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Mindful : August 2019
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Steven Petrow is an award-winning journalist and a columnist for The Washington Post and USA Today and a regular contributor to The New York Times. He is also the author of five books on etiquette, including his most recent, Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners. He and Zoe peacefully coexist in Hillsborough, NC. tretched into a Downward Fac- ing Dog pose in a yoga class, I lis- tened as the instruc- tor talked about the “cycle of acceptance.” Modeled on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of loss and grief, the cycle is a way of absorbing a painful blow and work- ing your way through to, well, acceptance. When our teacher suggested that each of us identify the situation that we most needed to resolve, I knew mine imme- diately. It had to do with my then-husband, who had just started divorce proceed- ings: “Accept Jim for who he is and let go.” Since separating from my ex, I had zigzagged around feelings of denial, depression, bargaining, and anger (yes, mostly anger). But I couldn’t move closer to acceptance. Guided meditations helped some, especially a few specifically on “acceptance” and “sur- render,” but still fell short. Looking back now, how- ever, I’ve come to realize that it was my relationship with Zoe, my now-16-year- old Jack Russell terrier, that revealed critical les- sons about acceptance that were strong enough to dis- sipate my lingering anger. Hello Zoe, the Terrier-ist Zoe came as a package deal with Jim 14 years ago, when she was a two- year-old “terrier-ist.” We each brought a dog to our romantic partnership: My canine baggage included Max, a rescue Cocker Spaniel then pushing 10. He was sweet as honeysuckle nectar, if a bit goofy and completely clueless—and Zoe, too smart and too wound up, wanted nothing to do with him. Early on, she set the tone when she backed Max into a corner and bloodied him with her razor-like incisors. I could hardly believe that such a little dog—12 pounds— could be so aggressive. But that’s the nature of both the breed and denial: a suspen- sion of belief. I quickly turned to bargaining (think bribery) to try to find a resolution, desperately attempting to win Zoe over with treats of every flavor (even wild boar). I gave her a squeaky toy squirrel—which, every single morning, she flipped high into the air before attempting to break its neck. I remained deter- mined to woo her, since I knew this relationship needed to work in order for Jim and me to succeed. But it didn’t—at least not during our marriage. The reign of the ter- rier continued after we all moved in together. I did my best to soothe the relationship: dividing the house with gates, calming the dogs (and myself ) with anti-anxiety medications, s even arranging therapy at the North Carolina State Veterinary Canine Behav- ioral Service. The problem wasn’t just between the pooches. Zoe bit me on several occasions (often enough that I kept the antibacterial Phisoderm at the ready). One night, Zoe unexpectedly lunged at my face, tearing my upper lip and sending me to the ER post-haste. Forget the bargaining—I found myself squarely at anger, with a good-sized dose of depres- sion thrown in (oh, and pain, too). The canine conflict became a recurrent theme in our couples therapy, which also focused on mutual acceptance of each other’s faults and foibles. While Zoe and Max were not invited, their ongoing battle often mirrored our sessions. 70 mindful August 2019 voices