Animal Stories: 2006

God Working Through Dog

By Kay Bice

He has the heart of a lion and the soul of an angel. He laughs, he smiles, he winks. He dreams of walks on the beach, snacks and his beloved tennis ball. He lives to please, to play, to heal, to teach.

He arrived on this planet on February 4, 2002, first born in a litter of nine. Our first encounter came when he was two weeks old. At the very instant we met, he reached right in and grabbed my heart. Growing up as the daughter of a veterinarian, I have shared my life with many animals over many years, but none have touched my soul as this one.

He is Brady, meaning “spirited one,” in the Celtic languages.

When I took him home seven weeks later I knew I had been entrusted with the care of one of God’s very special animal friends, a kind, gentle, gifted yellow Labrador retriever. Although he loved me through a profoundly dark and challenging time in my life, I knew he was sent to do the same for many others. Brady was born to serve and I understood that I was charged with the responsibility to ensure he had the love, training and service experience he required to prepare for his life as a healer.

When he was a year old I entered him into a therapy dog program, never doubting it would be me who he worked with, taking him to hospitals, nursing homes, schools and rehabilitation centers. God had another plan. Brady’s assignment was to work with my partner, who is the assistant director of a residential treatment program for women who are building new lives as they recover from alcohol and drug addiction.

A predictable day in Brady’s life begins with rising early with me, breakfast and a brisk walk. Once home he waits patiently by the door, leash and tennis ball ready for the words, “Let’s go.” Turning into the parking lot of the treatment center, he sits up, releases a puff of air, and picks up his ball in anticipation of the car door opening. As he enters the hallway he charges for the living room where he feels the joy coming from the residents as they say in unison, “Brady’s here!” He greets every resident, visits each staff member’s office and beelines it to the kitchen where he will spend quality time with the cooks! He attends groups and house meetings. He spends one-on-one time with residents, takes naps and always finds a willing playmate. He attends graduations and welcomes new residents and their families with an open heart.

Brady’s intuition with respect to the needs of the residents has landed him a position in a weekly group. He has been given the role of the “talking stick.” Whoever Brady sits in front of at any given time must share, and inevitably they are the ones whose hearts are closed and need it the most.

One exceptionally heartrending day, Brady was napping in one of the offices when he heard heaving, grief-stricken sobs coming from upstairs. What he was hearing were cries of a lifetime, echoing from a woman who has suffered extreme trauma, with no family, all alone. She has endured unbearable losses, been a lifetime substance abuser and spent years in prison. There were two counselors attempting crisis intervention with no positive results and she continued to slip further into her grief. They were unable to console her. No words were available in our language to reach her in the depth of her sorrow. At that very moment, Brady ran upstairs into the room and nuzzled his face into the sobbing woman’s leg. He sat next to her without words, without expectations, questions or judgment. He gazed into her with his soulful brown eyes, a strong loving presence. Instinctively she reached down and began to stroke his velvety, golden fur. His tail wagged while he continued to sit with her, and as she continued to stroke him her sobs began to lessen and in time stopped. The counselors quietly sat in awe as Brady brought her from extreme crisis to a place of safety, into the now. Brady was able to reach places that no human being could access. He touched her with unconditional love.

The dog and the woman have since forged an intimate bond. She is the first person he seeks out when he arrives, he naps with her in the afternoons, they walk and play together. Her protective shield melts more each day she spends with Brady. She can feel his love deep in her soul; his spirit plays with her child; he brings light to her eyes. He has brought life into one who did not want to live.

Brady’s light shines on every life that he touches. He makes a difference in their lives each and every day, with unwavering dedication. As Brady matures and our lives change, so may his assignments. Our hearts are open and ready for the call. I am so very blessed to be the caregiver to one of God’s greatest gifts, to be loved unconditionally by Brady, a dog who is as close to an angel as I have ever known.

Time now to hug my dog!

Rules of the House

Author Unknown

Dear Dogs and Cats
The dishes with the paw print are yours and contain your food. The other dishes are mine and contain my food. Please note, placing a paw print in the middle of my plate and food does not stake a claim for it becoming your food and dish, nor do I find that aesthetically pleasing in the slightest.

The stairway was not designed by NASCAR and is not a racetrack. Beating me to the bottom is not the object. Tripping me doesn't help because I fall faster than you can run.

I cannot buy anything bigger than a king-sized bed. I am very sorry about this. Do not think I will continue sleeping on the couch to ensure your comfort. Dogs and cats can actually curl up in a ball when they sleep. It is not necessary to sleep perpendicular to each other stretched out to the fullest extent possible. I also know that sticking tails straight out and having tongues hanging out the other end to maximize space is nothing but sarcasm.

For the last time, there is not a secret exit from the bathroom. If by some miracle I beat you there and manage to get the door shut, it is not necessary to claw, whine, meow, try to turn the knob, or get your paw under the edge and try to pull the door open. I must exit through the same door I entered. I have been using the bathroom for years — canine or feline attendance is not mandatory.

The proper order is kiss me, then go smell the other dog or cat's butt. I cannot stress this enough!

To pacify you, my dear pets, I have posted the following message on our front door:

Rules for Non-Pet Owners Who Visit and Like to Complain About Our Pets

  1. They live here. You don't.
  2. If you don't want hair on your clothes, stay off the furniture. (That's why they call it "fur"niture.) No outfit is complete without a little dog hair.
  3. I like my pets a lot better than I like most people.
  4. To you, it's an animal. To me, he/she is an adopted son/daughter who is short, hairy, walks on all fours, and does not speak clearly.

Remember…dogs and cats are better than kids because they: eat less, don't ask for money all the time, are easier to train, usually come when called, never drive your car, don't hang out with drug-using friends, don't drink, don't worry about having to buy the latest fashions, don't wear your clothes, don't need a gazillion dollars for college, and if they get pregnant, you can sell their children.

A Buddha’s Passing

by Linda Marks

“If you see a Buddha
in the bathroom sink,
pet her.”

— Reflections from The Kitty Angel of the Bathroom

buddha“She must have been waiting for you,” said the owner of the Newtonville pet store, one June morning in 1988. “Look at her…she’s beaming her eyes right at yours.” This “Buddha” kitten, as the pet shop staff had fondly nicknamed her, simply sat for hours in a Buddha position, meditating with closed eyes. I got the message, and the Buddha kitten came home with me. I wasn’t looking for a new kitten, but I learned as a young child that we don’t always choose our four-legged companions. Most often, they choose us.

I didn’t have to think to name her. She was Buddha. However, this tiny kitten couldn’t have been more than six weeks old, and appeared to have been taken from her mother too young. For all her grace and spiritual refinement, nourishing her body was not an organic process, and I needed to feed her replacement milk with an eyedropper for quite a long time. Her lush, silky black and white fur could not hide her bony frame.

And in her attempt to connect to something I could see she yearned for, she started a long-lived habit of eating plastic and throwing it up. A kitten with an eating disorder! For humans with eating disorders, we can’t get enough of what we don’t really need. I soon discovered that what Buddha yearned for was touch, holding and love. You could pet Buddha 24/7, and she would purr with contentment, drinking in the contact and connection. Given enough petting and love, her craving for plastic was at least partially appeased. Buddha, my teacher, helped me understand at a very primal level, how beings need to be nourished and touched in this very visceral way in order to be able to receive and take in the nourishment available to us through food and life.

All animals who find their way into my life are not only my spiritual teachers and companions, but also my healing colleagues and co-therapists. For 15 of her 18 years, Buddha assumed the revered position of “bathroom cat” in the second floor bathroom of my 1890 Victorian house. All of my clients, students, friends and housemates soon discovered that their visits to the bathroom were overseen by this kitty angel. In her infinite wisdom, Buddha discovered early on that when people come into the bathroom and close the door, she had a captive audience to satisfy her 24/7 touch appetite. What else could someone do while sitting on the toilet than pat the cat standing on the sink in the bathroom! People quickly got the message, and Buddha purred and purred.

Sadly, about a month after her 18th birthday, Buddha started showing signs that her spirit was moving on to another dimension. And in her infinite wisdom, she decided to pass the weekend I had my body psychotherapy apprentices around for their monthly studies. With the permission of the group, Buddha sat with us in her towel-lined cardboard box for all of Friday night and Saturday. By Saturday at 6 pm, we could see Buddha was very close to the end of her time here, but she wasn’t quite ready to go. It was clear that she was waiting for my 10-year-old son Alex to come home, so she and he could say goodbye to one another.

When Alex arrived home, he and Buddha had some special time together. We were due at a friend’s house that night, but I could not imagine leaving Buddha. So, I added some more comfy blankets to her box, and carefully placed her in my car in the passenger’s seat. My son sat right in back of her, and our drive to central Massachusetts was Buddha’s chariot to the other side. I petted her with one hand as I drove with the other. At 8:30 pm, Buddha took her last peaceful breath and passed. My car became the chamber that held our three spirits — Buddha’s, Alex’s and mine — in addition to our three bodies.

When Alex and I took her to the vet’s office to be sent for her private cremation, we both counted our sadness and our blessings. She had been a part of Alex’s world his entire life. She had been my daily companion longer than any other human being. To commemorate her life and rightful place in the bathroom, I framed two photos of Buddha in the bathroom sink the day before she died. With the photos are the words, “Buddha, Bathroom Goddess and Graceful Kitty Angel. b. March 1988 d. April 15, 2006.” Her ashes sit on the top of the toilet tank, below the photos. Her spirit will always be there in the bathroom. And the bathroom will remain a sanctuary for those who pass through my home.

Finally Free to Be

by Beth Weidman

Looking outside the barn window into the paddock, I could see that it was happening again. The little brown and white spotted pony stood in place violently twitching and convulsing. His head was severely jerking about while his soft, dark eyes blankly gazed off.

chazzThere he was….in a muddy paddock full of goats: Patches, the pony. When he heard our voices the Pinto pony happily trotted through the sea of ruminants to the substandard fence to investigate. Bleating barn mates sang a chorus following along. It was as if he was the shepherd of this goat herd and his duty was to mindfully oversee them.

We were there to take home one of his followers with no intention of buying anything else. The farmer did his best to pitch the various wagons, antique sleighs and larger, chestnut colored ponies off in the distance but I found myself already falling in love with the whiskered nose nibbling my arm. Whenever our attention shifted away from him, he would winny to announce his presence. I asked if he was for sale and learned that he was. It was either my lucky day or his…or maybe both!

What I had difficulty understanding was how these owners, after years of having the gelding faithfully work performing profitable pony rides, could part with him. He was now at least in his thirties and, I thought, deserved to live the rest of his days in a familiar setting, surrounded by his animal companions and recognizable caretakers. When I questioned the reason for selling him, they assured me that they truly didn’t want to part with him, but they “had to.” Had to? I didn’t agree with their decision to remove the pony from his lifelong home but I did know that I had to have him.

The fact that it was two weeks before Christmas was both good and bad. Patches would make the perfect Christmas gift for our three-year-old son, Nicholas, but finding the extra money for the unexpected expense would not be easy. After calling home to ask my husband if we could buy him, I made a transfer from the savings account to cover the check I just handed to the farmer.

Christmas morning arrived. It was a brisk, sunny day. We were all anxious to unveil the animated gift tucked away in the third stall. After unwrapping the standard gifts found under the tree, my Dad lead the pony from the barn through the yard to the bay window for Nicholas to see. As Patches peered in, his warm breath fogged up the storm window as if to say, “Hey, come outside and play with me.” Despite the cold, we threw a coat over Nick’s green Dr. Denton’s and perched him atop his new playmate. The pony obliged by offering a brief ride to his newest admirer. The process was routine since that was his job for so many years, a job he continued to do perfectly that day.

Patches settled in on our small farm nicely. He was content with becoming an addition to our two-horse herd. Since there were fewer barn mates, he was now able to have his own stall. My thoroughbred became quite fond of the significantly smaller equine and would frantically whinny to him whenever the pony was out of sight. The pony enjoyed our company as well. Anytime we were in the yard, he would trot along the fence line looking for attention or a random treat.

Gradually, he began to seem unwell, and then we witnessed the seizures. Even though we were assured that he was healthy at the time of purchase, I feel that the owners knew of his condition — maybe not consciously, but at least on a subconscious level. We only had the pony for three months when the untreatable convulsions began.

After conferring with our vet, we decided that it wasn’t fair to let this animal needlessly suffer. It was time to set his soul free after countless years of dedicated service.

On his last day, we groomed his fuzzy coat and mane to perfection, polished his hooves and hand fed him sweet applesauce and peppermints. We led him to his stall mates for a silent goodbye that spoke volumes. After the lethal injection, our thoroughbred cried out for the remainder of the day, calling for his little pony friend. We cried that day as well. As sad as that day was, we were overjoyed to have been able to give him the best home for the last few months of his life. He was meant to be with us, however brief the visit.

Patches has rightfully earned endless days grazing in the lush fields in Heaven without a halter, lead line or passenger. He was released from the body that finally wore out and, for the very first time, was truly free.

Healing Specialists at Home

by Mary MacLaren

dog-heartLast November while leaving our small local grocery store, I watched as a neighbor secured her dog's leash to a post just outside of the store entrance. I noticed that her dog had a bandaged paw and was limping badly, supporting his weight as he walked by using the top of his wrist. After introducing myself to Ruth*, I asked what had happened to the dog. She said that Wizard* had had surgery to remove a long, sharp object that had gotten deeply lodged in his paw. I then explained to her that I was a Reiki practitioner, and shared with her information about this form of energy healing. I asked if she would allow me to have a session with the dog sometime and we agreed that I would work with him on the following Saturday.

A few days later I arrived at Ruth's house and was warmly greeted by both of them. I spoke softly to Wizard, giving him some time to adjust to my presence before starting our session. He limped around restlessly for quite a while but finally settled down so we were able to begin. His veterinarian had said that Wizard's wound wasn't healing because he wouldn't leave it alone. He had torn off the sock Ruth had put on to protect it and had ripped out some stitches. Now I gently sandwiched Wizard's hurt paw in my hands without touching it. I talked softly to him as I worked and he eventually relaxed and closed his eyes and seemed to be enjoying his session.

As I continued to treat him I remembered something that my spiritual guide had revealed about another dog, Barney, that I had worked with recently. Barney had a growth under his front leg that didn't seem to be responding to the Reiki treatments, even after three weekly sessions. Wanting more information on how to help the dog, I sought the advice of my spiritual guide, St. Patrick, who was also a healer during his time on Earth. In a channeling session, he explained that pets are an extension of their owner's energy field, and sometimes take on health challenges in order to give their human a message. Some pets — cats and dogs particularly — are actually very high souls who have come onto this plane to be of service and to wake up their humans by giving them messages. Barney’s growth was the result of his attempt to wave a big flag saying DANGER to show his owner, Jeff, that he was “growing his anger” and needed to look at the effect anger was having on his life. St. Patrick said that in order to help heal the dog, I would need to help Jeff with his healing. I gave him that message and did eventually work with him.

I thought of this as I worked with Wizard. I then asked Ruth what was going on in her own life. I was shocked and saddened to hear that she had just lost a loved one. Sharon, her daughter, had died of cancer just a week ago and the burial had been on Thursday. I wasn't sure that she'd be open yet to the information, but I decided to tell her Barney's story. I wondered aloud if Wizard might be trying to show her that she, too, is deeply wounded and in need of healing. I believed that she needed ongoing support in expressing her grief so I encouraged her to see a counselor. As I left their house I quietly thanked Wizard for the wonderful gift he was providing: his willingness to take on his physical wound in order to mirror his human's emotional wound.

I saw them a week later. Unfortunately, Wizard had gotten the sock off and had ripped his stitches out again. He seemed determined not to allow the healing. As we gently talked more, Ruth agreed to have a Reiki session herself. I hoped that during this time she would be helped to release some of her grief and guilt. While I worked with Ruth, Wizard supervised and seemed happy, wagging his tail, then nuzzling me a few times before lying down.

Then it was his turn. I had gotten his message that I was there primarily to care for his human. I was distressed when I got a good look at his wound though. It was weeping and raw. I cupped my hands around Wizard's paw to keep him from continually licking it. As I looked down at this beautiful, gentle animal I marveled at the thought that some pets are high souls, and that behind those soft, brown eyes there was a wise heart quietly radiating love and compassion.

In a channeling session a few weeks later I asked St. Patrick:

Mary: Am I correct in assuming that Wizard is trying to show Ruth that she is deeply wounded?

St. Patrick: “Yes, accept and honor that. The challenge for you is that her acceptance of the information is on her time schedule. It may be that the seed gets planted today but the soonest she can have it take root is ten years from now.”

Mary: Meanwhile, Wizard keeps ripping out his stitches.

St. Patrick: “That's his choice, and that's okay too. Animals are not poor suckers that got trapped in a body, became extensions of people and are stuck with these miserable lives. They are very wise souls that choose. They can leave any time they want. They can just drop their body at will and can suddenly get hit by a car or have some death that just seems to come out of nowhere. Those aren't accidents. The animal chooses. It's done, and with no regret. It's their time, so they go.”

Both Ruth and I were busy with work and holiday plans and didn't see each other again until several weeks later when we met at the grocery store. I was happy to hear her say, "Oh, I've meaning to call and tell you Wizard's paw is completely healed." She told me later that she had found a counselor that she was pleased with and planned to continue to work with her. I feel blessed to have been a small step on their path toward healing.

*Names were changed to ensure client privacy.

Parting Thoughts

by Beth Weidman

bentleyThe doctors don’t know what is wrong. They still can’t seem to determine why the left side of my face is swollen, why my eye is watering and why I am losing excessive weight. I have lived a good life, surrounded by people who loved me and took exceptional care of me. I feel bad that my illness is causing them sadness. I wish that I could tell them what it is — if only I could.

After the standard practices were unsuccessful in diagnosing me, my family hired someone to talk with me about the cause of my being sick. I explained that I felt it was two types of virulent cancers in my head and stomach. One caused my head to swell, numbness, the lump on my tongue, and my vision to blur. The other was in my stomach resulting in constant nausea and loss of weight.

During the extensive testing, I was terrified that I was going to die at the hospital. I told this person that I wished to die at home, with my loved ones. I relayed the message that I lived a good life — too good to abandon that to suffer now. I trusted that they would know the right time.

After a night of excessive vomiting, they made the arrangements. I lay waiting under the shade of the red maple tree in the tall green grass. My owners were with me, holding me and struggling with what was to come. I wished I could tell them that it was okay.

The veterinarian administered the medication that put me to sleep and finally set me free from the pain.

Bentley, a liver and white Springer Spaniel, died from cancer at nine years of age. Later, the medical test results confirmed the information the animal communicator learned while speaking with him.

Mexicali Blue

by Katie Flohr O’Sullivan

We walk along the beach in the morning, watching the plovers rushing to and from the waves. The birds don’t interest her anymore. She is beyond chasing birds.

She stumbles over some seaweed, and hesitates as she regains her balance. I stop and pretend to look for sea glass on the shoreline. Looking back, I see she has planted her front legs wide and is looking out across the ocean. “Okay?” I ask in shorthand, meaning do we need to sit down here for a breather or can you continue on to the jetty?

She looks at me and coughs. Then she shakes her head — her whole upper body, really — and starts to walk again.

It’s the ocean that keeps her going. The scent of salt in the air perks her right up, even though walking on sand is harder than walking on pavement. She picks up speed and trots ahead of me a few steps, veering left into the water. She stands so that the waves of low tide lap gently at her paws, and turns her head to look back at me.

“Okay,” I tell her again, but the meaning this time is different and she knows it. Her backside drops unceremoniously into the water, and then her front legs slide out slowly in front of her, lowering her body until she is lying in the path of the incoming tide. She looks at me and smiles.

I thought she was dead last January. There were ten days where she couldn’t get up. She couldn’t stand, let alone walk. I made her blankets as comfortable as I could, and fed her in bed. Carrying her outside, I held her up by the belly as she relieved herself. I cried every night, and was amazed to find her alive in the morning. The things we go through with our old dogs.

I was twenty-eight before I had my first dog. My mother would beg to differ, rushing to tell you that we’d had a Scottish terrier when I was young. But that was a family dog. Mexicali was different.

My newlywed husband surprised me with a puppy on my twenty-eighth birthday. He’d seen an ad in the paper and rushed home early from work. We played out on the lawn with her all evening, thoughts of the fancy dinner I had already shopped for completely forgotten.

“What will we name her?” I laughed as she bounced to and fro between us.

blue“We’ll think of something,” he assured me. We were listening to The Grateful Dead at the time, and the puppy seemed to be dancing along with the music. As a particularly jumpy number came on the stereo, the puppy noticed her tail for the first time, and started chasing it in time to the music. As Bobby wailed about having the Mexicali Blues, my husband and I looked at each other.

“How about Mexicali Blue?” he asked. The name stuck. The tiny puppy grew into a big dog, closer in resemblance to a Mack truck than the whirling dervish she had once been. She inherited the German shepherd brilliance from her mother, a pedigreed show dog, and the easy-going disposition of her wayward, Labrador father. She understood everything we told her with minimal training, but still loved to chase snowballs, jump in piles of leaves with the neighborhood kids, and go for long hikes through the conservation land that abutted our home.

Mexicali was there for me through three births, offering quiet support as I rocked the babies in the middle of the night, and selflessly cleaning up all the spilled Cheerios and mush from the kitchen floor. She was a proud dog, and as proud of those children as if they were her own puppies. As the years went on, Mex would wait each day for them to get up from their naps, or return home from preschool, or get off the school bus, eager to greet them and make sure they were okay. She also helped me through two miscarriages, when I’d often find myself weeping uncontrollably for no reason. Well, there was a reason, and the dog seemed to know that.

When Mexicali turned ten, the vet warned us that she seemed to have a degenerative condition in her back legs and spine beyond the arthritis she’d developed at seven. He gave her six months to live. He told us there were drugs we could try, but they were very expensive and would only add a month or two to her life. My husband researched on the Internet, and discovered a vet in Florida who recommended a host of more natural remedies, including adding vitamin E and B complex to her food dish, as well as glucosamine and chondroitin to help strengthen her joints. It worked for a while. The winter when she was eleven was a tough one, and Mex couldn’t manage stairs of any kind. We had a lot of stairs in that house. I carried her, as I had my babies. She recognized this, and was embarrassed. She would stand at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for me to help her get to the bedroom, yet she would turn her head away from me in shame as I lifted her.

The summer that she turned twelve, she seemed to recover. We had bought a summer home on Cape Cod, and Mexicali’s new purpose in life was to walk on the beach. Every day, at least once a day, she would ask and we would acquiesce. The smile on her face was unmistakable. When summer was over, we returned to the house of many stairs, and Mexicali’s smile faded, as did her energy.

In January, we sold that house and moved to Cape Cod permanently. Soon after the move, Mex had an episode where her legs suddenly crumpled out from under her. She seemed confused, both blind and deaf. She drooled uncontrollably, and couldn’t hold her head up straight. We figured we were at the end, and tried to make her as comfortable as possible. But she held on to life. On the tenth day of carrying her outside to pee in the snow, she shook free of my husband and took a few steps. He came back into the house with her, amazed. 

“She’s trying to go to the beach,” he told me. I didn’t believe him. It was just wishful thinking.

Each day, she would try a few more steps, tentative at first, but each time more purposeful. And she was definitely headed to the beach. It took her nearly a month before she was strong enough to make it the two blocks to the ocean, but she persisted in her struggle, and insisted on going straight into the water that cold, February day when she first made it onto the sand.

She swam in the ocean all that spring and summer. And continued to want to go to the beach every day. But toward the end of August, there was a change. Some days, it seemed to be enough for her to go to the end of the boardwalk and stare at the ocean. She would then turn and head back to the house. No amount of coaxing could get her to walk further. It was as if just the sight of the water was enough to make her smile, but she knew her legs were not strong enough that day to tackle the sand. Now that fall is here, she only makes it down onto the beach for a real walk once or twice a week.

But at night, as she lies there dreaming, we watch as her feet start the slow trot of a beach walk, and the smile slips across her sleeping face. We know Mexicali has had an extra summer to share with us and the kids, and we know that it’s because of the ocean that she stuck around.

Honor Among Dogs

by Ronnie DiComo

maxMax was my first dog. He loved everyone and had many friends, canine and human. When Max saw someone he knew, he became very excited and howled at them. He also had a great sense of humor and was very curious. Max loved to visit people's houses; if he were human, he would have been a door to door salesman.

Max was also a very large dog. One day when we were out for a walk, we passed a neighbor's dog who was clearly old. As we walked by his yard, the old dog got up, walked slowly to the edge of his territory, and barked at Max as best he could. Much to my surprise, Max made a big show of charging at the dog and barking back at him. I was upset at Max's aggressive posture towards the old dog, and said: "Max! How could you do that? Look how old he is!" As clearly as if he had said it out loud, I heard Max reply: "I'm just making him feel as if he's still young and strong."

Not long after that incident, the old dog died, but I'll always remember how Max let him keep his honor.

Lost in the Woods

by Lori B. McCray

doodlesNancy, my neighbor, dropped off an article about
abandoned rabbits. “These are your rabbit’s cousins,”
she said. Starving in the woods.

Last night I sat with Nancy’s 90-year-old mother in the
rehab/nursing home. Far from belonging, their faces
etched with loneliness. The elderly, lost, like rabbits.

Someone will say something beautiful, and I won’t feel
guilty for my sorrow. Someone will speak of joy and
comfort. Animals who heal with their devotion.
Families who open their hearts and homes, to love them.
Tomorrow it might be me, when I have finished crying.

I can’t imagine leaving my rabbits in the woods and driving
home without them. I can’t imagine how being free of them,
even knowing they won’t survive, unburdens me.

We all have limitations. Barriers that seem immoveable.
When caring becomes too difficult, what happens to
compassion? How can you look into those trusting eyes
and walk away? (I have more questions than I have answers to.)

Again I arrive at this: I can’t save every animal, but I can
love my own. And if by loving one or two, I come to love
them all, my rabbits have taught me well.

Strawberry Tea, the Rabbit

by Stuart Camps

strawberryA story of growing into a sacred understanding of our fellow beings that happen to be non-human, with the gracious help of my spiritual master, Adi Da Samraj.

I grew up in Papua New Guinea, where I was fortunate to have been able to keep many exotic indigenous pets. And so I came to love animals. But I must confess this: I somehow developed an attitude that farm animals, such as rabbits and chickens, were not as special or important as say, a Harpy eagle, a tree kangaroo, an Eclectus parrot, or a cassowary. More about that to come!

At a certain point in my life, I took up the spiritual Way of Adidam created by the contemporary spiritual master, Adi Da Samraj. Among the many extraordinary gifts Adi Da has given to humankind is Fear-No-More Zoo in California. Adi Da founded Fear-No-More Zoo in November 1974, aiming to provide through it (among other things) a rather remarkable education for its human visitors:

"In that process of sensitizing yourself to non-humans and placing no barriers between yourself and them, you have to go beyond your previous mind about non-humans as sort of non-beings." — Avatar Adi Da Samraj

And so, with my love of animals, it seemed natural to find myself at one point the zookeeper of Fear-No-More Zoo! One of the creatures being kept in the zoo at that time was the giant French lop-eared rabbit. The zoo housed a number of them, and the grand dame of the group was a very large ginger-red rabbit named "Strawberry Tea."

Back then I knew very little about Adi Da Samraj's teaching about non-humans, and had much to learn. Because of the prejudices and preferences developed from my background with exotic species, it took me a long time to come to the point of accepting the rabbits as no less important than the beautiful Bactrian camel also at the zoo. I found I had very little interest in the rabbits. And I could not fathom why my spiritual master liked them!

For a good long while, I toyed with various proposals to sell them, until one day I finally decided I just had to get beyond my resistance to them. I knew I needed to do this for their sake and for mine. And so I completely rebuilt their enclosure, making it much more interesting for them, a much happier place from top to bottom. And for a while after that, I really did feel a connection to them. But over a few months I noticed that my old ways of looking at them were returning. I was extremely frustrated.

stuartOne day, Strawberry Tea fell ill. She was an old rabbit who had many litters in her time. She was developing a tumor on her side, which would eventually end her life. During the long haul with her, in her last weeks and days, two things were going on for me. I was still facing up my resistance to rabbits, and still not really acknowledging them as I knew I should. And, curiously enough, I was simultaneously falling in love with Strawberry Tea.

The day came when I knew it would be her last. I could sense it from her. As I bathed her that day, to remove the urine and feces from her golden fur, almost all of my resistance dissolved. I was bent over her on the lawn, gently washing her face and body and paws. I remembered Adi Da's deep intimacy with non-humans, his love and embrace of them all. She lay there on the towel, relaxed, breathing deeply, trusting. Her eyes were open. My heart melted. Not just because she was dying, but because I suddenly felt her not anymore as a mere rabbit, but as an actual person. She had become more like an old woman to me now, in a sense no different than my own grandmother. And I clearly saw that she was no more, and no less, deserving of love than I, or anyone else.

I felt so close to her at one point that afternoon that there was no difference, no separation between us. That we each were of the same Being was irrefutable to me now. As I gently put Strawberry Tea in her hutch for the evening I knew this would be the last time I would see her alive. Looking at her limp, wasting body, I wept because she was dying, and because I now loved her, and I was greatly relieved.

And then, the very next morning, I awoke only to discover with a shock that my feeling of resistance to rabbits had returned. I couldn't believe it! In my sleep, I again had withdrawn from them emotionally. I felt ridiculous that I was even going through all this emotional struggle around some rabbits.

Before I headed down to the zoo to begin my day and check on Strawberry Tea, I noticed an envelope addressed to me, from a friend who knew nothing of what I was going through. As I opened it I was still in the midst of my "ordeal with rabbits." I asked out loud, "Why does Adi Da even like rabbits? What does he see in them?" As I finished this frustrated plea for help of some kind, I pulled out the contents of the envelope. It was a small color photograph of Adi Da Samraj in the early 1970's. He was bending forward toward — of all things — a cute black and white rabbit, his arm stretched out toward it, with a bright orange carrot in his hand. A big grin beamed from his face.

In that split second, at the height of my crisis around this issue, my spiritual master mysteriously showed me that he liked rabbits. He LIKED them! It was as simple as that. Somehow that was now enough for me. I could like them too! From that day on, I have experienced no similar problem with rabbits, or any other animal. On that day, and ever since, it became obvious to me that all beings are equally important. They are beings, not things. I'd always mentally thought this way, but now I could really feel it and understand it as well.

When I found Strawberry Tea motionless in her hutch, I was sad but calm. With a simple ceremony, I buried her body in the zoo graveyard alongside Laughing Man Creek. I was profoundly grateful toward her for what she showed me and took me through, and profoundly grateful to my spiritual master, for the deep healing he brought to my heart. This entire incident was an incredibly valuable lesson for me. And it took me a step closer to the intimate connection my spiritual master has with all beings, and which is the potential for all of us. As he describes it:

"I am in conversation with all beings and things. It is not that only human beings are full of 'soul' and everything else should be chopped up and eaten for lunch! If you examine beings other than the human, feel them, are sensitive to them, enter directly into relationship with them, you discover that they are the same — and not just the somewhat bigger ones, like my parrots, but the mosquitoes, too, which you swat out as if they were nothing. At heart, human beings are manifesting a potential that is in all and that is inherent in conditional existence itself. Whether this potential is exhibited or not, whether it is made human or not, makes no difference whatsoever to the divine self-condition. All is one. All are the same. All equally require divine compassion, love, and blessing, the thread of communion with the divine made certain and true and directly experienced. All. Therefore, the sphere of my work is all beings and things. Literally it is so. This is literally how I work." — Adi Da Samraj, November 4, 1993

For more information about the zoo visit

Stored Image

by Sandra Kocher

horsesWhen I need a lift,
a bright spot in a disappointing day
I remember driving past
a fenced-in field a few weeks ago
where often horses graze.
My eyes fell upon two slender
horses running side by side
graceful, free
no riders in sight
enjoying their run
not racing, just running together
for the joy of it
the joy of it

Let Sleeping Horses Lie

By Nicole Birkholzer

scoutI was waiting for a new client to arrive. Since I had about 20 minutes before the scheduled appointment, I decided to pick the paddocks and hang out with the horses. About fifteen minutes before the client was due to arrive, I noticed that all three horses had decided to take a nap. “Hmmm”, I thought, “I wonder if they will wake up for the session.” Another five minutes went by and I saw that all three horses were still out cold. They were seriously napping! For a split- second I was tempted to interfere and stir up the herd. However, knowing that there are times when nature should not be influenced, I sat back and watched to see what would unfold.

The client arrived right on time. She walked into the barn and immediately commented, “Well, they sure don’t look interested in anything.” I guess she read my mind.

The client and I started our conversation in the barn aisle while the horses continued to nap. Eventually, I asked the client to start the first interaction with the horses. She was to walk around and observe each horse to see if she could connect to them emotionally, to feel their energy. Off she went, checking in with three sleeping horses!

After a while she came back into the barn, looked at me and said: “Do you know what my biggest fear was on my drive over to your farm?” I said, “No, I don’t. Would you like to share it?” She said, ”My biggest fear was that none of the horses would want to work with me!”

I looked at her, smiled gently and said, “Isn’t it wonderful that they provided you with the opportunity to immediately experience your biggest fear so we can start addressing it?” She nodded, and lo and behold, the moment she expressed her fear, the first horse woke up, came into the barn and they started their journey together.

Buddy’s Story

by Sue Quinn

This is Bud’s story, or should I say, our story, as they are so interwoven I couldn’t begin to separate our journey.

I adopted a ten-year-old black and tan miniature pincher from the CT Humane Society, where he had been dropped off after his elderly “mother” had died. Because of his age the caregivers there couldn’t bear to put him in a standard run, so they kept him in a carrier, feeding him chips and cookies (snacks he apparently knew well). They were so thrilled that I was adopting him that they gave me the carrier, collar and leash and did not charge an adoption fee.

So I drove home with this fat little dog. Waiting for my “surprise” and me were my husband Bob, our German shepherd, Teddy, and Stinky, the orange cat. As we entered the kitchen, Teddy knew immediately that a new creature had arrived. Bob asked, “What’s that clicking sound…” It was the sound of Bud’s nails on the kitchen floor.

It was a s-l-o-w adjustment, as it was quite obvious that he missed his old home and companion of ten years. We took one day at a time. With love, patience and help from Teddy, he came to understand us and became part of our family pack.

A major turning point occurred when we all vacationed on Lake Champlain. Our cottage was secluded, with a large grass area, meadow and path leading to the lake. We let him off leash, probably for the first time in his life. He ran, pranced and rolled! Then followed Teddy, his mentor and best friend, exploring nature and a new world. On returning home, he graduated to the status of going out in the back yard unleashed. This was a privilege he took quite seriously, always on the look out, patrolling the perimeter of the property, acting as our protector. All went very well for about three years, during which time we adopted a second “min-pin.”

Again on vacation in Vermont, we thought Bud was having a bout of arthritis, as he was having some difficulty walking, appeared stiff and did not want to walk to the lake. The night before our departure, he could not stand, walk or urinate. I was in tears, trying to comfort him and pleading with him not to die. We threw everything into the van and drove straight home and took him to the emergency clinic. The veterinarian inserted a catheter, which allowed him to pass urine. He also gave him an injection of prednisone. It was the first time I heard the words “tetra-paresis…. the prognosis is poor…you need to consider euthanasia.” I said, “No.” Having asked him to show me how to catheterize a dog, I took Buddy home along with the catheters, prednisone pills and my faith in modern medicine.

The following day, we made our first of many pilgrimages to the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel at Graymoor, New York. The next morning Bud was walking as good as new! I thanked St. Francis and modern medicine. Believing Buddy was cured, and in conjunction with the veterinarian’s advice, the prednisone was tapered. All seemed well for about two months, when his paralysis returned with a vengeance that no amount of prednisone or modern medicine could cure. After many visits to our family veterinarian (who again recommended euthanasia), he suggested a surgical consultation.

buddySo off we went to a meeting with the board certified surgeon who had a hospital that could compete with any institution built for humans. He examined Bud, twisting and turning his neck in every direction without causing any pain. Because of the absence of pain, the surgeon felt it was not a disc causing the paralysis, but was an invasive spinal tumor, possibly malignant. He recommended a CAT scan with contrast dye, which would require giving him anesthesia. After viewing the tumor, the next step would be a very extensive and painful surgery with no guarantee. Once again euthanasia was discussed, pointing out he was an “old” dog who had a good life.

When we returned home, I fed and diapered Buddy, then tucked him safely into his bed, kissed his nose and reassured him that I loved him and was not giving up. Still he could not stand, walk or control bodily functions. Buddy was frightened at times, but made it very clear to me that he was not in pain and that he did not want to die. He was also very proud, to the extent that prior to his illness, he would seek the privacy of a bush or tall grass when outside. During his entire illness, he continued to “go out” daily with my husband. In the rain, snow, sleet and ice, they would be in the backyard going around and around. Bob would help Buddy by bending down and wrapping his large hands around Bud’s middle, allowing Buddy’s paws to touch the ground, simulating locomotion, until Bud relieved himself. I attempted this on several occasions, but Bud refused to cooperate, leaving me exhausted and short of breath. Only Bob was allowed to “walk” Buddy.

I went to our library and took out every book on veterinary medicine they had, two of which were on holistic care. I read everything I could find. One author had a clinic in a neighboring state that offered alternative treatments. So off we went. After our initial consultation, we agreed to have Bud receive care. The all-day treatments involved vitamins, ozone and homeopathy. Bob would bring him to the clinic in New York early each morning and I would pick him up each evening. This was a very traumatic time for Buddy. I’m certain he thought each car ride and clinic visit was his last and that he was again being abandoned. He looked terrible! Bug-eyed, panic stricken, panting, drooling and incontinent, he was a dog only a mother could love. This was a test of love and commitment. Although he was still paralyzed following a week of treatment, we prayed Bud would heal and took him home.

In addition to prayers to St. Francis, I decided Bud’s healing could be accelerated through homeopathy and diet. After extensive homeopathic study and research, I found two exact remedies that I believed would address Buddy’s symptoms and promote healing. Furthermore, I decided to augment his healing by making significant changes in his diet. The transition began with store bought organic dog foods, but I eventually started Bud on my own diet of home-cooked foods. This was necessary after researching what is really contained in those well-advertised commercial pet foods (whole other story). First came vats of cooked chicken, brown rice, and green beans. Not only Bud, but also all the dogs were placed on this all-natural diet. Although the diet continues to be a work in progress, today they eat primarily raw meat, fish, brown rice, vegetables, fruits, filtered water and daily supplements. Buddy not only healed, but soon was running like a puppy, playing with squeaky toys, bright eyed and waggy tailed. He was determined to get on with living. I saw him smile.

What cured Buddy? My answer is love. I thanked homeopathy, the clinic, the diet, St. Francis and Bob. I truly believe Buddy was sent to be my guide. I am now open to all possibilities. Thank you, Buddy. The journey continues.

The Buddy Diet

There are very few physiological differences between domesticated dogs and their wild relatives. Wolves that hunt in the wild eat the whole animal, bones and all, and get partially digested (cooked) vegetable matter from the stomachs of their prey. Carnivores benefit from raw meat in ways they can’t from cooked, bagged or canned foods. Dogs need the essential fatty acids, enzymes and amino acids found in raw meat and cold pressed oils. Cooking destroys, alters or depletes many vital nutrients that turn foods into toxins and carcinogens.

I do not believe any commercial pet food, whether bagged or canned, provides a complete and balanced diet. It may sustain life, but it does not promote wellness or optimum health. Dogs require 10 essential amino acids: arginnine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, methionine, phenyalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. They also require 16 non-essential amino acids. These 26 amino acids are not listed on pet food labels. They are all obtained from animal and some plant proteins.

Only healthy immune systems can combat disease. The only way to have a healthy immune system is to build it up with fresh raw foods. Buddy is a perfect example. Those who fear what’s in raw meat should be more concerned about what’s in those cans and bags. Complete details of the exact ingredients of the Buddy Diet are available for free by emailing me at Here’s another tip for you to try:

Skunk Neutralizer

1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide
¼ cup of baking soda
1 teaspoon of Dawn dish soap (cuts skunk grease)

Use at least a 2-quart bowl or spray bottle. Dissolve the baking soda in the hydrogen peroxide, add the soap, and mix well. Pour into a spray bottle or pour over dog. Apply liberally, rub in well and leave on for 15 minutes, then rinse off. Use care around the eyes and don’t let the dog lick it off. This is very effective and works better than anything sold over the counter.

Guardian Angel Dogs

by Shirley Warren

jackieI have always said that “dogs are people too,” and Jackie was no exception. This little beagle had a kind and gentle presence that left you with no alternative but to love her to pieces. When I first met her, I thought she was a he. With a wag of the tail and a warm doggie smile, she quickly granted me forgiveness for my confusion when I apologized for my mistake.

Every morning when I would show up at her house to run with her person, she would greet me with her warm welcome, looking up at me with endearing eyes and the slightest tilt of her head. She always looked so cute that my heart would melt at just the sight of her. I would often affectionately refer to her as “cute little sausage.” I am forever renaming those I hold dear.

It didn’t take long to know that my dog, Skip, would just have to meet her. I was a bit concerned that his puppy attitude and his rather large goofy size might not be well suited to meet such a little lady. I took a chance and made the introduction anyway. He instantly showed a respect for her age and made no attempt to dominate the relationship. There was no doubt about it: Jackie and Skip became fast friends.

We shared bath time and walks around the neighborhood, quality time for the two-legged and four-legged alike, the stuff a good friendship is made of. Although we didn’t have much time together, she found a permanent place in our hearts.

My first experience with losing a loved one was when my grandfather passed on. I was seven years old and was completely devastated to lose my favorite person who I affectionately called “buddy old pal.”

It was my mother’s advice that helped me to accept his passing. She told me that if I prayed for my grandfather to become my guardian angel, he would remain by my side forever. Even today, I can still feel him watching over me.

When I heard of Jackie’s passing, I prayed that Jackie could be a guardian angel to Skip. I was sure she would do a great job. To this day, when I imagine her with the same old tilt of the head and her warm doggie smile, complemented by her new set of wings, I can’t help but hear my grandfather saying, “Dogs are angels too!”

Finding Zen Dog

By S. Serwecki

I used to think of Zen Dog as my plan-B eventual job. Zen Dog was the hotdog truck of my imagination with the slogan, “Zen Dog — It is one with everything,” painted on the side, with air brushed blues and greens, and stars in an expansive blend. We would dispense yogurt, salad, a “special,” in addition to soy dogs and all beefs for those who wanted them, favoring the organic. And of course we would serve ices, as we frequented beaches and warmer climates in the landscapes of my imagination. I saw myself handing over cup, spoon, and napkin pressed against a night sky, the anticipation of fireworks in the air.

Zen Dog came to represent something else to my friends and I — the future we all imagine, the hope that accompanies knowing that it is within your power to change your life drastically. A friend surprised me once with a statue of a figure draped in mink robes sitting in lotus position, topped with the head of a dog. “Zen Dog,” the caption on the base read. Hardly believing his luck, he purchased it and brought it home to me.

My daughter and I wanted a real dog as well. I couldn’t say when or where this desire began. We (she) had smaller pets in the past: African water frogs, and rats, two in succession. They had lived out their lives protected and well fed on the dresser of her room. I thought a Chihuahua would be a good breed for us; we are second floor renters who live in the city, limiting our space, and I have increasing issues with arthritis. Our home was calm and we were available to give walks, belly rubs, and the occasional spoiling. We looked at Chihuahua rescue sites eagerly on-line. As we looked, I knew what I had in mind: a small short hair. I pictured him as tan and male, though I don’t think I mentioned the latter aloud.

I visited a few dogs, but there was no chemistry, much like going on a first date with a person who, though perfectly likeable, perfectly matched with your lifestyle, and meeting the list of what you think you want, you know you will not go on a second date with. I stopped at the animal rescue league frequently; I haunted them with phone calls. They had large dogs and a number of cats.

bellaThen one day I saw a picture of Bianca on line. She looked like a deer with her tan and white markings and slightly long legs. I made an appointment and drove out to Billerica to meet her. Much to my dismay, we didn’t hit it off. She seemed aloof, which is polite speak for the fact that she didn’t really like me. Dogs pick their owners as much as we pick them, I believe. I recalled my teenage daughter’s advice not to take a dog who may not be a good match simply because we had been looking for a while. From the mouth of babes, this advice was given in the face of a potential pet, Guido, whose one owner had passed away. He was aged and fierce. I should have known better, given the shelter attendant breathed a remark, “Good luck,” which sounded more like a warning. We took him for a walk in the small park near the shelter. He didn’t like to be touched we had been warned, and forgetting myself, I tried to brush a bug away from his coat. His sudden growls and snaps caused me to change my mind and retract my hand, quickly. I could get him to warm up to me, I was sure.

“Do you really want a dog that won’t let you touch it?” my daughter asked. “I know you,” she continued. “You’re going to want to let it sit in your lap while you watch TV or work on the computer and cuddle up in bed. Do you think Guido is going to want to do that?” I could see she was right. Guido deserved a wonderful home, a home with acceptance.

To speed things up, we filed our application forms on line, a type of doggie adoption pre-approval. We obtained a letter from our landlady giving permission to have a dog in the building and xeroxed it. Any minute, I thought, I could find our dog.

While visiting Bianca, I saw other wonderful, little doggies. The tremendously patient woman who ran the place left me for a moment to take care of something inside. She told me to come and get her if I wanted to take a dog for a walk. On my way back to the door I saw Roxie. She was tiny, even for her seven and a half pounds, and looked like a teeny-weeny Springer spaniel, though she was full-grown, longhaired Chihuahua. Her giant eyes and long wavy ears reminded me of the Disney classic Lady and the Tramp. Her silence, as she leaned against the fence, held my attention.

“That’s my dog!” I knew instinctively. After I spent a few moments petting her, the woman who ran the shelter came back outside and I was glad to see she had a leash in her hand. I took my dog for a walk. She was a little shy, but walked very sweetly beside me. My daughter readily agreed to this match for me and we went inside to do the paperwork.

About half way through the woman stopped us. “Oh no!” she said. “She has a sibling with her.” Then she asked hopefully, “Is there anyway you can take two?” She brought us a beautiful blond and white dog that bounded around us bright-eyed and panting. Her markings made her look like a Pomeranian, but like her sister, she, too, was a Chihuahua. Her dark lips caused her look like she was smiling. As we began discussing the possibilities of a second dog, Bella plopped herself down in my daughter’s lap and craned her neck, looking up at her face hopefully.

“Let me call my landlady,” I conceded.

“What do I care?” she answered, after I explained the situation. Leaving the question rhetorical, I thanked her and hung up, hardly believing our good fortune. A flurry of paperwork later and we were in the car. The girls, as they have come to be known, were already spayed and up to date in their shots, so there was little to do but love them. The “pup tent,” carrier and dog food, purchased in hope, awaited us at home.

Though I thought I wanted one shorthaired male dog, I now had custody of two long-haired female dogs who both sit on my lap, sleep in my bed, and wake me up bright and early by standing on my chest and licking my face and ears in stereo. They do this suddenly and always at the same time as if one of them has given a signal — some secret cue — and two years later, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Maybe it is best to give in to the gifts the universe offers. Maybe your Zen Dog finds you.

Artistry In The Sand

by Sharani Robins

sandA universe of natural wonder beckons from all corners of the globe, as God’s natural creation sings a symphony of majesty. While visiting Kuantan, Malaysia on retreat with my spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, I ventured out onto the ocean beach for a stroll, carrying the odd combination of a script to memorize my lines for an upcoming play performance, and my camera, in case adventure paid me a visit. While I tried to immerse myself in the character, the sand quickly diverted my attention as it shifted as if alive under my feet. Little holes popped up all over like little blowholes on a whale. In the blink of an eye, tiny crabs the same color as the sand scurried about and disappeared down into the sand or appeared up from beneath it.

The sand was also formed into a vast mosaic of mandala shapes that appeared to be like bursts of fireworks exploding on the sand. Some places had tiny mounds that were perfectly formed spirals. Soon, my script had turned into a knee rest to protect my freshly laundered pants. It was all I could do to keep myself from lying down completely to watch the crabs with complete fascination so that I could better understand the world.

Mostly they disappeared under the sand as soon as I came close to them. Actually observing them took some degree of patience and quiet. As I left the world of people aside, I finally began to understand that these crabs would create a little hole by carrying drops of wet sand up and out of the hole and then carefully place the sand to create their own version of a sandcastle with walls for their little hole. Sometimes when they noticed me looking at them or trying to take a photo, they disappeared back into the hole. Somehow I must have eventually adjusted myself more to their wavelength because as time passed and I moved slowly along the beach, I had better and better luck co-existing near them without them scurrying away.

I was rather overcome with awe as I realized that this vast network of spiral designs painted on the sand was the handiwork of tinier than the tiniest crabs. (Most of the ones I saw were no bigger than my fingernail). These designs in the sand looked just like mandalas created by a human artist. I tried to capture their artistry with my camera but I must confess that the pictures I took might not do them justice.

I am continually amazed at the diversity and grandeur of nature. It matters not whether I am a mere short distance from my house observing swans and ducks, or thousands of miles away walking on a beach, the common denominator seems to be that one step through the doorway of awe offers a sweeping journey into the domain of beauty. Adopting the viewpoint of a naturalist brings the deepest peace and satisfaction imaginable. Gratitude blossoms inside me every time I am so lucky to walk through that doorway of awe, which can be visited in every clime. I can only wish that someday you would also be lucky enough to discover the crab artists busy at work, turning a sandy beach into a masterpiece.

The Master Teachings of a Snail

by Michelle Hanson

snailIf mankind’s ideal is to achieve a place of compassion and unconditional love, all we need do is regard our domestic pets to see they already possess these qualities. If you are willing to concede that these animals are pretty high up on the evolutionary ladder… what about a snail? Surely man is more highly evolved than a snail. Allow me to submit this story of the helmet conch, a member of the snail family, for your consideration.

Helmet conch shells grow to be 8-12 inches and were so named because their appearance resembles helmets worn by ancient warriors. In Shells Alive, Neville Coleman, the Australian author and biologist, writes in great detail about his encounter with a group of helmet conch snails.

During his normal recording functions underwater, he came across three helmet conchs in a triangular formation, each about five meters away from the other two. Two were positioned properly to get around, but one was buried in the sand on its side. This conch was left exposed to any predator in the vicinity. Even if it somehow avoided that fate, being stuck prevents it from foraging for food and it would eventually die.

Neville admits that it never occurred to him to turn this animal over because his mind was full of the recent observations from his swim, and he had to return to change film. He barely took notice of the three conchs except to observe their position. He assumed that other divers had gathered these shells on a boat and tossed them overboard after being informed that they were a protected species.

A few hours later, with fresh air tanks and new film he made his way back and he nearly froze at what the torchlight revealed. The two upright conchs had moved closer to the one in trouble. Being a trained scientist, he sat back and observed the action. After the two liberated conchs reached the one buried in the sand, he discovered they had furrowed out a depression around the immobile shell, having dug away the sand as efficiently as if they were a pair of miniature bulldozers. He says: "I just didn’t believe what might be happening, but I took the pictures anyway."

As he watched in awe, after loosening the sand around the conch that was stuck, the two mobile conchs came around behind it, climbed up on the shell and toppled it over. Neville was nearly in tears as he witnessed two "dumb, unfeeling invertebrates without vision or any known form of communication, with pea-sized ‘brains’ and no reasoning mechanism that we are aware of, combine their actions to assist another of their species in trouble."

Let’s consider this scene Neville witnessed. These conches had to: 1) know a comrade was in trouble, 2) care enough to travel for hours to respond, 3) cooperate in figuring out a plan of action, then 4) carry it out…and, they did. Is this simply animal instinct? We can choose to believe that, or to believe that through compassion, intelligence, and dedication, they accomplished a rescue that neither could have achieved alone. Contrast this to human victims whose cries for help fall on deaf ears because nobody wants to get involved.

snail2If I may make a suggestion, perhaps animals so obviously possess traits that we aspire to, that the only way we allow ourselves to be comfortable with their capacity for unconditional love is to label this as instinct. Otherwise, if they possess this altruistic spiritual trait we desire, logic dictates that they (animals) are the more evolved beings. What if a dog does have a choice whether to run into a burning building, or to dive into freezing waters to rescue a family member? These acts of love could be the genuine article, and writing them off as instinct does us all a disservice.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the animals were mirroring our own potential — the loving beings we really are? I believe that energetically we are all light beings. One of us comes to Earth and zips on a “human suit,” another a “dog suit,” another a “snail suit,” but underneath we are all the same light beings. At this energetic level, no being is above or below another on the evolutionary scale. We are all one. Instead of looking upon this demonstration of animal compassion as "less than" because it is only instinct, why not see the gift they offer us — teaching us who we are, even in the behavior of a snail.

Pet Teacher

by Rose M. Murphy

In an instant, life can change. For me, that pivotal moment took place in the summer of 1973. During that fateful time, I met someone whose existence would shape my future, and whose love would change my life. Just five years old at the time, my world revolved around my immediate family: mom, dad, older brother Artie, and younger sister Kathy. In those still-innocent days of the early 1970s, sunny mornings and afternoons were spent riding bikes around the neighborhood, and evenings were spent at the dinner table. We were a cozy fivesome — but that was about to change.

roseOne breezy Friday night, the three of us kids were tucked safely and soundly in our beds (though we weren’t quite asleep), and mom and dad were watching TV in the living room of our small ranch house. Suddenly, my parents heard a strange rattling sound coming from the front door. Secure in a child’s knowledge that no harm can come when mom and dad are near, Artie, Kathy, and I scurried down the hall, curiosity getting the best of us. My dad nervously approached the door and peeked out. Again we heard the same rattling sound, but this time it was followed by a small, yet distinctive “meow.” So began a relationship that would span more than two decades, and would define my life in ways I could never have expected.

The first lesson, learned that very first night, was tenacity. We learned later on that she had been making the rounds of the neighborhood, trying to find a family to take her in. At first, my dad objected to keeping her, and looking back, I can hardly blame him; with three young children keeping my mom busy, the burden of cat care would fall on him. He decided that we shouldn’t feed her, since that would only encourage her to stay. As the five of us piled into the car to go to my brother’s Cub Scout picnic the next day, my parents struck a deal. If the cat was still on our doorstep when we returned, we could keep her. As we rounded the corner that evening, anticipation settling around us as quickly as the dusk, we all craned our necks out of the windows, hoping to see the furry creature we had already grown to love. And there she was, a sentinel on our doorstep. From that moment on, she was ours, and we were hers. And then there were six of us.

Throughout the years to come, Muffin, as we affectionately named her, became my teacher — a tutor covered in soft, shiny fur and tiger stripes. She taught me the intangible essentials of life, things that can’t possibly be learned from books. Bravery, for instance, was another of her attributes. She approached obstacles with such determination, and for me, as a timid, introverted little girl, her strength gave me strength.

One rainy weekend day we noticed that none of us had seen Muffin for a few hours. It wasn’t that unusual, since she was an outdoor cat (as most cats were at that time), and she typically would spend the better part of the day outside and come inside at night. But as the evening drew closer, there was still no Muffin. My dad drove around the neighborhood, but he couldn’t find her. My parents tried to reassure me that everything was ok, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. My dad camped out in the playroom near the door, in case Muffin appeared in the middle of the night. Around 2:00 a.m., Dad heard the now-familiar sound of the screen door rattling, and there was Muffin, dragging her back leg and dripping blood. She had apparently been hit by a car, and had slowly made her way back home.

Thank goodness her injuries were manageable, and with some vet care, antibiotics, and tender loving care, she was back to normal (almost) in no time. Sometimes when I think of how scared and confused she must have been, yet how she valiantly made her way back to us, I’m amazed by the courage she had. But she also had faith; she knew that we would take care of her, and that we would do whatever it took to make her better.

As the years wore on and my brother, sister, and I got older and things inevitably changed, there was always at least one constant: Muffin. It may sound silly to say, but I really believed that she would be with us forever. She had always been there, and it seemed like she always would be. Sure, she got grayer and moved a little slower, but that happens to us all. Yet as I inched my way into my late-twenties, the signs began to show. She became terribly thin, she would get easily confused, and she began using shoes as her litter box. We all tried to deny what was happening, because facing it was just too hard. But in true Muffin style, she left us in much the same way she came to us, with strength and dignity.

On a sunny, autumn Saturday in 1995, my mother called my sister and me at the duplex that we were renting just a few towns over from my parent’s house. She told us that Muffin’s health was deteriorating. The vet had given her an injection of fluids under the skin to see if she would rally, but given her age, it was really only a matter of time before she passed away. My sister and I immediately ditched all other plans and went to our parent’s house to spend some time with Muffin. My parents had set her up in a 3-story cat condo so she could move around a bit and still have all of the things she needed (food, water, kitty litter) close by. As I reached in to pet her now-scraggly fur, my mind flashed back to all of the times we shared, and for one sliver of time I was 5 years old again, and life stretched ahead of us. How I longed to turn back the clock and bring back the Muffin of our childhood!

We spent the day petting her, reminiscing, and telling her how much we loved her. The next day, my brother went over to visit with her. And by early Monday morning, she was gone. When the phone rang at 4:30 a.m., we hurried over to my parent’s house to say our final goodbyes. Wrapped up in one of our old receiving blankets, she looked so beautiful and peaceful. I held her and kissed her, and thanked her for all of the years of love that she gave us. My mom truly believes that Muffin held on until my brother came to see her before she left us; that she wanted to see all of us for one final time. I believe it too. She wanted us to come full circle as a family — from that long-ago summer evening on our front porch, to the chilly fall morning when we said our farewell —for the briefest of moments, it was the six of us again.

It’s impossible to enumerate all the ways in which she affected my life; that list would be far too long. But I carry with me all of the lessons and gifts she gave me, and know that I am a better person for having known and loved her. She taught me that love can be found in the most wonderful of places, and in a myriad of ways, you just have to be open to it. And what better lesson is there than that?