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A stray dog teachings about basic needs

What do you need to survive? Air, food, water, shelter, clothing, sleep. Anything else? The physiological needs at the basis of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid are the lowest level and include the need for shelter, water, food, warmth, rest, and health. This is similar to the hierarchy of needs for other animals, like dogs and cats for example. Once we have these essential needs for survival fulfilled, we then move on to the need for safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization at the top of the pyramid. Or so I thought.

A stray dog in Tirana made me reconsider the hierarchy of needs. Albania is a great country, but is still struggling to efficiently and compassionately manage stray dogs and cats, even though great strides have been made in the recent years capturing, neutering, vaccinating, and tagging them. It is sad to see that many people are still either oblivious or violent towards stray dogs and cats. There is a stark contrast between a meat store owner kicking a hungry puppy away from his storefront and the cute puppy on a leash sporting a fashionable dog sweater a few steps away.

We decided to take some action besides feeling sad and compassionate towards the stray animals. Matt has been buying treats and handing them out to the dogs in our neighborhood. We noticed right away that the dogs are very frightened and traumatized. They are reluctant to get close to us although we are offering them food. These stray dogs have had to fight for food and shelter with other dogs since they were born. Unfortunately, they have also been systematically abused by many humans.

We wanted to be sensitive to their fear while offering them our modest treats. Every morning when we go out, Matt looks for the stray dogs and hands out the treats. Often the dogs run away before he is able to give them anything. He drops the treat and we leave hoping the dog will come back when it’s safe and eat it. The other day something interesting happened. One of the dogs got close to the treat, smelled it and then looked at us. We had stopped a few feet away watching whether he would eat. The dog kept looking at us with sad and curious eyes and after a few moments started approaching us cautiously, leaving the treat untouched on the sidewalk. I squatted and waited. The dog kept approaching slowly and got so close I could pet him if I wanted. Matt handed me another treat and I offered it to the dog. Again, he smelled it, didn’t touch it, and  kept looking at me with his big, sad, puppy eyes.I reached out slowly and pet him while talking to him. Matt offered his hand and the dog licked it. After a minute or so, when the dog felt safe enough, he reached for the treat and to our surprise and amusement, ate it!

Contrary to Maslow’s pyramid of needs, the dog needed to feel safe before he could eat. I welled up thinking about how deep his trauma and suffering must be. And I felt so much compassion and sadness for all animals that are abused, neglected, and abandoned – human animals included. Maybe Maslow was wrong. Our most basic needs are not physiological, but those of safety.

I invite you to take some time and think about the suffering of those around you. What can you do to make another being feel a little safer today?

You can find a description of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

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