Our ‘Guardians of Being’

Our ‘Guardians of Being’

I recall a moment when I felt challenged to reflect on what it truly meant to be a ‘pet lover’ versus an ‘animal lover’ and whether the two were mutually exclusive.  While I and many of my ANZO colleagues are on a personal journey, trying to reconcile the complex and often-conflicted relationships humans have with other animals, I decided to forgo the possibility of creating the Anthrozoological equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru.  Instead, I choose to focus on the opportunity that companion animals offer humanity, should we choose to see it. Through their unique position in our society, “companion animals can open minds and hearts, as evidenced by the extraordinary number of fact-based accounts and fiction-based works…to increase awareness of the benefits of living in the presence of these animals” (Waldau, 2013, p. 29).  This speaks to the capacity of the nonhuman animals with which we most closely share our lives to become conduits for a deeper understanding about the realities of all animals.

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Illustration by Patrick McDonnell from Eckhart Tolle’s book “Guardians of Being: Spiritual teachings from our dogs and cats” (2009)

A while ago, I was leafing through Eckhart Tolle’s book, Guardians of Being (2009), a refreshingly uncomplicated work that pairs his spiritual insights with sweet illustrations by MUTTs cartoonist Patrick McDonnell in which he writes“Millions of people who otherwise would be completely lost in their minds and in endless past and future concerns are taken back by their dog or cat into the present moment, again and again, and reminded of the joy of Being.”  Perhaps this is why they have the ability to serve as powerful therapeutic partners.  Such was my realization a few years ago when I brought our dog, Zoe, who was then just over a year old, along on a Mother’s Day visit.  At 86 years old, my mother, who had battled depression and anxiety most of her adult life, had been experiencing a steady cognitive decline since the previous year, most noticeably after the sudden death of my brother.  She never seemed to be able to make sense of losing her eldest son and slowly sank into a profound depression leaving her more and more confused.  Along with the cognitive changes, she began to lose her mobility and was ultimately confined to either a wheelchair or her bed.  Andre and I decided to bring Zoe with us that day rather than leave her crated in our absence.  We had recently adopted her through a local rescue after she had been found at large and then spent nearly 2 months of her short life in a shelter.  She was a young, smart, sweet girl who was still learning her manners, but loved nothing more than to be with us.

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                                                    Zoe and Mama

My mother had historically been the tough opponent to bringing pets into the house growing up, a practice that was virtually foreign to her having grown up in a small town in Italy, but I had managed to plead my way to having a couple of cats and budgies, despite her initial protests.  She did, however eventually come to love our collie, Charlie, who, in his lifetime, had been a great companion to her through her bouts of depression over the years and who was instrumental in changing the way she viewed other animals forever.  I didn’t know how my mother would react to Zoe’s presence, so we kept her leashed initially but since her energy was uncharacteristically quiet for the visit, we decided to remove it.  Without prompting, she jumped up on my mother’s bed and curled into a comfortable ball with her back against my mother’s hip.  My mother, who years ago would have howled in protest about having a dog on the bed, reached out and touched her, spoke softly to her and smiled.  It was surreal.  In that moment, they had openly connected on some level and accepted each other’s presence completely.  It was really beautiful.

There continues to be scientific debate as to the efficacy (and ethics) of partnering with nonhuman animals such as chickens, horses or dogs for the therapeutic benefit of humans.  Are there real, measurable benefits for the human? Is there any harm to the nonhuman? Is it ethical for us to “use” other animals as participants when they are unable to give or refuse consent to participate and are often unable to choose to end the session if they wish?  Perhaps in response to some of these issues, Swedish healthcare researchers have even developed a robotic cat to “provide peace, be soothing and work as a tool for increased interaction and communication, complementing the care of people with dementia”.  Despite assertions to the contrary, it is difficult to refute the emerging evidence that seems to suggest a potential role for Animal Assisted Therapies in the management of dementia in the elderly, particularly in the improvement of Quality of Life indicators.  Partnering with nonhuman therapists, however, requires not only further research into how the interactions affect the human patient but also a willingness to develop strategies that allow the freedom for both participants to choose whether they wish to take part.

[And, yes, the photo above was taken the day we brought Zoe to see my mom for the first time 🙂 ]

Super Bowl 50: My Media Relations Experience

Super Bowl 50: My Media Relations Experience

sb50I was recently afforded the best opportunity of my young career in sports. A few weeks ago I traveled to San Francisco to work Super Bowl 50 as part of the NFL Public Relations Staff. I was offered one of the positions after working the NFL season as a graduate assistant in the media relations department for the Buffalo Bills. Being able to go to a Super Bowl was something I believed was a long shot a few years ago, but to be able to work at a Super Bowl was only a dream. Thankfully Canisius guided me in the right direction to put in a position to succeed, and achieve those dreams.
Shortly after arriving in California we were taken on a tour of the Media Center that was set up in San Francisco, and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. It only took that one-day to start to realize the enormity of the event, and how many people it truly takes to make the largest event in North America go off without a hitch. The Super Bowl is more than just a Sunday a February now, it is a weeklong event that takes over a city. Fans and media from all over the world traveled to San Francisco to try and take in part of the Super Bowl experience.
My main assignment for the week leading up to the game was to the Denver Broncos quote team. This led me to attend all of the Broncos media sessions throughout the week. My job was to record and transcribe various player interviews, while less than what some would consider glamorous is still a very important part of the week for the Public Relations Staff. The PR staff is not only responsible for the quotes of the players and coaches, but also other responsibilities such as Radio Row, credentials, and other media assistance.
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The days quickly flew by and after one more tour of the stadium it was game day. The morning of the game had a few meetings and then the PR staff was enroute to the stadium. With the most media ever attending a Super Bowl there was still jobs that needed to be taken care of before the media arrived to make sure that everything was in order when they arrived. I was able to sit in one of the auxiliary press boxes for the game to help assist the media with any problems during the game. Luckily my assignment for after the game remained the same as it was earlier in the week and I remained on the Denver Broncos quote team. With the Broncos win I was able to be on the field for the celebration and the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy. My assignment was to find inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and after he was done celebrating escort him to his post-game interview, record and transcribe. When I was done I returned to the press box to make sure the media members had everything they needed until their stories were written and they were ready to leave.

After a MVP and head coach press conference the next day I was able to finally reflect and soak in the experience I had just been apart of. A truly once in a lifetime experience I was ever so grateful to apart of. The NFL Public Relations Staff were amazing people to work with and truly wonderful at their jobs.
Canisius set me on a path to be afforded such an amazing opportunity while still in school. My experience also created a desire to make sure that this was not the last Super Bowl I was apart of.