.O. Box 2278 Nevada City, CA 95959-1945
Phone: (530) 913.1309