Over the last few years, I have attended a lot of mediation seminars. Often, the trainers talk about the various tools available in the mediator’s toolbox, and, how we, as mediators, should delve into our toolboxes and pull out a new and different tool that helps the parties reach resolution.
Well. . . I found a new tool the other day: a dog. I had a mediation in which plaintiff’s counsel volunteers for Canine Support Teams, Inc. (www.caninesupportteams.org), an organization that trains dogs for the disabled (other than the blind.) As part of the training, the dog goes everywhere with counsel. . . including my mediation.
I was not forewarned that a dog would be attending my mediation. He certainly was not listed as a participant in any of the briefs I received from the parties. So. . . naturally my office staff was surprised when counsel entered with the dog. (Luckily, the building’s security was knowledgeable about state and federal laws allowing disability dogs-in-training in public buildings and so did not object to the dog attending mediation.) All that my office staff said to me was plaintiff’s counsel has a dog. So. . . I had to go check it out (being the dog lover I am!) and found the most loveable golden retriever imaginable.
We started the mediation with a joint session. But, first there were the introductions. It turns out that both defense counsel and the defendant’s representative are dog lovers, too. So, after introducing themselves to plaintiff and counsel and shaking hands, they spent several minutes introducing themselves to the dog, i.e. getting down on the floor, and playing with and petting the dog. Naturally, our collective curiosities were peeked about what this dog training was all about, and counsel was kind enough to explain the volunteer organization, how the program works and how the dog will go on to advanced training by prisoners at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California and other facilities (aka the “Prison Pup Program”) and then to a disabled person whose life will be immeasurably changed for the better.
Eventually, we got back to the dispute at hand. I explained about mediation and how we would proceed. Each party presented her view or perspective of the matter, and we discussed the facts a little bit.
We broke up in separate sessions and the dog accompanied his master to a separate conference room and we proceeded with separate sessions thereafter. . . except at one point, I met with counsel alone (and the dog) in my office.
I noticed something different about this mediation: the dynamic had changed. With the dog present, everyone seemed much calmer, more relaxed and not nearly as businesslike or brisque. The dog had a calming effect and dissipated the tension that is often present in a mediation. Voices did not get raised and if anyone’s “hot buttons” were pushed, they neither showed it nor reacted. With the dog in the room, life was copacetic . . . .
Unfortunately, the matter did not settle but because of the calming effect of the dog, I don’t think the parties walked out frustrated, angry or upset as they might have otherwise. The dog’s presence brought out the humanity in all of us. We all “lightened up.”
I have read articles and seen news stories on television about the therapeutic and beneficial effects of dogs but never really experienced it until this mediation. Even though I own a dog, I have never had this “ah-hah” moment, primarily because I have never been able to bring my dog into a business or non-typical dog setting.
By this experience, I am persuaded that a dog could be a very valuable tool in my mediation toolbox. Now, I just have to figure out some way to get my own dog past the security guard in my building. . . . (All suggestions are welcome!)
. . . Just something to think about!