A Lesson in Communication
By Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann
I have had many experiences of “knowing” what my dog was thinking but there was one episode when communication went beyond knowing and it transformed our relationship. My husband, Rob, and I obtained our dog from the Pawtucket animal shelter when she was eight months old.
In her short lifetime, this beautiful Border Collie mix had lived with three families but each one had given her up. Among the complaints of the last family was that she had jumped on the dining room table. At the shelter, she “auditioned” well, sitting and holding Rob’s hand and even rolling on her back so he could rub her tummy. We were smitten. When we brought her home, we gave her a new name, Emma, to give her a fresh start and began crate training as well as obedience training.
Emma could be very sweet but she was more often quite a handful. When she wanted her way, she would jump and nip at me. That first summer, I had black and blue marks all over my arms from her assaults. Once during a practice training session, she turned, began tugging on my shirt and ripped it beyond repair. This was one time when I was truly afraid of her. One afternoon, she was out of control, and I decided to put her in her crate for a time-out that I felt we both needed. I went to grab her collar, and she turned her head. I thought she was going to bite me but instead she looked directly into my eyes.
It was then that I felt a barrage of emotions from her. She was angry and she was scared. She was angry at the people who had had her before and abandoned her, and she was scared that it was going to happen all over again. I heard in my mind “Why don’t you get rid of me; everyone else does?” I was shocked because I knew I hadn’t thought that but had actually heard it. I’d heard it from my dog.
Up until that point, I had always thought of Emma as a good-natured dog with some behavioral problems. Now I saw her for what she was: a scared, wounded spirit who was having great difficulty in trusting. Now I saw that behind the smile she often exhibited were layers of pain. I understood that she believed that this relationship was going to end as all the others had, so why not be bad and get it over with. I was truly stunned by this revelation. I didn’t put her in her crate that day. Instead I sat with her for a long time and thought about how I could help her learn to trust.
After that incident, I spoke out loud to her often about how Rob and I were in it for the long haul, how we wouldn’t give her up no matter what. I learned to respect her intelligence and her sensitivity. I worked on getting her to trust me, and I honored that trust by never betraying it. I wouldn’t lie to her. I’d tell her the truth. If I was going to be gone a few hours, I wouldn’t tell I’d be right back.
Slowly many changes took place. She learned to trust. I saw her stop and think before she acted up or acted out. Slowly she stopped being angry. Her eyes became softer. The smile on her face truly became a smile of contentment. Four years later, Emma is a different dog but I also believe that I am a different companion to her. Together we have forged a deeper bond for which I am truly grateful.
by Angela Mark
Last October, my dog Mani of 14.5 years had to be put down due to her losing control of her legs. Needless to say it was the hardest decision and saddest day of my life. I picked her out from her litter when she was a month old, bringing her home at 2 months. We had a very strong bond that even went as far as her singing in tune whenever I played my flute.
My main solace during this time was a dream that I had three months before Mani died. In my dream Mani was a young girl of about 13 who knew she was dying and was spending her time saying goodbye to her family and friends. She was very happy and told me not to worry, that it was time and that I had served my purpose and she had fulfilled hers. I told her that I loved her and how much I would miss her. But she didn’t seem to be upset about dying and leaving this Earth. She just kept on saying how happy her life was and that she was at peace. It was time for her to go to the next level.
I am very thankful for having had this dream. It eased the pain of her death, knowing that her life was one of joy not only for myself but for her and that she was ready to go onto the next stage without fear. The most precious thing that I learned from my dog is to live in the present even in the face of death.
by Anne L. Deminoff
Four fancy chickens live outside the big, yellow house at the end of the street. My dog Samantha and I walk by the house every few days. The yard is big for this small port city. The chickens, allowed here because there have always been chickens at this address, strut under the large bushes that shelter the front of the house. When the dog approaches the chain link fence that surrounds the yard, the four hens move, all of a bustle, clucking softly. They do not flap or squawk. They simply and quietly disperse.
Next to the front steps of the house there is a tall shrub called a Rose of Sharon. I had to look up the name of this plant at the library. Sam, my mini-dachshund, has no need for horticultural guides. It is a human trait to name things. But if Sam were not with me on these walks, I doubt I would notice the Rose of Sharon or the hens’ subtle retreat.
I know the world mostly by what I see, but Samantha knows with her nose. As we leave on a walk, she pees on the lightly- scented artemesia that sticks out between the pickets of the fence and onto the cobblestone sidewalk. When we return she is looking to pee on the fragrant geraniums that skirt the patio, but she decides to roll in these instead, crushing them with her small, compact body. I am not happy about this, but the smell that rises from the flattened leaves is strong and spicy and delicious.
I had always thought Sam rolled in flowers, in feces, in carrion to obliterate those scents and leave her own behind, to mark her territory. Reading a dog care manual,1 I learned that Sam rolls in strong-smelling things to mask her own distinctive scent so that predators will lose track of her.
One day on a walk after a storm, Sam stopped to poke around at the base of a tree in front of the Catholic church. I’d never been so close to this tree before and was startled by the blue-green lichen, a large, webby variety and another more delicate, lacy type, growing on the trunk. I wondered, to appreciate the natural world as Sam does, did I really have to know the names of everything?
Last spring, along a busy street with tenements close to the road, Sam discovered a very small garden between two asphalt driveways. Each time we pass this space, Sam stops to paw in the mulch and I rub the leaf of a peppermint plant between my fingers. In late summer, I notice that the peppermint has blossomed soft spikes of purple-white flowers.
On our walks, Sam finds very unlovely things, too: garbage, other dogs’ poop, the torn and bloody wing of a bird. She sniffs everything, indiscriminately. In her no-nonsense approach, she does not put a rosy sheen on the face of nature. She examines it all, the flowers, the dung, the bones, the tiny mosses. She leaves it to us humans to name, to interpret, to judge.
Along the front of St. Patrick’s School there’s a low wall Sam likes to jump up on. There are no plantings in front of the school. The space between the wall and the brick building is filled in with asphalt. There are three sets of concrete steps, the sidewalk, the curb, the street. Not long ago, as Sam jumped up on the little wall, I realized that the asphalt was gone and, in its place, were beds of soil. Next we saw juniper bushes had been planted. I was delighted. Sam is not so emotional about these changes. Paddling along the wall, she stops to walk into the new, soft dirt. She squats to pee.
The evergreen shrubs in front of St. Pat’s turned brown in the August sun. I worried for them. Sam was indifferent. She continues to sniff out the natural places in this urban spot where we live. And together we re-discover the world after a heavy rain, a summer drought, or a mid-winter thaw.
1. Matthew Hoffman, ed., Dogs: The Ultimate Care Guide, Rodale, 1998
A Baby Goose Called Special
by Mary F. Follett
While raising our four children, we had the privilege of homesteading on a thirty acre farm we named Promised Acres. One morning while I was in the cellar doing my laundry, one of my daughters came running into the house. She was screaming, “Special is dying, Mom!”
Now, having the grand total of about one hundred animals, my brain had to register which one was called Special. You see, each of our animals always was given a name. Special was my baby goose I loved so much. Before I explain what happened to our baby goose, I would like to tell you how we obtained him and a little of his short life.
One day my husband came home from work with three geese. We named them Gander and his two girls. The man that gave them to us felt they had already been bred. Geese need water to mate. We did not have a pond…yet.
Gander felt he owned our farm. He would see me at a distance and would chase me. Myself, having been raised in the city, would run. Finally, one day as I stood on the top of the round picnic table, I explained the facts of life to Gander. I told him I had two 23 foot freezers in the cellar. If he chased me one more time, this is where he would end up. I could tell by the way he looked at me, he finally understood.
Soon we had three eggs. Only one survived. We named him Special. It was a pleasure watching him grow. One day as I left to do some shopping, I promised my geese I would bring them home a pool. I can still see them watching me drive out the long driveway. The pools were a little more than I expected. I quickly exclaimed to the sales person, “I could not go home without one, since I had promised my geese one.” The expression on his face was one to be remembered.
Every day, Gander, the girls and Special would come to my back stairs and I would give them some bread. As I would talk to Special, he would come toward me. The older geese would say something and he would back off. I always just wanted to reach out and touch him.
But every animal story has its joys and its sorrows, just as life does. With my daughter’s calling, I ran outside, checked my goose and did some phone calling. It appeared he had eaten a poisonous mushroom. When it seemed as there was not any hope I picked him up and sat in the middle of the driveway. I told him how I had always wanted to touch him. My in-laws were there at the time. They could never understand why we had so many animals or how we loved them so. My mother-in-law saw the goose messing on my lap and felt the germs would end up killing her grandchildren. All I could think about was when Jacqueline Kennedy held her dying husband’s head in her lap, blood spilling all over her dress.
By now I was really crying, the tears streaming down my face. Gander approached me and put his head right up to my face. He seemed to be looking at my tears. My husband started toward him. I remarked, “He is okay. He will not hurt me.” I then laid my goose down in the driveway where he started to have convulsions. The three other geese gathered around him with their wings outstretched. A protected circle of love. When the end came for our Special goose my 16-year-old son said he would bury him. As I looked out of my kitchen window, I watched my son bury our little goose with tears streaming down his face.
Every day for two weeks I watched the three geese go to the spot where we buried Special. It seemed to be about the same time of day he had died. I realized then how much animals could love and did grieve, as we do. Last year I was talking to one of my daughters about the death of our goose. She told me at that time she was on top of one of the buildings, and a white cloud had come down over Special and myself. I can believe this. It felt like such a holy and sacred time in my life.
I grew up with my Dad always telling me, “Mary, if you want to really know about life, watch the animals.” He was so right. They have so much to teach us. If we would only take the time to watch and listen.
Mary Follett is a Reiki Master and teacher.
“Grande” Prize Winners
Mrs. Agnes Spratt of Whitinsville, MA tells us that her two tabby cat brothers, Tiger and Blondie, aged 13, are 25 and 16 pounds respectively!
They each eat only one can of cat food daily, with an occasional nibble of crunchies, and have always been fairly healthy.
Every morning, the brothers eat about half of the food from their separate dishes side by side, then switch bowls to finish the second half of their meal! They have never been outdoors since the day they were brought home from the shelter, yet are completely content in the indoor world they have come to know and love so well.
When Mrs. Spratt was unable to climb stairs a few years ago due to ill health, Tiger and Blondie just seemed to know exactly what to do without prompting. The litter box in the upstairs bathroom was used exclusively for “light duty” jobs while the basement box became the place reserved for “heavy duty” use.
Although Tiger is not people-friendly, he enjoys sitting on the vanity and picking up a toothbrush daily when his mistress does! Can you top that?!
My Dog the Zen Master
by Steven Munn
I’ve heard from great speakers of truth that “to go far we must start near.” To understand the world we live in we must begin with ourselves and what is around us. So instead of traveling off to some distant part of the world to learn life’s mystery, I start here at home, studying life with my golden retriever Molsun.
I often wonder about the life of animals. They seem to know a secret about living that we obviously have forgotten. I notice that my dog seems happier than I am. Here I am with all my worldly goods, cable TV, sports cars, fancy dinners, constant entertainment, etc. I have added so many things to my life to become happy and content, yet I still feel empty and a sense of something missing. At first I think that I’m different; everyone else seems to be happy. Then I start to become aware that this feeling of separation and being different is really an illusion. Truth is, we all suffer.
Here’s my dog who owns nothing, yet he seems to have everything. Everyone is his friend. He puts smiles on even the saddest of faces. I always notice how people respond to him, the smiles and love that he receives. I’m not even sure the Pope has felt such love. What is so special about this dog that turns grown women back into playful young girls? As a puppy he had the power to empty entire buildings of people to come and greet him. People that he had never met before let him lick their face (and God only knows where that tongue had been!)
He has boundless energy ready to be tapped day or night. He can pee or take a poop anytime the need arises. I just follow him around and clean up after him. He doesn’t have to work, do chores or even clean up after himself. I sometimes wonder who’s the boss, him or me? I see some of the things he does and shake my head in amazement, and sometimes in total disgust. He will poop on the floor, pee on the wall, hump my leg and eat my lunch, yet in short order, all is forgotten and forgiven. How can he get away with all this? He must be some sort of God. I know I could never do the things he does and get away with it.
I am envious. I want to know his secret. After all, I work very hard to be successful and well-liked. He seems to do it effortlessly. It’s totally natural to him. Is part of the secret of mankind’s search for happiness and peace found in the life of a furry litter-box-eater, tongue-hanging, drooling, leg-humping dog? Could this dog really be a Zen master and show me some of the great truths to enlightenment?
Dog Secret #1: Live totally in the moment.
Molsun doesn’t seem to have any choice here. He knows nothing of the past or future, so every moment is new and fresh to him. He’s able to experience things as they are without the constant labeling, measuring and judging that humans engage in, so he is able to always see things for real.
Dog Secret #2: Give loyalty and trust.
Dogs are well known for their loyalty to their master. Give trust and be loyal to others and it will come back to you.
Dog Secret #3: Choose unconditional love.
We are so fortunate to be with animals that can show us the beauty and power of unconditional love, which we’ve forgotten. Our so-called love is conditional and based on how much we earn, how we look, what we say and do — all about what’s on the outside. Animals see us for who we truly are on the inside: beings of love.
Dog Secret #4: Forgive and forget.
This is a most amazing ability. We can all lose our patience with our furry friends and yell at them. They have such a graceful way of letting us know. “I know I ticked you off. I’ll bow my head and go lay down somewhere.” Minutes later they are at your side wanting to be buds again. All is forgotten. They have forgiven themselves and you. We all have been hurt or yelled at by someone. We know how difficult it can be to let go of painful hurts and memories. Forgive yourself and others every day and be free. My dog does.
Dog Secret #5: Let your life be filled with simple pleasures.
It really doesn’t matter what time it is or when I saw him last, my dog is always happy to see me, even if it was ten minutes ago. The greeting is always “hello” and never “goodbye” because he knows of no past or future, so every time he sees me it’s fresh excitement all over again. He takes complete pleasure in the smallest and simplest of activities. Chasing a ball or going for a walk is loads of fun. If a dog is not abused or conditioned in negative ways he will enjoy much peace and joy. He doesn’t carry the burdens of the past or anxieties of the future to steal away his energy. I know how much energy is drained away in my life in the continuing stream of thoughts that pour into my head over conditions I have no immediate control over. When I see a young dog playing, running and loving life the way he does, I know he’s got a secret that I don’t know. Why do we suffer so? Am I not more intelligent than a dog? Why is my dog happier than I am?
The same intelligence that is in a dog, is also in man and in everything. This supreme intelligence is with us always. It lies deep within us, covered and buried by years of our thoughts, beliefs, self images, traditions, superstitions, etc. Recognizing this beautiful, vibrant intelligence in a loving dog or a newborn baby is the first step in freeing your self. See the freedom that lies in that intelligence, the love, joy and peace. See that it does exist.
Dog Secret #6: Cultivate boundless energy.
Thoughts carry weight. They make us dense and tired. My dog has amazing energy ready to be tapped day or night. Of course he doesn’t have a job to work or kids to raise. But it’s really not the job or kids that tucker us out. It’s all the mental images that we carry around about these situations that are the real drain. We’ve all had days where we’ve worked our tails off and it felt great. We’ve also had days where we do very little work but have an unhealthy mental day. How exhausting! All those mental images are like a whole lot of baggage. Lessen the anxiety load and you will find yourself with more energy. We came into the world with nothing, we leave it the same way.
Dog Secret #7: You are born perfect.
Does your dog question who he is? Of course not! He’s perfectly content being who he is because he knows nothing else. Humans, on the other hand, get stuck in an identity crisis because we’re told almost from birth that we’re “not enough” in some way or other. We’re born perfect little babies (if you don’t believe it just ask most moms!) then we forget who we are. We are born whole, free and happy. Put a group of young children together with all different backgrounds and races and what do they do? They play, just like our furry friends do. We are happy, loving and perfect beings from birth. Create your life from there. Our animal companions have many special secrets to show us. Enjoy every moment of your time together.
A Familiar Presence
by Ken Ebert
I’m thinking that resonant quantum holograms were at work in the experience I had last week. Simply put: the cat came back. Garf died almost two months ago, at age 17. She was an old friend, and I was with her at her birth.
A week ago Sunday, I was up during the night. The house was silent. While in the kitchen, without the light on, I smelled a familiar aroma. It stopped me in my tracks, leaving me forgetting what I was doing. I began to work my nostrils like a cat does, and the smell intensified. I followed it to determine if it was a physical manifestation, and found that the dispersal pattern was indeed physically correct. The aroma was that of Garf’s breath.
I felt her presence strongly. I knew that smell intimately from countless times I had rubbed noses with the cat. It was not just a cat smell, it was distinctly her respiration. In analyzing it, I instantly realized that if she had brushed up against my leg, or had meowed, my innate skepticism would have passed it off as imagination. But the aroma of her respiration was unmistakable.
Garf was a familiar to me, in the magickal sense. So when I realized that she was visiting me in spirit, I wanted to see why she was there at that time. I walked into the living room, still in the dark, and asked her to allow me to see as she sees now, in her noncorporeal state. The request arose intuitively without decision on my part. Instantly, I felt huge. The perspective of the room morphed in my vision until I felt myself as larger than the room. The room looked tiny, and I was still aware of my body’s actual physical size. A feeling of awe enveloped me. I can honestly say that I felt more real than I usually do. All of the items in the room had a faint glow to them.
But the most amazing thing was the feeling of gentleness I was experiencing. I felt that I was so large, and so powerful, that I had no need to be anything other than gentle! In gentleness, grace, and confidence, I had nothing to fear, there in the dark room. Our fears live in the dark places in our lives. Cats are at home in the dark, because they have more rods in the retinas of their eyes than humans do. At my behest, Garf showed me how it feels to be powerful.
This leads me to speculate on the archetypal significance of my spirit encouter. Garf’s sense of smell carried her through when her blindness set in. She appealed to my sense of smell when she came to me that night. Her blindness was a result of a degenerative heart condition. When we are not fully centered in the love that flows through our hearts we experience fear. And in fear we cannot see clearly. Garf showed me how much power is present when one rises above doubts, and then above fears. The darkness is still here, but gentleness opens the heart to a place that is larger than the fears. So the fears need not be banished nor extinguished. They can stay.
While she was still alive, toward the end of her life, Garf would often howl in the night. It was a soul-wrenching sound that I now know was a vocalization of the fear she had from her weak heart and blind eyes. But beyond that howling, she was as gentle and as peaceful as could be. I know now that she chose the love instead of the fear; and that she only howled to let the fear out, and to keep it from consuming her.
These are lessons that I learned from the spirit of a beautiful being.
Ken can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Namaste.
Magical Whale Family Reunion
by Teresa Wagner
I just recently returned from my fifth trip to Silver Bank, 90 miles off shore from the Dominican Republic, to swim with humpback whales. Humpbacks are teachers, healers and ancestors to me. I revere them probably more than any beings on Earth. Being with them, so close, in their water home, brings me back to the place of purity of heart, to purity of love. When I am with the whales, I know God. When I am with the whales, I know the deepest peace of the universe. When I am with the whales, I exist once again in the deepest sanctuary of my soul.
I was honored and privileged to spend a week not only with these magnificent whale beings, but with a group of loving, joyful, open hearted humans with whom to share the experience. In the water with the whales, we floated directly above them as they lay right underneath us, still so trusting, gently accepting our love. In the water with the whales, we heard them sing, feeling the reverberation of their song reaching not only our ears but our souls. As one group member exuberantly exclaimed as her head popped back above the water, “Oh my God I heard the whales sing and it wasn’t on a CD!!!!!!” Yes, it was live, it was real and it changed us all.
One day when we saw a mom, calf and escort up close several times, I somehow fell in love with this particular baby. I kept exclaiming over and over again how beautiful she was. They’re all beautiful, of course, but this one was special to me in a way I had not felt before. I just knew there was an old, deep connection between this huge whale child and me. Just as I thought this, I heard her say, “Of course you recognize me. I have been your baby here in these waters many, many times. I am a calf again now, but we have long ago shared many lives, much whale time together. I am here now again to say hello, to bring you my love, to help you remember even more deeply how powerful love is.” With each word I remembered our history and was consumed with the power of love from a whale, with a whale. I was home. “Come to me my baby, come be close to me, come to me, my baby,” I whispered from my heart to hers.
Up she came from under her mother, slowly, gracefully almost imperceptibly moving as only a humpback whale can do, until she was next to me with only a yard or two between us. Our bodies glided ever so slowly in the same direction, side by side, eye to eye. When she changed her body direction, I changed mine. When she surfaced to breathe, I surfaced to breathe above water also. When she came back down, I came back down. With her, I was a whale. Minutes passed. Time stood still. For the first time in all the years of my encounters with them, I experienced the extraordinary phenomena of being in the water with these huge, powerful and oh-so-gentle animals as not an extraordinary experience, but simply as a normal one, as real life as it should be. I was calmly present. Being with this beautiful, perfect fifteen-foot calf was the most real thing I have ever experienced. Stroking her aura with Reiki and Therapeutic Touch seemed as normal as petting my cats. The magnetic pull between us was as natural and palpable as the pull between lovers in the moment before they kiss. Baby and I were one. I felt like we were dancing. It was that same feeling I have in my dance class when movement of my body becomes one with my soul, only this was about one hundred times more wonderful. Oh yes, I was home, within myself and with this perfect whale, and with the whole universe.
When her mother began rising, all fifty feet of her, she, too, slowly glided right next to me, eye to eye, thanking me for loving her child, and blessing me with her great love in return. My heart was as full as it’s ever been in my life. Just as she began that slow, gentle turn to swim away she said with the energy of a smile, “Remember? I am your sister many times from long ago. This time, the soul who had been your baby many times was now born through me. We enjoy this and are so pleased to meet with you again here, in our old home. We are both here now to be with you closely in this lifetime. We love you immensely.” In these few moments the truth of her words filled me. And then they were gone.
I couldn’t speak for a time when we got out of the water after this. Back on the Zodiac, as we cruised away, I began to sob and sob, taking it all in, feeling the full impact of such great love. Then yet another gentle gift of love for me — the soft hand of another person gently touching mine, a quiet gesture of support, of understanding, with a need for not one word. I love the whales, but I love humans too. To have love with both is heaven.
“And all this happiness in the sea, in the salt, where God is also love, but without words.” — D. H. Lawrence, Whales Weep Not
Teresa Wagner takes groups of people to swim with the humpbacks every year in March.
by Terry Brodsky
make yourself comfortable, wherever you are
ask for what you need and want
express your displeasure for what you don’t want
not care what others think
take your time
enjoy the warmth of the sun
run from danger
look for challenges
listen to your body
lick yourself clean
know when you need to be alone
know when you want affection
know when you need to heal
purr when content
rub on someone’s leg when you’re happy to see them
greet a loved one with a nose kiss
stay clear of threatening people
love and be loved unconditionally
A Full Mouse House
by Chris Sideris
She was a small black mouse. Always sweet with the other mice, she cuddled up with them to sleep, welcomed new ones to the cage, and spent hours grooming one who was dying of cancer. Her passion was sunflower seeds, which she would delicately accept from our fingers. Holding one in both tiny paws, she would close her eyes and nibble with an ecstatic expression.
As time went on, she became old and then ill. Her shiny black fur fell out in patches. She developed lumps under the skin and her breathing was labored. Our vet did not have many treatment options for “pocket pets”. Shadow was uncomfortable, but she still loved her sunflower seeds and the attention of the other mouse friends. It did not seem right to put her to sleep yet.
I sat by her cage and watched her “be in the moment.” She would scratch at her lumps until they bled, and then relish a mouse treat. This little mouse was still living life to the fullest. I meditated on the compassion, caring, and honoring we all felt for her. Can I treat myself with equal compassion? Can I look at my self, my efforts and pain with compassion, love, and gentleness? Is it right to treat myself so severely and reserve compassion only for the suffering of others?
“Thank-you, Shadow. I will also enjoy the pleasures of the moment and shower compassion on the pain. Shadow, thank you for your lesson and your life.” Shadow died the next day.
Mama Mouse was an unwed teenage mother mouse. She came to our house from the pet store already pregnant. We thought she was just getting fat and lazy until 10 tiny pink newborns were heard squeaking from the cage. Mama Mouse tried to keep up with them. One couldn’t call her neglectful, but she clearly had her limits. She would nurse them all day and then drag herself away from the nest and fall in an exhausted heap where they couldn’t reach her. There she would sleep in heavy unconsciousness while the babies squeaked in protest.
Other Mouse came to the cage at the same time as Mama Mouse, and they quickly became best girl friends. While Mama Mouse put up with our attentions, Other Mouse clearly hated human beings. She would lay her ears back, narrow her eyes, and shrink away with a clear expression of distaste as we attempted to pet or play with her. She would never accept a treat from our fingers, no matter how delicious. Other Mouse adored Mama Mouse. They slept together, ran in the exercise wheel together and groomed each other. When the babies arrived, Other Mouse became the perfect nurse maid. She maintained the nest by moving hay and cotton fluff, placing each piece of hay with precise intention. She appeared so involved and particular, we thought of changing her name to Housekeeping Mouse. She groomed Mama Mouse with constant loving attention, and took over with the babies, cuddling and even nursing them while Mama slept.
As the babies grew older and began exploring their world, Mama Mouse and Other Mouse spent much of their time dragging them back to the safety of the fluff nest. Twelve mice is a lot for one cage! After growing soft fur and weaning, half of the babies were taken to the pet shop. The rest enjoyed a luxury life with comfortable fluff bedding, gourmet mouse food, good friends and entertainment in Lego mazes.
Then tragedy struck. The babies started to die. Suddenly, without apparent suffering, they dropped dead. One minute playing, the next minute, dead. Mama Mouse and Other Mouse were left alone, as before. They continued to spend all their time and activities together. Then Mama Mouse developed cancer, as mice frequently do. Other Mouse tended her with exquisite care, licking her tumors and keeping her warm. Mama Mouse was ill for a long time. She was so uncomfortable that it was a relief when she passed away on Christmas Eve.
Other Mouse was very quiet. She had always been a very strong, active, and healthy mouse, especially in contrast with the tiny babies and the wasted body of Mama Mouse with cancer. Now, it must have seemed to her that she was the only mouse left in the world. All she loved had died. Now it was just her and the hated human beings. Other Mouse stayed quietly in her house and died a week later on New Year’s Day.
Tribute to Rocky
by Terry Kelly
This is my tribute to Rocky, a brindle boxer, who was irreplaceable. He died Sunday, June 29th, at the age of eight and a half, in the arms of his best friend, his hero, his idol and the man who returned his unconditional love in countless ways. It is impossible to describe the relationship between my husband and Rocky. They shared a language that was their own. They seldom left each other’s side. Throughout the construction industry in Missoula, Montana, where we resided at the time, Rocky was known as my husband’s “assistant.” Our acquaintances as well as business associates knew him as one of our “children.”
Steve and Rocky were inseparable within the first month that Rocky joined our family. I rescued him from a mall pet store, where at 7 weeks, he had been separated from his sister who had just been adopted. Rocky looked like a cross between ET and a gremlin. My daughter and I were shopping for that very special gift for my husband’s fortieth birthday. Until Rocky was in my arms, snorting and nuzzling my neck, wrapping his awkward boxer’s paws around my neck, I had never considered buying a dog. But, this affection I was receiving was too enticing. My daughter, too, was smitten.
When Steve arrived home that evening his first encounter with Rocky was seeing this alien-like creature with a huge red ribbon tied around its neck ambling — no, lunging toward him — slobbering and wiggling. (He had no tail, therefore his hind quarters would wiggle out of control). The first question from my husband’s mouth was, “What in the world is that?” And so began Rocky’s seventh week on Earth and Steve’s fortieth birthday. The connection between them would reduce my husband to a blithering idiot, crawling around on all fours, snorting and wiggling just like Rocky, the two so caught up in this display of affection, nothing could interrupt them.
Our older cats were very unimpressed by this monstrous noisy beast, who ate their food as well as his own and would curiously stick his flat nose into their faces to sniff them. I’ve often wondered if Rocky thought of himself as a cat. When we brought home two new kittens who had lost their mom before being weaned, they immediately adopted this hulking beast as their substitute mom, nuzzling against him for warmth and security. Although Rocky wasn’t crazy about this situation, he would resign himself, usually with a look toward one of us and then a loud sigh.
Often Rocky would elicit comments from people regarding his beautiful coat and his athletic build, even after arthritis began to affect his knees. But the comments we would hear most often were those about his eye contact with them and with us. He seemed to speak with his eyes. He related to everyone around him. He expected love from everyone because it’s all he ever knew. Rocky gave love with a vengeance. He loved his own life with as much vengeance.
He struggled off and on with cardiomyopathy, a heart condition. Nourished by homecooked meals and Steve’s Reiki and massage treatments, Rocky defied the vet’s predictions by living an additional year, even with seizures. Many times he would seem close to death and yet just as we were accepting it as an inevitability, he would rally once again to enjoy another homecooked meal.
Quite suddenly, his seizures became frequent. He was tired of the fight. He said goodbye to me by placing his head in my lap after one of his last seizures.
He looked at me for a long time and stood very still. He knew it was time to go. During our trip to the vets to administer a shot to simply end things as humanely as we could, he rode in the back with my husband. They held each other. My husband spoke to him softly and gently, letting him know that it would all be over soon, that he would suffer no more wracking seizures.
At the vet’s office, it was too difficult to watch this administration of death, but Steve bravely stayed. He held Rocky in his arms as he had so many times. Rocky nuzzled Steve’s neck. He was where he loved to be — in Steve’s arms. He died with grace and dignity.
The legacy of Rocky is that he gave and he gave and he gave — constant amusement, gentle kind-heartedness and marvelous love through his spirit of greatness. He loved life. He loved us. He even loved the cats. But more than all of that he loved Steve, his dearest and most excellent friend.
Cassie, A Pembroke Welsh Corgi
by Mary McIntosh
I knew the moment she was born that she was special. I owned her mom, or perhaps should say she owned me. Clara was a funny, naughty Corgi. She brought charm and laughter into my life. She was easily adored. Her litter of puppies came on a Saturday morning in February in northern New Hampshire. She had some difficulty and had to be rushed to the vet’s office — it looked like it would be a C section — but at the last minute she delivered her first puppy. She had seven puppies.
Cassie was the fifth one born, but she immediately stood out. Clara was a black headed tri-color. In her litter, she had four tri’s and three red and white. Cassie was a red and white and she had a big white stripe down her nose. The veterinarian’s daughter just loved her, holding her when she was only a few minutes old. She ended up with perhaps a little more white, finer bone and a narrow chest, but worst of all for showing in the show ring, she had the most gorgeous blue eye, a fault in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi but not the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. The eye was so blue it was like looking into the depths of the sea. I, however, thought she was beautiful, so she stayed with me. Everyone who came to the house to see the puppies was drawn to her. She was picked up and cuddled the most, although we made sure everyone had their share of loving. Corgies are fun loving creatures, and having three together always kept me hopping.
When Cassie was four, I decided I needed to look into some obedience training. Our local kennel club, which I was a member of, was lacking an obedience instructor. Another club member agreed to give classes if we could find a space to do it. After research, we came up with a local town hall. Cassie and I went along. Not only did the classes include obedience training, but the instructor introduced the topic of pet therapy to us as well. Cassie was great with everything, although I’m wasn’t so sure about myself, going from obedience training to pet therapy. Pet therapy was a new program at that time, but after a lot of convincing to the administration of area nursing homes, our program got started. We loved it.
Several times a week we visited local nursing homes and hospitals. We added a school program, visiting schools throughout the county, even going as far as Maine to teach Responsible Pet Ownership. Cassie loved the visits, although I think she loved our private time together more. All I had to do was pick up her special collar and tags and she would be excited. Upon our return home she would show off for her brother and mother, as they would be a little put out that she got to go off alone.
In our pet therapy work, Cassie would be quiet and patient. I became a hospice volunteer and brought her along. Her calm, sweet quiet way brought peace to a dying patient. Many asked to just have her sit with them. We would sit vigils for those in the last stages of dying. She always seemed to have a sense of just what was needed. I had been introduced to Reiki and had Cassie attuned as well. The Reiki energy always brought a peaceful transition.
There are many stories of our visits. On one of our visits we met a woman just lying in her bed, unable to move. She was just staring at the ceiling. The larger dogs had gone up to her bed but she could not move to see them. I picked Cassie up and placed her hand on Cassie’s head. As I was about to leave I noticed a tear running down her face. This woman became special to us so we brought a picture of Cassie to place beside the bed. Her first movement was just the small finger trying to pat her but she improved over the next couple of months. On our last visit with her, she was happy. Upon our return the following week, we learned she had another massive stroke and died. I was saddened by the news, but I knew in my heart our visits brought joy and comfort in the last few months of her life.
Cassie passed away in the way she had lived. At the age of fourteen, she developed cancer. After one surgery, she rallied but the biopsy showed the cancer had spread. My special girl was tired. An animal communicator was able to help me through this difficult time, and I was able to honor Cassie’s wishes. She remained happy and caring throughout all of our time together. The day she passed away we held our vigil together, along with a new cat that Cassie had sent to me to help me with the loss. She taught me to listen and communicate with her as well. The love in her eyes as she looked at me just before she slipped into a coma remains forever in my heart. Her transition was peaceful.
Since her passing, I see her in meditation or in a dream. She is always in a beautiful meadow looking out for me. I feel she is my guide as she comes to me often. She reminds me to remember the joy!
Dr. Curtis, the Rabbit Therapist
by Dr. Blair Barone
It has been said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. And in this case, the teacher was a rabbit. A seven pound, black, floppy-eared, Holland Lop Rabbit. I rescued him from the MSPCA because his time was up. It was summer and the shelter was busting at the seams with unwanted animals. Since he had been there the longest and was older than the other rabbits, he was next to go. Knowing that, I adopted him sight unseen. Not because he was cute, my favorite color, or any of those other external criteria that people have when selecting a pet. I just wanted to save a life…never knowing, that in the end, he was the real life saver.
Shortly after I adopted Curtis — a name given to him by a rescue worker — he became ill with a throat abscess. Because of the amount of care he required to heal from this, having to be hand-fed every two hours, I brought him to work with me. Little did I know that this was his way of getting his lucky rabbit’s foot through my office door. My work would never be the same again — luckily for the children and me.
What better place to find a bunny rabbit than in a child psychologist’s office! Curtis was well received by all. And why not?
Children readily identify with animals due to their vulnerable, innocent and dependent natures. In no time my office became a shrine to Curtis. The children were bringing him drawings and art projects they made in his honor. And yes, there was the occasional head of broccoli, bundle of parsley and carrot.
Over the next three months while Curtis recovered, I brought him to work with me every day. I put a litter box with hay, water and a food bowl in my office so he was comfortable there (yes, he was litter box trained). But what made Curtis feel right at home was the children. He adored them and they him. He enjoyed entertaining and charming them with how smart and clever he was. He especially loved the look of surprise on their faces to see him play with his toys. Actually, it was more like showing off. Yes, rabbits love to play. No session was complete without Curtis and the children engaging in a few games of toss. Curtis would pick up one of his toys with his teeth and toss it in the air to the child. And back and forth they went.
Curtis knew he had a purpose in my office far beyond his own recovery. He was there for the children. He was there to help guide every exchange of feelings and energy so that all was for the highest good of the children. Eventually, I would figure this out. And when I did, those three months would turn into three long, magical, amazing, precious, wonderful and blessed years.
I soon recognized that the children were coming into the office not to talk with me, but to have their therapeutic session with Curtis. The children were completely drawn to him. While I sat in my chair, the children would lay quietly on the floor with Curtis, holding him as they stroked his head and ears. The atmosphere was serene. I strongly intuited there was something very profound and healing during their time together. I didn’t know exactly what was happening. I just knew that the children needed to spend time with Curtis in this way. So I let them be. And I was deeply grateful to Curtis for what he so knowingly gave them.
At first I felt having Curtis in my office was a perfect opportunity for the animal rights activist side of me to shine and educate people about what wonderful indoor companion animals rabbits make and the importance of supporting one’s local humane societies. Many families did adopt rabbits and sought my advice on how to properly care for them. I was thrilled to know that we had helped give many rabbits a second chance.
However, Curtis’s presence with the children was having a transformative impact. In no time he proved to be the perfect therapeutic tool for a child psychologist’s office and my secret weapon against whatever was hurting them. With Curtis by their side, children were sharing stories they had never spoken of with anyone before, stories concerning their darkest fears and saddest memories. Curtis provided the safe and loving atmosphere that was needed for these stories to be heard, a job for which he was well suited, especially with his extra long beautiful, velvety smooth, floppy ears.
Curtis also helped to heal many a grieving heart. Children started to share stories about pets they had lost. I was surprised to learn how many children were silently grieving these losses. One youngster reported having lost 16 pets in a matter of a few years. Hamsters, lizards, dogs, cats, and birds. He had never been helped to grieve the loss of his treasured pets explaining that his parents said “It’s not important…they’re just animals.” This child shared his own deep fear, that if he died, his parents wouldn’t miss him either. Another child shared his fear that his parents would “get rid” of him like they did his two pet mice. He feared becoming a burden to his family like his mice who, he was told, “ate too much.” The stories were endless.
Curtis’s most challenging and profound healing case was that of a 10-year-old girl. She had a long history of severe physical and sexual abuse and psychological neglect. As a result, this young girl had major issues with trust such that she would not allow herself to get close to anyone, including Curtis. Unlike the other children who were eager to cuddle Curtis, she had a great deal of fear and anxiety about being in the same room with him. It took many months before this young victimized child would allow herself to sit near Curtis. It took even longer before she felt safe enough to touch him.
She often hid her vulnerability by teasing and playing tricks on Curtis, a defensive coping style common among children who have been severely hurt to the point of victimization. Her antics went as far as wearing a long rabbit fur coat to one of her appointments. Her decision to wear this particular coat symbolically told us how raw and naked she truly felt from all of the hurt she had experienced over the years. She wore her vulnerability on her sleeve that day, an event which marked a turning point in her treatment. Little did I know what transformative healing had been occurring through her interactions with Curtis.
After a year of working together, we were ready to say good-bye and we had our last appointment. Unlike all of her previous appointments where she came with her bag of tricks, she came to this one with a gift: a necklace she had made for Curtis. The necklace consisted of cubes with letters painted on them. Together the letters read, “You know you are somebody when some bunny loves you.” This said it all.
At moments such as this one above, I completely recognized that Curtis’s presence in my office was no accident. It was no accident that I adopted him and it was no accident that he got sick the way he did. I recognized then that it was Curtis who was holding the children during their appointments, not the children holding him. And while in his healing embrace, the children were able to free their hearts of pain.
Curtis taught me through his relationships with the children that it takes someone very different from our selves for us to stop and hear, and ironically, to help us learn how to trust. By relating to Curtis, the children were able to open up their hearts to themselves with confidence. Curtis came into my life to help serve, teach and love, and we rescued and healed many broken, wounded little hearts. We did it together, so his name was added to the office directory. Listed underneath my name it read: “Dr. Curtis, Rabbit Therapist.” A title he well deserved. And a healing partnership which I am eternally grateful for.
Curtis was a regular at Open Doors in Braintree. He especially enjoyed the Dream Weaver with Linda Gibson, attending Tuesday night healings, Richard Lanza and Dee Jay Condon’s classes, and cuddling with Judy, the store manager. Dr. Curtis will soon have his own advice column for children on his web site and in the Rabbit Gazette Newsletter.
Rascal, the Dog-faced Boy
by Diane Dragoff
Rascal and I share a snack of grilled Swiss cheese sandwich. We have our late night routine down pat these days. He’s almost 16 years old. He’s been with me since he was a pound puppy, brought to a shelter by a kind woman who found him tied to a parking meter in Boston’s Back Bay section. Part border collie, part Lab, he was a little black and white puppy with big paws. A man who moved on after fifteen years brought Rascal into my life. Often times I think that the man came into my life to give me the gift of time with this wonderful creature. Even now, this dog looks at me with concerned, cataract-clouded, large, brown eyes, peering into my soul. Eyes that ask: Are you OK? Are you happy? Am I still doing a good job? I massage his neck and scratch his ears thinking of all he’s done through the years to make me and many others happy simply by being here.
He quickly learned the obligatory safety commands early on. Using his combined breeds’ instincts of herding and observation, he rounded up the condo court’s toddlers and used his late night walk as a patrol checking that everything was in order, seeming to count the parked cars to be sure that everyone was home. He allowed preteens to walk, groom and feed him as a step in convincing their parents that they could properly love and care for a dog of their own. He pleased adults with games of catch and fetch, as well as shaking hands.
He figured out amazing things on his own. How to climb a ladder, open an electric eye door and the exact position to wait for me on a trail so that he can be sure that I’m alright and also see what’s around the bend. He has a language of grunts, barks and soft yowls that convey his messages. He hums when he’s happiest. Other dogs need to be restrained; he seems to know when to join in and when to lie down quietly.
This animal companion has shared his love and time, asking nothing from me but food in his dish and water in his bowl, and my willingness to learn the lessons he has to teach me. Lessons of understanding that the thirst for learning and usefulness are not just human traits, and that love is unconditional. I’ve learned that unhappiness is unnecessary and stress can be relieved by a good dog-brushing. He demonstrates the origin of “downward facing dog” yoga asana and how to do it properly each morning, reminding me that some of us have to work hard to obtain what comes naturally to others.
I now spend more time tending to this elderly gentleman-dog’s physical care than playing and running with him. As we both grow older, the lessons I learn from him are more subtle and sublime. Every day is a gift to open and enjoy. It’s important to mindfully savor each day’s beginning, middle and end. Happiness is a slow walk through the neighborhood, a sniff of the breeze at the end of the sidewalk, the quiet anticipation on our ride to an early Sunday morning yoga class and the importance of sharing with a beloved friend.
by Roni DiComo
Clover was one of the sweetest, most charming ferrets who ever shared her life with me. She was healthy most of her life and died peacefully one morning after a very short illness. Although I knew she was alright, I still asked for a sign letting me know she was okay on the other side.
I specifically asked for a 4-leaf clover. As the day wore on, I forgot about it. That night, I dropped a friend off in Boston, someplace I rarely go. As I was waiting at a red light, a Boston fire truck drove by with an enormous 4-leaf clover painted on the side. I though, “Wow! Clover you did GREAT! What a wonderful sign!” I was so impressed, and of course,
I know she is doing just fine.
Submitted by Terry Brodsky
Alice Walker: “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites, or women for men.”
Albert Schweitzer: “Ethics are complete, profound and alive only when addressed to all living beings. Only then are we in spiritual connection with the world. Any philosophy not respecting this, not based on the indefinite totality of life, is bound to disappear.”
Mohandas Gandhi: “I want to realize a brotherhood or identity not merely with the beings called human, but I want to realize identity with all life, even with such things that crawl upon the earth.”
Jane Goodall: “Without peace, without quietness, there’s no way to have a real relationship with animals. You have to be quiet to be able to receive. You have to listen peacefully in order to understand.”
Chief Seattle: “What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die of a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.”
The Yin and Yang of Pets
by Ken Pratt
We may think of receiving unconditional love when we consider our pets and that’s a great blessing. But we also get the chance to give unconditional love, which is also a blessing. No matter how many pieces of furniture that get chewed on, how many plants and knick-knacks that get knocked over, our dogs and cats are still accepted, though perhaps with some “tough love” on those points, eh? Cleaning up after puppies, changing kitty litter and being there for them 24/7 (well, at least with dogs, maybe not the more independent felines) all qualify as humbling necessities. They teach us and we learn the lesson of interdependence. They depend on us for shelter, food and caring. We depend on them for a connection to Nature, for their unconditional love, for entertainment. The relationship is reciprocal and mutually enhancing.
Isn’t this why all cultures throughout all history have kept pets? From Neolithic times to the present day, wherever there are humans, there are animals. In Jean Auel’s provocative series, The Clan of the Cavebear, the heroine, Ayla, befriends, connects with and trains a horse and even a lion cub! To the prehistoric people she meets, this is amazing. Supernatural even! Consider the impact of the horse on the indigenous cultures of the plains. Before we humans went in to space, the final frontier, we sent dogs and chimpanzees, to boldly go where no human has gone before. Our cars are energized by horsepower. Once upon a time all cultures even worshipped animals as gods. Today they serve as mascots and symbols of power. They represent Nations (the American eagle, the Russian bear), social groups (the Fraternal Order of Elks, the Lions), sports teams (Bruins, Cardinals, even Mighty Ducks). The stock market can be bullish or bearish.
When anthropologists evaluate the stages of culture they see a quantum leap when people domesticated animals and settled down to agriculture.
This brings up perhaps a darker side of the relation — our dependence on animals for food and other necessities. Not only do we feed them, they feed us, clothe us and provide us with material comforts. They sacrifice their very lives for us. We have removed ourselves from this process. When was the last time we plucked a chicken, gutted a fish or brained a cow? We are so dependent on animals sacrificing themselves for us that we deny this dependence by removing it from our everyday awareness. Our food is processed, supposedly to maintain hygiene (which becomes questionable) and to assure a constant consumer supply which fosters further dependence on purveyors and distributors. We have lost a great deal by removing this dependency on animals from our consciousness.
In many indigenous cultures, when an animal is hunted it is an act of social significance. The spirit of the animal is thanked at the kill for giving up its life for the sake of the people. Throughout history, culture and animals have been entwined in a symbiotic relationship. So too, in future vision. In “Startrek: The Next Generation,” even Data, an android, has a cat.
Now look around your home. Where do you see the healing power of Nature? A few plants and your pets. That’s probably it. We insulate ourselves from the effects of Nature, but our pets encourage us to reconnect with that energy. Not only do they bring Nature in to our living spaces but they also bring us out in to Nature, even if it’s just the twice daily doggie walks to the little park in the big city, recycled plastic bags in hand. When a puppy curls up at your feet or a kitten purrs in your lap, it’s a small comfort in this world of IBMs, DVDs and SUVs. When birds chirp, even in their cages, we can be transported to the primeval woods or lush jungles. When fishes swim around in their tanks a peaceful calmness and other worldly feeling can relax us.
Our pets also bring us together with other humans. Whenever I walk my dog, Justice, we wind up meeting new people. Justice is 1/3 rottweiller, 1/3 doberman and 1/3 princess. She’s ninety pounds of love, friendliness, curiosity and affection all in a fur coat. Complete strangers will come up to her wag-tailed, sad-eyed self and start up a conversation with lots of touchy-feely stroking, not necessarily for me. I’m only there to hold up the other end of the leash, provide information on age, gender, breed and perhaps an entertaining story of her antics.
In this way I have met folks from all over the globe. A few of those acquaintances became friends. It would not be acceptable to walk up to a complete stranger and strike up a conversation out of the blue; intentions would be suspect. But our pets promote a certain friendliness and trust, creating a kinder, gentler culture of caring and affection. They are the Creator’s unique menagerie of healing assistants on this planet. So whether you let your tarantula crawl up your arm, watch the gruff detective Sipiwiecz dawdle over his fish or share the joyous event of the birth of a litter of kittens with your children, you get to share in the special unconditional love that the Creator has for us all.
Ken Pratt can be reached at email@example.com.