Ready to adopt again?

dog & person silhouette Image by Barbara Jackson from Pixabay

Image by Barbara Jackson from Pixabay

As an animal communicator, I walk with people and their animal friends through a lot of endings and beginnings.

The pain of loss is real and raw. It deserves respect. At the same time, you are here on earth with much love to give. Plenty of animals need loving homes.

Only you know whether and when to welcome another animal into your home, but here is my perspective along with a couple of things to consider.

Eight years ago this month, I lost my much-loved Idgie, the sweet diva of a tiger cat who inspired my first forays into animal communication and Reiki. Idgie had been sick, and she and I had been saying our see-you-laters for months. Deep down, I knew other feline friends would succeed her. At some point.

Idgie in cat bed 2007 crop

Idgie, 1996-2012

When I came home from the vet clinic and faced an Idgie-less, cat-less house, the pain hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. It was all I could do to survive in the moment, much less think about the future.

Not long afterward, I read about a horrific animal cruelty case in which fireworks were tied to a kitten’s tail. Something opened up within me, and I realized how much I wanted to give another kitty a home. And Idgie had trained me so well.

One afternoon, I sat on my back porch and took a few deep breaths. My partner and I planned to visit the city shelter the next day. It was only six weeks after Idgie’s passing — was it too soon?

I connected with Idgie in spirit and asked her to guide us to our next feline companion, whenever and wherever it would best happen. What I received was her classic ears-back expression and: “Right. Like I wouldn’t be involved in that decision.”

At the shelter, Kathy and I met several kittens, but none seemed especially interested in us. Then the volunteer brought out one who was about to go to a satellite adoption center. The four-month-old black tortie prowled around the adoption counselor’s office, trying to figure out where she was and why. Then she came and sniffed both of us, accepting the gentle pets we offered.

2012 Lucy on my desk chair crop

This is Lucy not long after we adopted her.

When I sensed the kitten was open to it, I gingerly picked her up. I commented on her distinctive coloring, notably the gold streak between her eyes that seemed to stop and resume on top of her head.

“Doesn’t it look like God came along with a paintbrush?” the volunteer said.

I held the kitten so that we were eye to eye. She reached out with one tiny black paw and patted my face.

We’d been chosen.

Did the joy of welcoming Lucy erase the hurt of losing Idgie? No. I still felt like crying every time I saw a tiger cat or a picture of one that reminded me of her. Lucy succeeded Idgie, but did not replace her. One being cannot truly replace another, and there’s no sidestepping grief if we are to love fully. While I continued to grieve for Idgie, my heart filled with gratitude for the love she had given me. That love enabled me to recognize the connection with Lucy, who needed a home as Idgie had.

The only thing I can imagine that’s worse than losing a pet is never having had that animal in my life. 

If you are struggling, or just wondering, here’s what I suggest:

  • Pay attention to your intuition. It’s hard to do this when you are in pain. But if you can, get quiet and ask yourself if it’s time to visit the animal shelter — or contact a rescue if you’re interested in a particular breed or type of animal. If you feel a lightness or sense of excitement and joy, that indicates a yes! If there’s a heavy, sad sensation, you might want to wait.
  • Adopt from a place of abundance, not lack. Another animal cannot truly replace the one you lost, or take away your pain. The last thing you want is to impose expectations on a new pet that are not about him or her at all. Stay with your grief long enough — however long that is — for your heart to open to a new and totally unique animal companion.
  • Remember the animal chooses, too. (Some animals would say they do all the choosing, but you get the idea.) My experience is that each dog, cat, bird, horse, human, or whoever comes into our lives for a reason. The animals probably have a better grasp of it than we do. When you meet a prospective new companion, pay attention to the way they respond and how you feel.

Whenever you and your next animal companion find each other, you are both signing on for a beautiful, painful, and totally worthwhile adventure. You both deserve no less.

 

 

Animal Wise: ‘Guides’ sheds light on difficult subjects

Photo by MabelAmber:Pixabay(Photo by MabelAmber/Pixabay)

As much as Susan Chernak McElroy gets it right with Animals as Teachers and Healers (Ballantine Books, 1997), she gets right to the heart with Animals as Guides for the Soul (Ballantine Books, 1998).

This follow-up is not only a worthy exploration of the relationship between humans and animals, but also a potentially transforming walk through some of the thorniest aspects of these relationships.

8482McElroy, who has worked as a technical writer and editor as well as in several animal-related occupations, writes largely from her experience on a small Wyoming farm. Insights from people who wrote to her after reading her previous book are included.

I appreciate so much in Guides for the Soul, but here are three primary take-aways.

The first is that the healing benefits of our relationships with animals are often subtle, but no less powerful. It isn’t always the spectacular, tossing-away-the-cane miracle with the therapy dog. More often, it’s the steady warmth of the cat curled up on the patient’s lap or the jingling of tags along a quiet country road day after day. Sometimes the miracle is only seen in hindsight.

“We are so conditioned to expect drama and heroics in healing that we forget the staggering importance of all the healing that goes unseen,” says McElroy, a cancer survivor. (Check out this wonderful six-minute video about two guys — one a morbidly overweight human, the other a middle-aged rescue dog — who healed each other.)

What if, she asks, we were to believe that the being at the end of the leash, in the cat carrier, or on a perch could heal by his or her very presence, offering exactly what is needed in every moment? That the dog nuzzling a crying adult was administering critical emotional first aid, or the horse heard the bullied teen as no one else could? Is that so far off the mark?

Second, McElroy delves into the rocky territory of death in a way that can benefit anyone who has lost a much-loved animal, particularly when the loss is accompanied by shame and guilt. These experiences and memories, however long ago, stick to us until we acknowledge their multilayered impact, she says.

Quoting respected authors on pet loss as well as people confronting long-buried grief and remorse, she offers perspective and tools for healing. However, she is respectful enough not to put forth easy answers. The stories of McElroy’s precious llama, Phaedra; and Jody Seay’s elderly black Lab friend McKenzie, are likely to bring both a tear and a spark of hope.

Finally, even when the animals involved are not our own, what can we do when we witness the inexplicable and cruel? When McElroy was about 11, a young coyote with his mangled leg still dangling in a steel-jaw trap was part of a wildlife exhibit at a nearby park. Day after day, he lay in a rusting wire cage with no food or water. She pleaded with the park rangers to care for the coyote. They ignored her. She begged her parents to do something, wrote to the local paper, and contacted the town mayor and her family’s veterinarian.

No adult would intervene until she called Mrs. Roberts, the mother of a friend, who picketed the park. The exhibit shut down within a week. The coyote made the front page of the local paper and was released to Mrs. Roberts, whose veterinarian husband helped care for the coyote in a backyard pen. Months later, Mrs. Roberts drove the coyote to the desert and released him back into the wild.

“She reminded me that although it was she who freed the coyote, it was I who had brought the coyote to her attention. At the age of eleven, I learned that one person can stand up against suffering and make a difference,” McElroy recalls.

We should all have, or be, a Mrs. Roberts.

Accessible help for grief

IMG_3697

My refurbished Christmas star.

When my mother died two years ago, the last thing I wanted to read was a well-meaning but too-much treatise on grief. Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s Healing the Adult Child’s Grieving Heart, with its 100 practical, one-page ideas for things to do or think about, was exactly what I needed during those first weeks and months.

Its user-friendly format also makes the book easy to revisit, as I did recently when the holidays brought a fresh load of “Crap … I should be doing better with this.”

Grief is a process, not a destination. I know this. The Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year stretch is cold and dark in this corner of the world, and the holidays add another layer of challenge to whatever we are facing. I also know “shoulds” hurt more than they help, and they’re so not in the spirit of God using the humblest, darkest circumstances to show the greatest love.

51u5HQKtEoL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_So I took the slim volume off the shelf and opened it — right to No. 68: Prepare yourself for the holidays. Wolfelt’s top bullet point on this page is, naturally, the sadness felt over no longer having your parent around to share these special occasions and gatherings. Having lost both parents, as I have, makes it feel all the more sad and strange; we are orphans no matter how old we are.

However, Christmas is about memory as much as it is about the here and now. Wolfelt notes in his second point: “Your family’s holiday traditions were formed decades, sometimes centuries, ago and resonate with layer upon layer of memories.”

He’s spot on about the layers. In addition to the happy, quirky Christmas memories that reside in my consciousness are ones of my mother’s terminal diagnosis two days before Christmas and her passing two days after. In between was a blur of travel, consultations in poinsettia-bedecked hospital hallways, the beep of monitors, relaying information to other family members, waiting for doctors, talking with Mom, sharing Reiki energy to ease her transition, and almost, but not quite, forgetting about the holiday.

The following Christmas, I had the tree-topping star that has graced a Crowe tree since the 1950s refurbished. It doesn’t twinkle and blink like it used to, but the blue circle around it glows in a way I swear it never did before. It casts a new light in some of the darkness, which is what Christmas is about in the first place. It also lets the happy memories begin to re-layer themselves over the sad ones.

This year, for another layer of memories, I dug out my dad’s favorite Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music and let some of the meditative tracks underscore my yoga practice.

And I flipped a little further in the Wolfelt book, finally landing on No. 96: Let go of destructive beliefs about grief and mourning. Such as: “I need to get over this.”

Your grief is your grief, Wolfelt says: “It’s normal and necessary. Allow it to be what it is. Allow it to last as long as it lasts. Strive to be an authentic mourner — one who openly and honestly expresses what you think and feel.”

I’m still working on that … and following yonder star.