I love my dogs. A lot.

I have three of them.

I never thought of myself as a dog owner until well…I still don’t really. I’m a dog lover.

They are all different. Ryder is a Black Lab with extra-long-legs. He is majestic and gentle. He is the man of the house.

Abigail is the lady. She is proper and oh so elegant. A little icy, she takes a while to warm up to strangers. She is a brown dog with a variety of dognicities.

And then there’s the newest edition…Pixie Bean. This miniature dachshund mix is glitter and soda pope-ish and hasn’t yet mastered the rules of the house…which as my good friend Robert Jorth likes to point out…are pretty darn lax.

Ryder is my runner. He and I frequent the Davidson Cross Country Course…five and six mile runs are easy-peasy for this gentle giant. Last week, he and I were down at the park playing our nearly-daily game of “Molly throws the tennis ball and Ryder may or may not go after it” game of catch…when something very unfortunate happened.

But hold on…let me give the backstory on Ryder. He was adopted. All of my dogs were. Helen and I are suckers for the lost and lonely animals of the world and so we should know better than to ever even THINK about a trip to the pound, much less, go.

So how and why we got them is not all that hard to figure out.

Helen would say, “Hey Mom. Let’s go to the animal shelter and JUST look at all the sweet animals.”

“Okay,” I would say, knowing darn well that the chances of our JUST looking were slim to none.

So when each of these delightful fur babies came home, we weren’t quite sure what history was coming along with them.

Ryder, the most cooperative of the three, went through an intensive training process so that he and I could, indeed, go run together. The other two…enjoy a good jaunt in the backyard, or a walk around the block, but aren’t as interested in running. As a matter of fact, Pixie Bean prefers sitting…on your lap…or your head…or your back…or your belly…pretty much on whatever body part is most accessible for a lengthy and human-touch-ish snooze.

Last week, Ryder and I were, as I shared before, playing catch when for whatever reason he got distracted by a woman walking her own little love bundle. Ryder has NEVER, since training, not responded to my commands and for reasons I will never know or understand, decided today was the day that he would seek a playing partner and for reasons I will never know or understand decided it would be this innocent woman and her innocent dog walking ever so innocently and gently and quietly along the edge of the park where we were playing.

Well…without going into the details of the next few minutes (it was probably seconds, but it felt longer) Ryder about scared the bejeezus out of this poor woman. He, in his playful, ebullient Ryder-the-wonderful-Labrador-way, barked and ran his way in their direction in spite of the commands I was shouting and to which he had responded with perfection, every day over the last year.

And without going into the details of the exchange I had with this terrified woman and her terrified little dog (let’s just say she was notably upset and had every right to be) I apologized profusely…”I am so sorry. I can only imagine how unsettling this was to have my dog run to you in that manner. I am so sorry. Truly sorry. REALLY sorry.”  The truth is I’ve been bitten several times by dogs…dogs who were not on a leash…dogs just like Ryder and so I get it.  I really get it and I was really sorry.  (I also learned my lesson.  No more public parks unless they are designated off-leash.)

And this woman, notably upset (how many times can I say this) responded to each of my “I’m sorry’s” with “No you’re NOT sorry. You are NOT sorry. YOU are not sorry. You are not SORRY.”

And I would say, “Oh but I am sorry. I am. I truly am.”

And she would say, “No you’re not.”

Now, let’s be honest here. She was upset. Clearly. And I was too. So neither one of us…okay, I will speak for myself…I wasn’t necessarily thinking completely clearly, but I will share that I really, really, REALLY was sorry. So sorry in fact, that I gave her my phone number and name. “If there is any follow up we need to have on this, please call me.”

That evening, with Pixie Bean resting on my lap, Ryder relaxing on the floor and Abigal, somewhere in the house having nothing to do with any of us, I got to replaying the incident over and over in my head.

And here’s where I landed.

Feelings are awesome and especially awesome when I own them. This has become most obviously clear in the work that I’m doing now.

Having hard conversations are hard, but when folks engaged in those speak using “The way I see it” or “I feel” or “It has been my experience” at the beginning of whatever it is they are about to say…the other person in the conversation can’t really argue with that. They can try to argue with that, but the reality is, there is no argument. “You are not sorry” doesn’t change the fact that I was.

In the past when I’ve gotten into arguments with the people I love, I might say “I feel sad when we argue like this. Really sad.”

And what’s wonderful about speaking in this way…is how it brings the focus off the content and my strong human-need to be right or wrong…down, instead, into my feelings…which brings focus to the relationship, the connection, the humans engaged in a conversation…not our ideologies.

When I own what I’m feeling…state things from my I’s…the hard conversations lose their edge…become softer a bit…I become more human and magically so does the other person.

Or in the case of my dogs, I become more human and they become more dog. Which says a lot about why I love them.