Preparing to Teach in Massachusetts – not your typical course

Dogs at TJ O'Connor Animal Shelter

I have arrived in Springfield Massachusetts and I’m gathering things I need to teach Dog Chemical and Non-Chemical Capture Course for ACOs and dog rescue groups.  The TJ O’Connor Animal Shelter has a great class room and there is wonderful space outside to practice the drug delivery systems.

Over the next three days we are going to explore the finesse of interacting with dogs who are fearful.  Many people will be quite satisfied with simply exploring the technical aspects of dog handling techniques and equipment, drugs, and drug delivery with attention to detail for success and safety.  They will benefit greatly as we explore the immobilizing drugs and learn the variety of drugs creates choices to address the real field experiences of working with difficult dogs in challenging environments.  We will  study how we influence the animal which influences how they respond to the immobilizing drugs.  And we will also be covering an in-depth look at the versatile and humane Y pole which can potentially transform how handlers interact with dogs.

But there will be so much more.

There is potential for an enriching and fulfilling experience with each dog we handle.  It does not have to be a fight and should not be a fight.  Regardless of our skill, each dog will teach us about ourselves if we allow an open mind.  There are conscious ways of interacting with animals and people which creates a new depth and richness in our lives and creates a vast array of new choices (for the dog handling and for living in general). Each dog can teach us how to be more conscious.  In Suzanne Clothier’s book, “Bones Would Rain From the Sky”, she writes, “Of all the gifts that animals can offer, perhaps the greatest is this opportunity to delve deep inside ourselves.  Without judgment or timetables, with patience and an amazing capacity for forgiveness, animals are the ideal guides through our inner landscape.

If the course participants so wish, we will not just talk about how to be calm when handling fearful dogs, we will explore how to use the energy of calmness and compassion as a concrete tool with profound effectiveness to augment even the craziest situations.   For this, we will explore what it is to truly connect with the animal and to better understand the language of Dog.  As Suzanne Clothier writes, “ I try to listen as carefully to each animal as I would to any human friend.”.

I obviously know the basic content of the course and will follow it, but I do not know the depth and richness we will reach.  That is up to those attending the course.  Before and during the course I learn what they wish to learn and what they would like to cover or explore and then I adjust the course and discussions to meet their needs and let them lead their own discussions.  It is all good.  It is okay if some folks wish to know just the meat-and-potatoes humane, safe, and effective tools and techniques.  They will truly become better professionals.  And I will learn from them as well.

However, I especially enjoy it when we take it so much further, set our ego aside and explore how we can be grander human beings through our daily work and experiences.  I have been teaching animal drugging and handling courses for over 20 years.  My ultimate goal with each course is to create a profound personal life experience for at least one person in each class.

Dr. Mark holding drugged lynx

And there is a frontier that I am exploring myself.  When I am handling grizzly bears, mountain lions, and wolves, I have my own type of connection with them, but there is a detachment from their wildness which I cannot penetrate.  The more dogs I handle, and the more I visit with ACOs, dog rescuers, and trainers such as Suzanne Clothier with a respectful and compassionate bond with the dogs, the more depth I am seeing in my own connection with dogs-even the street dogs who initially have no trust in me.

Suzanne writes about our connection with pet dogs, “What we really want to know is how to deepen and enhance the connection between ourselves and our dogs, how to encourage the moments where we and our dogs move together through life in harmony and mutual understanding.”  My exploration is how to bring this dance into my work when handling the most fearful street dogs, how to bring it to the trap/neuter/release programs in India, and Samoa, and North Pacific Islands, and how to explore this connection with the ACOs who are practice this richness that comes with their work.

This is not your typical chemical capture course.


4 Responses

  1. As a participant of the class at TJO, I;d like to say thank you for sharing your knowledge, not just as a teacher, but as a human who respects life, human and non-human.

    I was raised with dogs, have always felt more at home with them than with humans….still, I feel as though I am learning a new language with the Y Pole as my voice.

    Thank you for the chance to become not just a better animal control officer, but a better human. Looking forward to the next three days.

    Best –

    • Wendy,
      I am honored by your words. How can we be bored with our work if see opportunity each day to be better handlers and better humans? I look forward to all of us learning over the next three days.

  2. Just finished Mark’s course at TJO in Springfield. Just want to let everyone know it was a great pleasure meeting you all. If anyone ever gets a chance to listen to this man teach…….go for it, you sure won’t be disappointed.

    Mark, awesome, awesome class! Thank you for all the new found knowledge.


    • Tracy,
      You are most welcome. it was a very fun class. Thank you for adding your own skills and knowledge as an ACO.
      Best wishes, Mark

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