Negotiating with Sweet Tira

This blog entry was posted a year ago after the death of my dear coonhound Tira. It was my homage to her after her sudden death on May 19, 2015. I think about her almost every day and thought I would repost today in honor of her beautiful spirit and the negotiating we went through as I got to know her.

Tira arrives in my life

Tira came to me six years ago from a rescue group. She had lived wild in woods somewhere in Maryland for at least six months until she was finally trapped by animal control and then transferred to the care of an animal rescue group. She was fearful of virtually everything – men, trash cans, any stranger, boots, shovels, and even the camera I used to snap a picture of her. Her strategy of caution had worked for her since she had somehow survived a winter on her own. Her challenge was to figure out how to become a successful member of my family.

The rescue group volunteers who brought her to my home for an interview were very apologetic of her fearful behavior. Even though she was afraid of me, she was friendly to my very dog selective terrier. Most important, the first thing Tira did when she came into my house was touch noses with my shy cat who had bravely stepped forward to check out the new arrival. At that moment I knew Tira was a keeper. She had been accepted by my cat, Juliet, the most discriminating member of my family.

Tira settles in to her new home

Tira took a while to warm up to her new home, and in particular me. She lived under my bed for most of a year nervously chewing holes in the bed skirt. She preferred to do her toilet in the house rather than the back yard or on a walk. She wouldn’t eat from a food bowl, instead sneaking food from the bowl and retreating to a corner where she’d eat from the floor. In short, she seemed to continue behaviors she may have used when living in the woods.

While she remained wary of me for a year or more, she almost immediately became great friends with my old grumpy, bossy male terrier and then my younger, more outgoing rescue hound who joined the household a few years later. Her forte with them was energetic, physical play of the “play or die” variety. For a shy girl, she sure knew how to hit hard. She’d drag one of the dogs by his or her leg and then let them do the same to her. She taught them both to play with great gusto. She was a pack animal to the core.

Tira becomes an essential part of the household

As the terrier grew older and more infirm, Tira assumed a few very important household jobs. For one, she was in charge of waking me every morning by jumping on the bed and walking back and forth on me, sometimes belting out her hound yodel if I didn’t respond immediately. This was intended to make sure I fed them on time. She was also in charge of letting me know when it was time for her dinner– promptly at 5:00 pm, thank you very much. Finally, she would use her loud hound voice to announce any person or dog who came into or near the yard or house. I would often catch delivery men chuckling as they walked up my steps to a chorus of yodels and barks. The best part was the enthusiasm and sheer joy that Tira put into everything she did.

We are grieving

Now that she’s gone, there is an empty hole in my family. Her joy and enthusiasm tempered with shyness are missed. None of the jobs she had assumed are being performed. I have to set my alarm again. The scheduled feedings are late. There are no announcements blaring from the front door or backyard. My two surviving dogs seem a little lost. Her jobs have not yet been reassigned. We all relied on her and are being forced to somehow carry on.

Negotiating with Tira

This relationship wasn’t always perfect. Some negotiating took place. First off, my rule of no dogs on the furniture sparked a battle of wills between Tira and me. After trying a number of contraptions designed to keep her off the couch, I finally accepted that her joy in sleeping on the couch was far greater than my resolve at keeping her off. We negotiated and she won. Tira also loved to sneak food from the food bowls of the other dogs, a holdover from her days on her own. I won on that point and we established a strict “no touch” policy. She became very respectful of the other dogs’ food bowls. There was give and take on these and other issues. Over time we developed a relationship that worked for both of us.

Tira was one of a kind

Tira remained somewhat distant with me. Perhaps respectful is a better description. She was never one to jump on me or give me kisses. Instead she would quietly come near me and wait for me to acknowledge her and pet her. If strangers were in the house, she’d go into the other room or in a fit of bravery might huddle under my chair. My son finally got close enough to her to pet her last week. Because the couch was her favorite place to hang out, it is the one place where she would cuddle or even serve as a pillow.

Tira taught me so much

So, what does all of this have to do with my mediation practice? I see mediation as a process of negotiating a difficulty while preserving or redesigning a relationship. Whether it’s in the context of a divorce involving children, a family business, a plan for caring for an elderly relative, or incorporating a new pet into the household, the issues are the same. The challenge is identifying the interests of each of the parties and negotiating a solution that works and makes them happy. Sometimes the solution is simply redesigning the relationship. While the law or a judge may see issues as black and white with winners and losers, mediation focuses on interests and relationships with the goal of producing a more nuanced solution.

My dear Tira taught me a lot of things. One is the importance of simply being happy and cherishing relationships that make you happy. Another is the compassion to give in on issues that make someone you cherish happy. Finally, winning is not winning if it hurts an important relationship. Reality is that it is possible to win in court and still lose. My hope is that through the use of respectful, reflective, empathetic communication, I can help others resolve difficulties, preserve or redesign relationships and best of all be happy while not going broke.

Rest in peace dear little Tira. You are missed.