Willow’s Cousin Luna
by Dr. Rick Robinson
My friend and colleague, Will Henson, beautifully described the attunement and connection process in his wonderful blog, My Friend Willow. He relays to us the importance of our nonverbal presence and how we can signal safety to another being with the tone of our voice, pace of our movements, facial expressions, and body posture.
And critically, when Willow is allowed to approach people at her own pace she has a much better chance to successfully manage feelings of threat.
It turns out that, in a coincidence far to big to ignore, I too have learned a lot from a little white rescue dog. Luna was feral during her puppyhood, and the spunk and protective instincts that saved her then were challenging for her in her new life. As we slowly got to know each other she would tolerate my presence but wanted no part of ear-scratches or pets. Fortunately, I was able to be patient with her and not take the growls or quick exits from the room I inhabited personally.
I frequently work on the computer, coffee at the ready, at the kitchen table in the early morning; it is quiet and quick movements aren’t on the menu. After a number of visits, and with my predictable morning schedule, things aligned just right for Luna to reach out in a significant way. A chill in the air, a spot of sun, and warm wools socks helped her feel safe enough to connect – even though you could still see the look of trepidation in her eyes.
We had a number of these morning connections, and I guessed Luna felt increasingly safe in my presence. Then one morning, a significant trigger (the evil vacuum cleaner) was headed toward our little kitchen sanctuary. In a flash Luna had hopped onto my lap and leaned into my stomach, quivering and softly whining. With a couple of pets and some whisper talk, she was able to settle down. I had become a source of comfort as opposed to a source of threat.
As we are able to understand, respect and move through this process with our students who have traumatic histories, our connections with them can help them feel safe, become regulated and able to learn all those things we have to offer. Predictability and relational safety are the pillars of these vital connections.