There hasn't been a time in my life where animals haven't played a significant role in my memories, my growth and my education. While I could likely fill a book with pages upon pages of my animal companions and connections, there are those few that hold a place of distinct honor along the journey of my life. This week, I wanted to start sharing a few of those stories; and while this handful of incredible creatures nowhere near fill the comprehensive list of all influential animals in my life, these specific animals often guided me through some kind of important and enlightening experience. I will continue to post new animal stories throughout the coming weeks, to share the lessons and connections that have so deeply touched me over the years.
In any discussion about animals, I must start first and foremost with my beloved 17 year old cat, Bailey. Bailey was my very first shelter rescue. While I had, throughout my childhood, taken a shining to caring for the numerous barn cats that romped around our property growing up, Bailey was the first animal that I made a conscious decision to rescue. It was during a particularly rough patch in my teen years that my parents agreed to a passionate plea for an animal of my very own. Being that it was the advent of internet research, I excitedly signed on to the local shelter's website and scrolled the pages of available cats. I still vividly recall my heart jumping at the grainy photo of a beautiful long haired female named Bailey.
It was just a few days later we trekked off to the shelter to see her in person. I walked into the communal cat room and excitedly sought out her speckled grey coat and bushy tail; and she was there alright...tucked as far back into the darkest quietest corner she could possibly squeeze herself into. She was tense with terror and attempting in every sense to become as invisible as possible.
I suppose this reaction might turn off most teenagers on the hunt for a cuddly companion. Yet there was something about seeing this seemingly broken feline cowering in the corner that spoke to me; another being who at that moment felt pretty broken herself. Bailey's body posture screamed with fear but her eyes, those enormous almond shaped discs of vibrant green speckled with brown, held nothing but a gentle plea to be loved. It wasn't until years later that I realized Bailey's distinctly green eyes with flecks of brown spots are a trait that I myself carry; we were a perfect match.
The shelter staff and my mother both questioned me repeatedly. "Are you sure you want this cat?" They relayed her sad story of abandon and the subsequent year of rehabilitation it took to even get her into the cat room. They reminded me that she might never overcome her anxiety and remain an extremely shy cat for the rest of her life. I nodded and pressed on, "Yes, this cat." She needed me and I needed her.
It took Bailey a full six months to venture from the safety of residing under my bed full time; another year to really begin to connect with me. It took her a further five years before she would sit with my husband (who had been my boyfriend when I adopted her). Nearly 10 years later, she still made herself scarce whenever anyone came into the house and many friends had no indication of my beloved feline companion other than the soft cat bed next to the couch and a litterbox in the corner. It is only now, in her twilight years; after two human babies, three new dogs, a new cat, numerous moves, and the odd encounter with injured chickens or foster rabbits; that she has finally stopped racing for a dark corner at the slightest change in her environment. Now, she is rather the queen of the house and sleeps where she pleases and runs off anyone who invades her personal space beyond her liking.
Through her journey in learning to trust me and know that I would love her unconditionally, Bailey taught me so much about patience, resilience, and what genuine trust looks like. It did take her months to approach me, but once we bridged that divide, she became my greatest comfort in difficult times. Bailey has this incredible sense for when I am in need of support. She will crawl into my lap or up onto my chest, if I am lying down, and press her face against me as she purrs. The day I suffered my first miscarriage, the day I was diagnosed with autoimmune disease, through the deaths of two of my grandparents, and with every small ache and pain; Bailey has been a constant fixture at my side. She is one of the only animals I know who pays me little mind for the most part unless I am sad, sick, or have treats (she is a fierce treat hound!). The young cat that couldn't melt far enough into the background turned out to be the most incredibly intuitive animal healer.
Bailey has taught me, that when it comes to animals in my family, I trust my gut, I don't discount the tricky cases or the quiet ones, and I always invest for the long haul. She is the living embodiment of the power of feeling safe and being loved unconditionally.
As I write this, Bailey is curled up into a little ball on the arm of the couch, oblivious to the dogs and children parading around her. At seventeen years of age, I know that our time together is limited, but I am still in awe of the miraculous way in which two lost souls found one another and healed each other through pure love and trust.