Natural disasters like the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey can be devastating, but if there’s a silver lining to those rain clouds it’s seeing the great acts of compassion and selflessness that people are inspired to — for example, when a group of bakers were trapped in their shop for two days, they didn’t panic. Instead, they made pan dulce to give to people in need, using over two tons of flour.
And, of course, rescue organizations have swung into action to help not only people affected by the flood, but their animals — including dogs, cats, horses, and cattle. Wings of Rescue has been flying abandoned dogs out to destinations as far away as Seattle, and shelters in other states have been taking in displaced dogs as well.
One thing we can easily forget, though, is how resilient animals can be in the face of disaster, particularly dogs. They have an ability to survive and get themselves away from danger, provided we don’t tie them up in a yard, of course. But there’s one disaster that a dog is not equipped to escape from.
That disaster is a lack of leadership. When a dog does not have a leader, then she is just as lost as if she was set adrift in a flood. In fact, you could call it an unnatural disaster because that’s exactly what it feels like to the dog — completely unnatural.
I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll continue to say it: Dogs are social pack animals, and that pack has a hierarchy. The leaders provide protection and direction for the pack members — the latter tells them what to do, while the former gives them a sense of security while doing it. In return, the pack provides their own security for the leaders. There’s safety in numbers, after all.
What the Pack and Leader relationship is not is coercive. It doesn’t need to be and, in the case of dogs, it won’t work that way. They will not follow unstable energy, and if a canine pack leader starts to exhibit it, more likely than not he will be rejected or killed by the pack. Humans are the only animal that will follow unstable energy, but that’s because humans don’t lead the same way that dogs do.
Dogs — all non-human animals, in fact — function by instinct. And while they may have emotions and a very rudimentary form of intellect in the sense that they can connect causes to effects and learn to anticipate things, their overriding mode is still purely instinctual. No matter how “thinking” or “feeling” a dog might appear to be, her instincts still control her. This is why there’s that old saying, “A scalded dog fears cold water.”
This means that a human can quickly learn that not all liquids are going to burn them and that they can figure out how to tell which ones are dangerous and which ones aren’t. Dogs, though, can’t do that, and it can take them a really long time to overcome a fear and rediscover that something that looked dangerous once is not always a danger.
This is another place where Pack Leaders can be so important — in setting examples and ignoring things that might appear dangerous to other dogs, they provide another sort of protection: Reassurance. “If you follow me, this bad thing will not happen.”
Interestingly enough, this is exactly the same energy we see in all of those human rescue workers who have been descending upon affected areas — not just in Texas and Louisiana, but on the other side of the world, where they are also experiencing disastrous flooding. To be a first responder requires calm, assertive energy that inspires confidence in the people — or animals — being rescued.
And that is exactly the energy that disaster seems to inspire in some people, like those four men who were trapped in a Mexican bakery but, instead of freaking out, they calmly went on to do what they do and helped feed a lot of hungry people.
Now if humans can show that kind of calm, assertive energy in the face of a life-threatening disaster, imagine what you can do in your regular life, with no threats other than your dog misbehaving.
The worst disasters may bring out the best in people, but there’s no reason you can’t be at your best for your one friend who needs it the most: your dog.
Stay calm, and be a leader!
If you’d like to help the animals impacted by Hurricane Harvey, you can donate through Best Friends or The Humane Society of the United States. You can also use Charity Navigator to find organizations offering assistance.