Human or animal, we’re all products of our experiences. Things we’ve been through shape the way we see the world, guiding our behavior and decisions on a daily basis. This sort of pattern recognition is generally a good thing – a 3-year-old runs in front of a swing, gets kicked in the face, and realizes running in front of swings probably isn’t a great hobby. But when our brains identify typically safe things as threats because of prior trauma, unlearning those thought patterns requires intense work and patience.
When Graycie, a young and emaciated dog was found on the side of a Georgia road in 2016, veterinarian Andy Mathis wasn’t sure she’d pull through. Not only was Graycie a shocking 20 lbs, but she was also dehydrated, hypothermic, and extremely skittish.
“I told my friends,’Y’all, I need your advice. Practical Me says I should put her to sleep, but Veterinarian Me wants to try and give her a chance,’” Dr. Mathis said in a Facebook post.
As many vets do in seemingly hopeless situations, Dr. Mathis of Granite Hills Animal Care decided he had to try. It took several days to stabilize Graycie’s temperature, and over a week for the emaciated pup to begin gaining weight. Even so, Graycie remained in survival mode.
When living on the streets, everything around the young dog was a threat. Despite being safe perhaps for the first time, Graycie was fearful of the vet who saved her life. She only felt secure enough to eat after Dr. Mathis left the room, but the seasoned vet wanted to show her firsthand that he wasn’t a threat. He was nothing like the humans and animals Graycie had likely encountered on the street, but rewriting the timid pup’s worldview was a challenge.
In a video viewed over 8 million times on Facebook, Dr. Mathis demonstrates that a little compassion goes a long way. To help Graycie feel safe enough to eat in his presence, the kind-hearted vet did the same. In the video, Dr. Mathis pulls out two metal bowls as he sits on the floor of Graycie’s cage. He places one in front of the cowering pup and drops a spoon in his.
Patiently, Dr. Mathis takes a bite from his bowl and offers Graycie a handful of her own food. Graycie hesitates at first, hungrily but suspiciously lapping food from the vet’s hand. Before long, Graycie dips her head gingerly into her bowl and takes a bite herself.
With each bite, Graycie gains confidence in the situation. Her fear visibly dissipates as her stance relaxes, and by the end of the video, the small pup eats voraciously and peacefully. Dr. Mathis earned Graycie’s trust with his patience and compassion, one bite at a time.