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Animals

When a loss isn't really a loss...

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A few weeks ago, my beloved cat Bailey died. I adopted her over seventeen years ago, when I was young and in need of a companion. If you haven’t read the story about how we found each other, you can read my blog on it here.
From the moment I saw her photo online, I was inexplicably drawn to this timid, beautiful cat. At the time, I couldn’t explain the intense magnetic energy that passed between us. It was the reason, that despite all logic, I adopted the most terrified and distant cat in the shelter. Now, I was not by any means a self assured teenager when I adopted Bailey, but despite the constant string of “Are you sure?” questioning that preceded her adoption; I was absolutely, without question, sure of this decision.
It wasn’t until a few days after her death that I would become fully aware of the reasons behind this undeniable connection that brought her into my life. The story I am about to tell, may lose some of you in what I like to call the “woo wooy-ness” ; but bear with me, because I’ve always been someone who enjoys a hearty mix of well defined science as well as inexplicable spirituality. And, even if you don’t buy into a word I say, I still think it is a beautiful story.
In the months leading up to Bailey’s death, I knew that her time was coming to an end. What we suspected was a rather aggressive nasal tumor, began to make breathing difficult for her I knew I didn’t want her to suffer needlessly. But being that she seemed relatively unphased by her predicament (aside from sneezing fits and nighttime wheezing), my heart struggled to know “when” the right time was. Every vet visit, she passed weight, eating, bodily functions, blood tests etc with flying colors and the staff always remarked how good she looked for a cat as old as she was. On one particular vet visit, a few days before she passed, I remember having a talk with her in the car, telling her that when she was ready to go, to just give me a sure sign and I would honor it. This is definitely one of those instances in which, you should be careful what you wish for.
A few short days later, I woke up to her bleeding copiously from her mouth and nose, and for the first time looking miserable. It was time. So, I made the phone call to the vet, who compassionately, came to our home that morning so that we didn’t have to transport her. Now, I have had my share of experiences with death; both natural and assisted. I have no squeamishness about the process, nor do I deny the grief that comes with it. I am comfortable enough with it that I accept it comfortably and allow myself the emotions as they arise. But, one thing that I can always rely on, is that moment when the heart fully stops and breathing ceases; the undeniable sensation that they have gone. The best I can describe it, is it’s an energetic shift of presence when a body goes from a “being” to merely being an “empty vessel”. As Bailey’s breath left her body and her heart ceased beating, I prepared myself for that shift…but, it never came. Bailey never left.
Her body was no longer living, but her energetic presence, her soul, her spirit, her essence (whatever you want to call it) stayed present, even amplified, around me. At the time, in shock, I assumed I was grieving so deeply that I was in denial; but something deep in my gut told me that I knew that wasn’t the right explanation. For days, I struggled to understand why I still felt her so close at hand. I grappled with the sheer bliss I experienced when remembering her face and her eyes. Her death didn’t feel like a loss at all…it felt like a blossoming. Her spirit, no longer encumbered by an aging physical body, had expanded and strengthened around me; and yet I felt utterly guilty at not grieving “correctly”, the way society stipulated I should.
I tried in desperation to untangle it in conversation and in writing. I remember my mom’s concern that I wasn’t acting in the way she had anticipated; given that I am normally such a deeply emotional person.
It was several “ah ha” moments later that led me to truly understand my experience. Firstly, I was listening to a podcast with Oprah and Byron Katie, in which Byron Katie speaks about her mother’s death. The way she explained the joy and serenity around her experience resonated with me so strongly and seemed to give me permission to see my experience as something natural rather than something wrong.
It was shortly after that, during a meditation that all the pieces fell into place. There was a reason all those years ago that I couldn’t just walk past Bailey. Despite all her flaws, I was meant to find her and we were meant to be together; because we already were. Bailey has been with me since the beginning. The years she spent with me as a pet, were merely a more tangible experience for us to get to know one another better. We spent those many years connecting more deeply and coming to understand one another more fully. We fine tuned our communication and our trust. The day that Bailey died, she didn’t leave, like the other souls of animals before, because her place was always meant to be with me. She simply took up her post in my legion of animal guides once again, this time, in the place of highest regard and honor.
And even now, around the house, I notice signs of her energy around. Our other cat Toby (whom she had little patience for) has started to explore my bedroom again (long terrified of her wrath, as this was “her” space); however, while he will sit in the window sill or sleep on the comforter, he actively avoids walking or sitting on my pillows, the one space Bailey always occupied. I have yet to discover anything that could coax him to invade this sacred place. He has also suddenly taken up the mantle of crawling onto my chest when I am lying on the couch; something Bailey did with such love and tenderness; but never something he had any interest in. It was the one physical connection I knew I was going to miss most when Bailey passed, and it is the one new behavior Toby started exhibiting.
In the time since her death, all of these things began to come to clarity and I felt it so deeply within me I couldn’t deny that something powerful and beautiful had transpired; but there was still this tiny nagging feeling that I was just telling myself comforting stories. Then I got the phone call that affirmed my intuition.
A few days ago, a family member had gone to a reading with a Medium and had called afterwards to share that Bailey was the first entity to come through into the conversation. She very clearly explained that she would always be with me and was leading my menagerie of animal guides (I haven’t written about them yet, but let’s just say I have a zoo full). She was known as a “nurse” cat, helping me in my healing journey and supporting me every step of the way. She confirmed everything that I had felt in my heart, down to why Toby honored her sacred space (because she was still bossing him around…)
Now, I have always had a very strong intuition. It is part of the reason I call myself an Intuitive Reiki Practitioner; because I am guided by the energy I feel and the deep knowing in my soul. However, I have always been afraid of really stepping into it and embracing my own power in this area. Little by little, over the years, I have had experiences that have confirmed the need to follow these whisperings; from near misses with car accidents, to sensations of when friends or family members are hiding pain, to dreams about my life’s path, and being able to pick out individual people’s emotions in a crowded room. But, it wasn’t until Bailey’s passing that I began to really get comfortable with this and step more fully into my intuition, accepting it as a part of who I am.
Bailey has given me one of the most precious gifts; the gift of faith. Faith in myself, faith in oneness and connection, and faith in living my truth, even when it is strange or unexplainable. So yes, A few weeks ago my beloved cat died; but in truth, it was merely a body that died. Bailey lives on and she is with me every moment and it is exquisitely beautiful.

 
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Teachers, Healers and Guides: Part Two

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Frankie

Teachers, Healers, & Guides: Part Two

               

               The day I met Frankie I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him.  I had long bought into the ideas of donkeys being stubborn and prone to outbursts of aggression and up to that point I had no reason to believe otherwise.  But, Frankie was different.  From the moment I laid eyes on him, there was a softness about him.  It took me a long while to put my generalized “donkey bias” aside and see him exactly as he was, but I knew from that first moment that there was something special about him

                Frankie was a rescued donkey at one of our local animal sanctuaries, The Ranch (now located in Placerville, CA).  He had been abandoned in a field with his mother and had minimal human experience before being taken in by Kate and her organization.  But, with gentle love and consistency Frankie began to blossom.

                I can’t imagine what he must have felt the first few times he encountered me.  I was a complex mixture of anxiety and fascination.  He was such a beautiful and wondrous creature, but the back of my mind was constantly replaying repeated imaginings of donkeys kicking, biting, and lashing out.  Frankie never seemed to mind though.  He was unwaveringly patient with me and always regarded me with a quiet inquisitiveness, as if he was just waiting for me to figure out on my own just what a gentle and loving soul he was.

                Because donkeys are inherently different than horses, much of the knowledge and understanding that I carried from growing up around horses was of little use in really comprehending his behavior and instinctive nature.  Wild donkeys are generally solitary equines who live in dry arid regions, whereas horses find themselves in harem style hierarchies (or bachelor groupings) on more lush and grassy terrains.  This major distinction can account for many of key differences in behavior we see between horses and donkeys.  Due to their solitary existence, donkeys are more territorial and are more prone than horses to fight rather than to flee when they feel threatened.  They are also more likely to freeze and survey their surroundings when they are unsure (which can be misconstrued by humans as “stubbornness”) and this can lead to anxious behavior towards enclosed spaces, such as trailers, due to an instinct to avoid being "trapped".  Donkeys are also regarded as faster learners because they rely on their own abilities to maintain their safety and well being rather than that of a herd; and this can lead to cleverly discovering ways in which to avoid situations they deem unpleasant or negative. 

                 Had I known and truly understood all of this when I first met Frankie, the evolution of our relationship might have looked different, but likely it would have been far less meaningful.  Frankie was an excellent teacher in overcoming fear and releasing bias.  Frankie was a gentle guide in the art of slowly building confidence and trust.  Frankie was also a master at knowing when to lean in and when to back off. 

                There were days when he barely looked at me.  Whether I was frustrated or not really paying attention to his signals in the way that he deserved; Frankie would refuse to give me the time of day unless I was fully present.  However, on the days when I was open or ready for connection, he would approach the fence without fail and rest his head against my hand waiting for his beloved “behind the ears” scratches.  Beyond that though, for whatever reason, there was always one emotion that Frankie seemed to understand without fail.  That emotion was sadness.

                During the time I spent working with The Ranch, when they were located in Southern California, there were definitely some waves of deep sadness.  I was juggling the newness of becoming a mother of two, exploring the complex world of homeschooling and fighting a seemingly endless battle with chronic illness.  In general my life was wonderful, but there were definitely those days when the weight of trying to keep up with everything was heavy on my heart.  Those were the days that Frankie would saunter up to me and rest his head against my side and I could wrap my arms around him and hug him close.  I would scratch behind his ears and he would lean in, warm and compassionate.  As I would move about the pen trying to clean, he would follow me, gently bumping up against me for more scratches.  There have been studies done that suggest that humans may excrete certain scents or have certain minute physical changes related to our emotional states, that equines are able to detect.  Whether you believe he was responding to subtle changes in my chemical or physical expression or he was simply aware of an energetic shift of some kind; there was no doubt in my mind that Frankie knew the "sad days" and had his own personal protocol for interacting with me during them.  I never once walked away from him on those days feeling quite as weighted down as I did when I first walked in. 

                Over the few years we had together, I began to understand his body language more deeply and learn how to react (or not react) to build trust between us.  I started reading about donkeys in my free time; their evolution and behavior and their healthcare and needs.  I grew to love a species that I had timidly avoided most of my life, thanks to misunderstanding and ignorance.  Frankie helped build a bridge and also helped open me up to learning more deeply about all species of domestic animals.  I was keen to continue to expand my knowledge base and to avoid missing any more opportunities to connect with other animals.   

                Frankie is still a part of The Ranch family, but now is happily traipsing about five beautiful acres at their facility in Northern California. He has a new jenny as a companion and a whole herd of equine friends.  I miss him all the time, but whenever we get a chance to visit, I always have my hands ready for good solid ear scratches and plenty of love to shower over him.  I have never yet met a donkey quite like him, but thanks to my experience, I am now open and excited whenever I get the chance to spend time with one of these amazing creatures.  Fear has been replaced with understanding and hesitancy with joyful anticipation and it is all thanks to a donkey named Frankie. 

If you’d like to learn more about Frankie and The Ranch and all the incredible work they do, please visit their website: AtTheRanch.org
 

Or Follow them on Social Media:

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Teachers, Healers and Guides:
Part One

Bailey

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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.

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    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. 

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