Wednesday, April 25, 2012

You Don't Suck

Have you ever had one of those days where everything you touch turns to crap? Well, I seem to be having one of those years. I go home feeling like a lousy nurse, only to feel like a lousy dog trainer, a horrible spouse, and a generally sucky human being. I know, in my brain, that things aren't as bad as they seem, and I have plans for how to improve them, but it doesn't stop the heavy heartedness.

This is called "burn out."

2012 will be my thirteenth year in animal rescue and my seventh year in medicine. I’ve figured out how to protect myself: I know my limits, and I’ve learned how to say no. But no matter how many walls there are between me and all the heartache, it still creeps in. For example, in 2009 I had two of my foster puppies euthanized for severe behavioral issues. Two of them. I had ten years of experience in rescue under my belt, and I almost cashed in my chips and walked away.

Instead, I went home and dug out my You-Don't-Suck box. In this box are little notes with all the good things I've done. There’s a picture of Mikey in this box. There’s a note from a manager in an entirely different department of the hospital than the one I work in saying that she noticed how helpful I was to both my patients and her staff.

Some of the notes are just single words, reminders to me of the lives I’ve changed for the better. There’s a scrap of paper with the word “Lindberg” on it. Lindberg was a black retriever mix that came to my shelter on a sweltering June day. He cowered in the back of his kennel, growling and muzzled and oh yeah - covered in ticks. I went slow, and I spent four hours pulling ticks off this dog - two hundred sixty-four of them, to be exact. I still remember the number eleven years later. But Lindberg seemed to shed his misery with each tick. At the end of the four hours, the muzzle was gone and Lindberg was curled in my lap. Sleeping. He went on to be adopted by a family with two little kids, the whole bunch of them thrilled with their new lives.

My You-Don't-Suck box is what keeps me going when I can't remember why I do this to myself.

I think every reactive dog owner should have a  You-Don't-Suck box. Because there will be days when you go home feeling like the worst dog owner in the universe. Days when there is no silver lining. When you question not only your ability to train, but whether you have any right to own a dog like this to begin with. And no amount of empathetic consolation, motivational quotes, or puppy kisses will help at all, not when you suck that bad.

Rubi's You-Don't-Suck box is jam-packed. First, there's the day I decided that I would not be just another person in Rubi's life who let her down. And the first time she chose me over a strange dog. Our first Dog Safety Program. The utterly uneventful trip to the vet. Rubi and I have done a lot, and most of it has been wonderful. We're great together, and the occasional bad day - well, that's normal. Sometimes, I screw up. Sometimes, Rubi has PMS. Sometimes, this is the same day. Every time I feel like giving up, I dig out my  You-Don't-Suck box and remember that I love her, I love what we do, and we need to keep going. Because she's worth it.

Reminding myself that I don't suck gives me more hope for the future than any plans for change or forced optimism possibly could. And hope is what carries you when walking the walk gets harder than walking away.


  1. Excellent post...something I needed to read today. So let me be one more person to remind you that you DONT suck. I've just found your blog and read several posts so far and you're already inspiring me to look at my dog differently and approach training in a different way. Hope your tomorrow is better.

    PS...I need to get me one of those You Dont Suck boxes! ;)

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post. I am Diamond Dog Socializer at HSSV. I adopted rescued dog his name is Yogi four-year-old, about half year ago. It is amazing how good structure, love and consistency changing him. On the beginning we had bad days and good days, now we have good weeks and bad quarter of a day :)
    Check it out my blog

  3. This is lovely. Thank You. Caring for rescued dogs can be sooo challenging. Some days you win, some days their old fears take hold in spite of the years of love and encouragement you've provided. No, you don't suck and neither do I.

  4. Nope, you are not sucky at all, if only because you shared this! Wonderful essay!

  5. What a totally brill idea! I have in my head those You Don't Suck moments, but it would be wise for me to write them down and put them all in one spot.

    Finding ways to love and respect yourself and what you do is so important, especially because compassion fatigue is misunderstood and also unfortunately belittled.

  6. I am copying your idea and going home and making my own "You Don't Suck" box, because often I feel I do. I think we ALL do at one time or another - it is often so easy to remember the bad things and forget the good.
    You can add my THANK YOU FOR YOUR GREAT ARTICLE to your box.

  7. Years ago I started a small business and when I spoke to a very successful business person I said I was worried about failing and I've never forgot his reply- "So what if you fail, most people never even bother to try."

    Sucking at something may just be evidence that we bothered to try.

  8. I have always enjoyed reading your posts but today's really hit home. I had a suck year like that last year and I wish I had known your "you don't suck" box tip. I will definitely have to put one together. You are great and I love reading your posts.