4 Lessons on Forgiveness From a Rescue Dog

4 Lessons on Forgiveness From a Rescue Dog

You and the Dog Photography

Maggie the Wunderdog was shot, attacked, and left for dead, but, thanks to a rescuer, survived, is thriving—and is loving. Here are four lessons on forgiveness rescue dogs like Maggie teach us.

“I wanted to know what color her eyes had been before she’d so cruelly lost them,” reveals Kasey Carlin in her new book, The Miraculous Life of Maggie the Wunderdog: The True Story of a Little Street Dog Who Learned to Love Again.

It’s easy to see how Carlin—and 440,000-plus Instagram followers—fell in love with this incredible canine. After months of watching Maggie’s inspiring adventures as she greeted strangers with Free Hugs! signs, passed her therapy dog test, and urged humans to wear pandemic masks, I, too, fell in love and reached out to learn more.

Her tale is simultaneously tear-jerking and heartwarming. Pregnant on the streets of Beirut, Maggie was attacked multiple times and repeatedly shot in the head. One of her ears somehow was torn off, and her eyes were so damaged they had to be surgically removed. Luckily, with the help of local dog rescuer Wild at Heart Foundation and a string of volunteers, fundraisers, and vets, Maggie found her forever home with Carlin in England. Their relationship is a testament to the power of human/dog bonding. (Read five ways to bond with your pooch.)

Lesson 1: Forgiveness doesn’t equal consent. “Here was a dog who should have died,” says Carlin, “yet she survived. She should have given up on the world, but she didn’t. She should have hated humans for all the pain they caused her, and yet she forgave. If this little dog could learn to love again, then so could I.”

Can dogs forgive? Animal behavioralists debate whether dogs (and other animals) use human conflict-resolution methods such as forgiveness. Yet, some propose that reconciliation behavior approximates the concept.

A recent study observed the conduct of domestic dogs in a park over eight months. The researchers acknowledged that environment, social group stability, and familiarity impacted whether, after a clash, the dogs attempted to reconcile or dispersed. Notably, reconciliation was tried by the dog pairs after most conflicts―sometimes by the victim, sometimes by the aggressor, and sometimes by both. Perhaps more striking was the finding that both victims and aggressors were significantly more “affiliative” (connected more closely) after a conflict than they had been prior to one. The researchers suggest reconciliation reduces tension and supports group cohesiveness.

Apply the learning: Humans often approach forgiveness as something to be bestowed or withheld. After a conflict, what if we pursued reconciliation instead? Within this framework, we can identify what made us clash, leave the past behind, and set up new guidelines for how we might treat each other going forward.

Lesson 2: Meet challenges at your own pace. Once arriving at her new home, and now fully blind, Maggie faced ongoing challenges, like fear when moving from carpet to tiles. Noticing this, Carlin slowly introduced her to new textures by spreading treats around and then gently encouraging, reassuring, and praising Maggie’s explorations. “Animals and people are a product of their environment,” explains Carlin. “If you provide them with love and work on rehabilitation at their pace, there is nothing they can’t do.”

Apply the learning: When facing a challenge, many humans apply pressure on themselves to succeed quickly, creating self-inflicted stress. Instead, learn to honor your own pace and enlist friends to encourage and reassure you along the way.

Lesson 3: Success requires self-care. Social media can create helpful support networks, but it also brings forth disparaging opinions. “I started posting pictures of Maggie and her progress as she learned to do ‘normal’ things like going up stairs,” says Carlin. “We gained so many friends who were just excited to see her succeeding in everything she did.”

Over time, responding to fans (“Maggie, if I could hug you that would be the best feeling in the world ever!”) and critics (“That dog should be put down”) became overwhelming. “I started to feel weighed down by a responsibility to people I didn’t know, and I began to worry about how healthy that was,” she confesses. So, Carlin and Maggie took an Insta-break.

Apply the learning: While research on the effect of taking a social media vacation varies, trusting our instincts on self-care is vital to wellbeing. Consider these words from the delightfully humorous Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: “The mind is like tofu. By itself, it has no taste. Everything depends on the flavor of the marinade it steeps in.” Are you marinating your mind in support or criticism?

Lesson 4: No matter how famous you are, it’s not really about you. Although being a Very Important Pooch is fun, and Maggie has hobnobbed with royalty (she once met the Duke of Kent), she’s also embarked on a higher purpose. Maggie and Carlin visit schools to talk about overcoming bullying and care facilities to love up on lonely folks. “Everyone is capable of change,” observes Carlin. “The idea that dogs help turn someone’s life around fills me with hope. I sincerely hope that Maggie can help bring new life to people.”

Apply the learning: Think about tragedies in your life. What impact did they have on you? How might they help you support others who are struggling?

Ways to help dogs like Maggie the Wunderdog:

  • Share Maggie … and Millie! Encourage others to think about our responsibility to dogs. Share Maggie’s inspiring posts from @maggiethewunderdog. And if you have a sibling, you’ll understand this one: Also follow Maggie’s sister-from-another-mother @milliethewunderdog.
  • Learn about animal welfare legislation. You might be surprised by challenges facing animals around the world. Learn more from the Global Animal Law Association and Animal Law Resource Center. Then get involved!
  • Adopt don’t shop. According to the Humane Society, of the 920,000 cats and dogs euthanized in U.S. shelters each year, approximately 80 percent could have been adopted into new homes. After adoption, post your inspiring rescue story along with #rescuedogsofinstagram.

Looking for more help forgiving? Check out these 42 forgiveness affirmations. Or, if you are seeking more animal wisdom, tap our free e-book: Pet Wisdom From Animals.

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