Emily Frumkin is a LA-based grief and bereavement social worker. During the pandemic, her and her partner decided to adopt a dog, Ollie.
Ollie had a challenging past life fending for herself that created fear of strangers and unsettledness in her body when she arrived at Emily’s home. As for many dog owners, the adjustment from life without to life with a dog, especially one that needs extra love and attention can be incredibly stressful.
Emily’s long-standing practices of meditation, mindfulness and yoga, alongside her work helping others heal and mend from grief, made her the ideal person to walk alongside Ollie as she became a happier and more trusting dog. We chatted to Emily on her balcony at sunset about her journey with Ollie.
"In social work, we say “meeting the client where they're at”. You can’t make someone change. You can't put anyone else on your timetable. It’s also important to recognize the joyful moments."
Heed Foods: Tell us about Ollie and the process of getting her.
Emily: We got Ollie in May. My husband and I have always wanted a dog since we've been together, but we both worked full-time outside of the house. COVID-19 changed that. My husband started working from home, and we thought it would be the perfect time to train a dog.
The last thing that I thought was going to happen was that we were going to get a dog who was scared of strangers. I thought of everything else - not going to be house-broken, separation anxiety, medical issues. I never would have dreamed that our dog would be scared of our family and our friends. It has been really humbling, challenging, but also rewarding to try to help her through that.
It’s been an emotional roller coaster. She's so lovely and playful with us and that's her true character. But she would shy away from, and even growl at friends and family who would try to pet her. It’s hard when you want other people to see your dog the way you see them. But our mantra has been “baby steps”. We try not to push her too far or get too over-confident. She has to be the one to tell us when she's ready.
A trainer gave us an amazing suggestion of buying a really long leash and taking her to the park. This allowed us to gauge her bravery, because she would start to use the length of the leash to explore. It’s also made us go outside and to the park nearly everyday. It’s been amazing to watch her grow because at first, she would stick by our ankles and not want to venture too far off. Now she’ll go the whole length of the leash to try and greet some other dogs.
Heed Foods: Have you had to adapt the way that you see yourself as a dog person and the way you see dogs?
That's a great question. I think that it ties into my work and my training as a social worker. In my previous job, I worked with children in the foster system, and I saw how their nervous systems were completely altered. We are never going to be able to change Ollie’s history. We can only work with her body and her spirit now to try to make that better.
Heed Foods: It’s interesting to learn that from your dog because that’s a very human thing as well.
It’s very humbling to see it with your own eyes in front of you every single day - the bodily reaction and physicality to fear. Retraining her mindset around that has been hard. We think she was feral. We’ve had certain trainers tell us, from observing her behavior, that she was basically fending for herself. That’s why certain environments are so scary to her because she didn’t have any protection.
Heed Foods: It also sounds like this was a lesson in empathy as well. Were there any parallels between your work and your work with Olive?
In social work, we say “meeting the client where they're at”. You can’t make someone change. You can't put anyone else on your timetable. It’s also important to recognize the joyful moments. Ollie could be really scared on a walk but then come home and be so playful. Those moments are wonderful. It’s important to not get defeated and know that she will get better. She’s never going to be the mayor - going up to people and wanting to sniff everyone - but she will get to the point where we can stop and have a conversation with a neighbor and she'll be comfortable.
"There's tedium in the daily life of any human being and there's tedium in caring for a dog. But now, even if I’m just taking her to pee, instead of rushing to get back to whatever I was doing, I will try to be present and with her and be grateful to breathe fresh air. I think we rush so much in our modern society."
Heed Foods: I know that you’re very into meditation, mindfulness and spirituality and I wonder if you have been able to bring this practice into dog ownership?
To me, mindfulness is less about making myself calm, but more about watching my mind. In the same way, I don’t want to be so results-oriented with her and I just want to be present in her process.
She’s the best way for me to stay present. When she’s giving me kisses or when I'm looking into her eyes, it just feels so spiritual to me, like this forced presence in the most beautiful way. I have a monkey mind and that's what drove me to mindfulness, Buddhism, and yoga but she's been this unexpected entryway into the present moment.
There's tedium in the daily life of any human being and there's tedium in caring for a dog. But now, even if I’m just taking her to pee, instead of rushing to get back to whatever I was doing, I will try to be present and with her and be grateful to breathe fresh air. I think we rush so much in our modern society.
I used to pride myself so much on being a productive human and I’ve learned that that's not a worthy measure of how we live our lives. I spend a lot more time with Ollie now and that's been a really nice shift. I don't always need to be working, or puttering around taking care of things all the time. She's expanded our heart in that way.
Heed Foods: Can you describe a moment of pure joy in your last 5 months with her?
Ugh, so many! It cracks me up when I’m in one room and I just see her walk by with a shoe or bra in her mouth like nobody's business. No one's gonna tell her otherwise and she's gonna go to town on it and then I have to coax it away from her. It just always cracks me up.
Heed Foods: If you had 30 seconds where Ollie understood what you were saying, what would you say?
You're such a brave girl to us and to me. Nothing will happen to you because this is your home forever. We're not going anywhere. You get to sleep in between us both every night for the rest of your life. You're so safe now.