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The dog who became Sheila

Our Town: Suttons Bay, by Rabbi Chava BahleWell, it’s official. The dog Kathy found in Bahle Park is now at home at the Cherryland Humane Society, waiting for a family to adopt her. She has been given the name “Sheila.”

The whole incident has made me reflect on the topic of assumptions; more precisely, the assumptions we make about other people. When the dog thing happened, I was sure at first that “Sheila’s” faithful family was out roaming the streets, looking for her, sitting by their picture window each night sobbing and waiting for their little friend to come home. I felt so sorry for them, losing their furry friend like that.

Then I started getting upset: how come they haven’t called? Where are they? Did something horrible happen? And I wrote another story in my head about Sheila’s family, a story both tragic and hideous.

More time passed and I began to feel angry, resentful: what kind of people … blah blah blah.

Who knows what the backstory is here? Who knows the circumstances that lead us to “Sheila” now being at the shelter? My guess is that there was no diabolical intent; more likely it was hard times, or simply fate.

The lesson here — among others — is that in our own hearts and minds we create stories about others without knowing the facts, the circumstances, the challenges that lead people to be a certain a way, or to do certain things.

In psychology there is something called Fundamental Attribution Error. This phenomenon occurs when attribute negative qualities to others for behavior, while crediting ourselves with far more smarts and virtue. You trip on the sidewalk, you are a klutz. I trip and it is because the sidewalk is uneven.

I do not know what happened to Sheila’s family, but for now I have decided to assume the very best, the most generous “backstory” I can. In the mean time I plan to work on applying this lesson other people, especially those by whom I may feel wronged, or whom I observe behaving less than kindly. Rather than attribute negative qualities, make assumptions or be unmerciful in my inner dialogue, I will make an attempt to assume the best, to find explanations (in my heart) that attribute the best virtues to scenes for which I do not possess the whole picture. I may be wrong, but I would rather, in the end, err on the side of kindness.

So the end of the Sheila story is that I established a new web site: Leelanau Pets Lost and Found, which will be a place that people who lose or find dogs or cats in the county can share information and pictures online. It can be accessed through my web site www.rebchava.com.

  • http://GrandTraverseAreaRealEstate.com Mike Gaines of TEAM MIKE

    Rabbi,

    Great blog – difficult story, but important message. And I learned about Fundamental Attribution Error – turns out I’m a master at it without knowing the formal terminology. Relating all of this back to dogs, I have grown up around a lot of dogs in a lot of environments over the years, and unfortunately dogs get lost. Even when people are trying to find them, they get lost. Even when they are trying to find their original owners and homes, they end up elsewhere. Dogs are pack animals instinctually but are capable of traveling considerable distances without much effort. Entire wolf packs can travel 75 or 100 miles in a single day, day after day, and domestic dogs can easily travel 7-10 miles in a day when lost. Our northern Michigan towns are almost all bordered by forested land and farmland and dogs, once “lost,” can travel considerable distances in the “wrong” direction. Rarely does a lost dog remain within the range that the owners are canvassing with lost dog fliers and door-to-door inquiries. Fortunately, humans and dogs share a mutual affection and most lost dogs find new homes with loving owners. Your new website is a great idea, too. Thank you for your efforts.

  • Rabbi Chava

    Oy thank you so much for your good words. Perhaps the web site can range as far as the dogs do.
    All the best -
    Chava

  • Monique Bernstein

    Rabbi,

    This morning twittering a bit, eventually wound up here! Your blog, and some of tweets really hit home, and for that I thank you.
    I love the mystery of the miracle worker, and how knowledge is shared with those seeking, and sometimes not seeking but needing intervention.
    Bless you~
    Monique

  • Monique Bernstein

    Rabbi,

    This morning twittering a bit, eventually wound up here! Your blog, and some of tweets really hit home, and for that I thank you.
    I love the mystery of the miracle worker, and how knowledge is shared with those seeking, and sometimes not seeking but needing intervention.
    Bless you~
    Monique

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