Dear Dr. Babooner,
I was traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday and found myself in the San Francisco airport suffering from an undue amount of stress because I had just been told by an unsympathetic gate agent that my baggage was headed to Cincinnati while I was returning home to Minnesota.
I have spent all my life suppressing feelings of rage and I was in the process of quashing these latest destructive urges as well when all of a sudden I found myself on the edge of a hysterical screaming fit. It was as if every bit of frustration I had experienced for any reason at any time was going to come pouring out of me in the form of an extremely dramatic tantrum.
Just then, a volunteer approached with a dog that was wearing a “Pet Me” vest. I fell to my knees and hugged the animal as the savior that he was while his handler explained that several dogs had been dispatched throughout the airport as a stress-relief measure.
She explained that this particular dog, whose name was ‘Toby’, was exceptionally good-natured. “Toby has never done anything inappropriate,” she said. “He is a model canine citizen.” She noted that Toby had already pulled several distressed travelers back from the brink of madness that very day.
As I petted Toby I felt years of built-up rage leave my body – not just the anger that had erupted over my lost baggage but anger tied to the emotional baggage I had started collecting the day I was born. I was elated to sense these poisonous feelings were leaving my body, but at the same time I noticed that Toby’s eyes got wide and his muscles tensed up. The more I embraced him, the more relaxed I became and the more agitated he seemed.
I told the volunteer how very grateful I was for the relief Toby had provided. As I watched them walk down the concourse, I watched Toby’s gait stiffen a bit, and when they were right in front of a crowded TCBY I was horrified to see Toby pause, glance over his shoulder at me, wink, and poop.
Now I’m concerned that I have poisoned Toby with my years of accumulated stress and may have turned him from a “model canine citizen” into a very naughty dog.
I’d like to find Toby again and take back some of my offloaded negativity so he can live a happy life. But I don’t know what sort of human-canine interaction would allow stress to flow the other way. Do you?
I told D.W. I”m not aware of any way you can recover stress from a dog once petting that dog has removed it from you. Canines are notorious for being possessive, so don’t even try. As for the ‘evidence’ that Toby’s emotional equilibrium was upset by D.W.’s rage transfer, a little bit of awkwardly placed poop is a small thing in the universe of potential dog mischief. For me, the real question raised by this story is this: How do you teach a dog to wink?
But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?