My Life in Animals – A love story
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Anatole FranceThe Early Years
Cindy – Cindy was our first family cat that I used to toddle after and “tree” on the top of the rocking chair. I learned to be gentle with her. I learned that it’s good to love in a big way, even if it’s hard to say good-bye.
Mindy – A big fluffy Maine Coon cat, she possessed a loyalty that was rare among felines. People and animals in my life would prove to be fickle, but Mindy was always happy by my side.
’56 – The gentle gelding branded and named ’56, graciously fulfilled all of my elementary school equine daydreams of living in the Trixie Beldon book series. He single-handedly reinforced my predisposition to be a dreamer.
Baby – the Arabian/Quarter Horse that I called me own gave me so many opportunities to conquer fear. At twelve, I learned that if you want to be respected in life, there is a time and a place to be assertive, no matter how small you may feel. Sadly, I eventually abandoned her for driving, boys and friends and I still have unresolved guilt about it. This guilt helps me remember to value those who love you, rather than chasing after those who don’t.
Etc, Etc: There were many other animals in my home growing up: a rat, mom’s pet spiders in the garden, chickens, bunnies and countless cats and kittens. There were NO dogs, whatsoever. My father’s mantra was, “you can have a Dad, or you can have a dog.” He meant it.
This “animal house” provided me with the opportunity to care for poor drugged, stitched up cats who had just been spayed and neutered, help deliver and find homes for litters of kittens, scoop out many a litter box, fill hundreds of food bowls, brave the chicken coop and collect eggs, scooped manure, groom and train the horse.
Like most kids, I often felt like the center of the universe, but the pets were there to put it all in perspective and remind me that being human comes with the responsibilities to care for those who can’t care for themselves. I learned to get over any bits of princess-mentality lingering in my psyche and to dig into what needed to be done, no matter how messy. Some animals I enjoyed more than others, but each one presented me with the choice to open my heart and make more space, or dial it down like the aperature on a camera and refuse to let more light in.
A Boy With a Dog
The openness of my heart was definitely challenged when I met a boy with a dog. A boy who loved his dog, possibly more than he loved me. While I had loved many animals in my life, I had a deep dislike and fear of dogs. I really, really, really liked this boy, because I faked dog tolerance pretty well. I learned to stick my hand out of the car door for Nikki to smell and she would turn and wag her tail in approval and escort me to the front door. She was a mountain dog – a beautiful and independent Samoyed, who eventually charmed me with her big Sammy smile and gentle ways. She proved me wrong, I didn’t hate dogs, just some dogs.
Not long after I met her, Nikki who was a senior citizen dog, took off and disappeared. She probably curled up under one of her favorite pine trees and took her last breath. She was never found. I don’t think the boy ever fully recovered, and there wasn’t really anything I, or anyone else, could ever do to make him feel better about it.
Years later, I married that boy and his big ‘ol dog-loving heart. We would pass by dogs together and he would stop to meet them, always complimenting the owner. “Beautiful dog!” he will still say to this day, whether the dog is mangy and ugly, or truly beautiful.
When we had our first son, I didn’t want to pass on my dog-fear and prejudice to him, so I would bravely feign excitement. “Oh, look at the (drooley, stinky, ferocious) cute doggie!” I said, passing the neighbors Rotweillers and Dobies. I researched dog safety and learned the best way for a child to greet a dog. (Always ask permission. Keep a quiet voice, and pet under their chin rather than over it. No sudden or spastic movements.) I became a little less afraid. Then, I slowly began to enjoy meeting the dogs.
The boy with the dog and I had more children and would dream of owning a house. “I can’t WAIT until we have a house of our own.” I would say. “With a dog!” he would quickly add. I knew it was inevitable – we would someday have a canine, it just came with a house.
A Terrible Idea?
In the meantime, I did what every person should NEVER do. I brought home a kitten without discussing it with my partner first. I know, I KNOW! It was a terrible idea. Or was it…?
In my defense, I do know the man who used to be the boy who loved his dog – very well. He hates change, and would have produced hundreds of reasons why we should wait to become pet owners. BUT…he does like animals, and if a cute, sweet, tiny kitten takes up residence in our house – especially one who desperately needed a good home – I knew it would be a simple matter of minutes before the guy would became putty in the kitten’s little paws.
I was right. Two hours after meeting our tiny new family member, Seinfeld was on the TV, little “Tigger” was asleep on my husband’s lap, and there was a smile was on his face (I chose to overlook the scolding in his eyes). I don’t think he’s forgiven me yet, but he did love that cat.
There have been other animals to come and go from our house since then, and I like to think that my husband has grown to love the part of me that opens our door to animals, rather than closing it.
Part Two: Echo
In 2007, we finally bought that house we dreamed of, and that brings me to Part Two of my story. You see, my life with animals has two parts that are most easily defined as – before Echo, and after Echo.
Echo joined our family two years ago as an adorable little Samoyed fluff ball, and I would soon find out that all of the research I had done on dog ownership wasn’t enough to prepare me for what came with her. Echo was born into this world with an official title: Lover of the Universe. If given the chance, she would enthusiastically greet any robber and show them where the good silver is. She loves other dogs, little kids, and old people. She even loves our cat. She loves to run and is never the first one to wear out. (She’s the best personal trainer I’ve ever had.) She loves to cuddle, she loves to eat, she loves to play. She is always, 100% of the time, happy to see me. She is love, personified.
It was this kind of wild and reckless canine love run amok that bowled unexpectedly, right over me. Sometimes Echo is the only person in my house to greet me with a smile. Hell, sometimes she’s the only person to greet me at all. It seems like a tiny thing – having someone in your life that is ALWAYS happy to see you. It isn’t. It has changed who I am. It has softened me around the edges.
I’m still surprised that I’m capable of this kind of change. Yesterday my husband and I took Echo to the doggy car wash. We were scrubbing her and laughing and my husband stopped and looked at me, pulling out his camera phone. “This is NOT the girl I married,” he said – as if to document the new me in case it was just temporary insanity.
It still shocks me that a simple thing like loving a dog has the ability to transform me in ways that I didn’t know I was lacking. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be confined by my preferences, predispositions, or even my negative personal experiences. I’ve discovered in my life with animals, that my heart is bigger than I knew it to be, and it is capable of traveling past boundaries – even the boundary of species.
Albert Einstein’s words resonate in my gut, “Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” His choice of the word whole pops out at me. Yes! I am a part of something whole, a part of something that contains, but is not limited to human.
Today I went for a jog at the park. I passed at least ten dogs, and each time a little piece of my soul smiled. At thirty-nine years old, I can’t believe I made it so long with this kind of brightness asleep inside of me. It begs me to answer the questions, “What else can I embrace in an effort to widen my circle of compassion?” And, “What part of the whole of nature and its beauty has yet to wake up inside of me?” I can’t wait to find out.Source: http://www.dovesandserpents.org/wp/2011/11/my-life-in-animals-a-love-story/