Thank you.

“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” –Dalai Lama

thank you

This is a shout-out to you.  A huge, sincere thank you to you.

Today is all about you.

It’s National Pet Parent Day!  Yep.  I have to admit that I laughed when I realized this and thought, “Every day is pet parent day in our home! I don’t take a day off.”

There seems to be a worldwide or national day for everything these days, but today is a good day to celebrate.  Today is a worthwhile day to recognize because it’s all about honoring everything that we do as devoted animal guardians.   Whether you are a pet parent at home, an animal care taker at a shelter, zoo, or aquarium, or whether you are a trainer, behaviorist, veterinarian, or energy healer, you deserve thanks.  No matter what our exact role is, we all need to hear thanks.  No matter how we serve them, we all need to feel appreciated for all that we do for them.


How This Day Was Created

National Pet Parents Day was created to “honor all dedicated pet parents across the nation with a special day of their own.”  This date was founded by Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) in 2007. And although National Pet Parents Day is an unofficial holiday, it was created out of the inspiration of realizing that the majority of their insurance policyholders consider their pets to be part of their true family.     If you are following this blog, then you (like our family) see your “pets” as animal family members.  They may not be related to us by blood, but they are f a m i l y.



“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” -Cicero


We Aren’t Always Living On Easy Street.

If you are a professional animal caretaker, or a professional pet consultant, people may see you and think you have the coolest job in the world.  If you have beautiful pets people may envy you.  They may assume your life is perfect with them.   If their rescue story melts their hearts they may want to rescue one, too.  And they assume that your animal companion’s rescue story ended when you invited them into your home.

If you are an animal behavior consultant, an animal trainer, an animal communicator, or an animal healer, people might assume you have “perfect pets.”  They assume that these pets are never sick, never wild and crazy, they never backslide, and they are all perfectly trained, and never misbehave.  You must be the envy of the world if you are one of these people with one of these pets!

Ah, but we know the truth.

We all know that life is not always easy-going with the animals we care for and share our homes with.  We know that some days there seem to be constant challenges.  We know what it feels like to want to cry or scream when we are at our wit’s end.  We know all too well how hard it can be to juggle a busy work and a family life with a pet-family lifestyle.

We know what it means to have our own physical challenges while living and working with animals who have their own challenges.  We know what it’s like to be a new parent struggling with a new baby while trying to manage your pet “kids” as well.  We know what it means to have a crawling toddler and a conflicted canine.  We know that a rescued animal’s rescue story really only begins the moment that we bring them into our human environment.  We know that there is never a “cure” for every behavioral issue.  We know the real meaning of patience.  We understand what it means to rearrange our lifestyle to ensure that our animal companions feel safe and secure.  We know the meaning of selflessness and sacrifice.  We know and understand that there are a myriad of challenges that we encounter with every animal that we care for.  We know that we have invited these animals into our lives and we are bound to them for the rest of their life.  We know that life with animal companions can be a blessing beyond words, but it can also be wrought with unexpected trials and circumstances.

But we also know that we never give up. Ever.

We are dedicated to them all.  We believe in what can happen when we are armed with knowledge.  We know how far we can go together with love and compassion.  We know that healing is possible.  We know that there are solutions that can be found.  We know that together we can create miracles.  We know that we will find a way to succeed with them. We know that they might never know all that we have done and will continue to do for them. But we do it all anyway. We do it with love and devotion.

And our lives will never be the same.

We know this truth.

We live it every day.


A Thousand Thanks

I have taken a break from writing blog posts to continue my focus on writing a few books in the works, and to prepare for an upcoming move to the west coast.  But when I felt into what today represented, I was inspired and really wanted to take a moment to write to you.

Thank YOU for being a true and loyal Conscious Companion. I know it’s not always easy.

★Thank you for never giving up on them.
★Thank you for allowing them teach you.
★Thank you for being open to new ideas.

★Thank you for being willing to implement something new every day.

★Thank you for learning how to speak their language.
★Thank you for learning how to listen to them.
★Thank you for accepting challenges as they arise.
★Thank you for helping them to become well-adjusted to your human world.
★Thank you for helping them to age with grace and ease.
★Thank you for knowing when it’s time to let them go.
★Thank you for loving them with all of your heart.

Thank you ALL for being dedicated, determined, and downright amazing!

I am graciously sending you and yours my love and gratitude.


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“Bᴇɪɴɢ ᴀ ᴘᴇᴛ ᴘᴀʀᴇɴᴛ ᴄᴀɴ ʙᴇ ᴏɴᴇ ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ ᴍᴏsᴛ ᴄʜᴀʟʟᴇɴɢɪɴɢ ʀᴏʟᴇs ᴡᴇ ᴇᴠᴇʀ ᴄʜᴏᴏsᴇ, ʙᴜᴛ ɪɴ ᴇxᴄʜᴀɴɢᴇ ᴡᴇ ʟᴇᴀʀɴ ᴛʜᴇ ʀᴇᴀʟ ᴍᴇᴀɴɪnɴɢ ᴏғ sᴇʟғʟᴇssɴᴇss, ᴀᴄᴄᴇᴘᴛᴀɴᴄᴇ, ᴀɴᴅ ᴜɴᴄᴏɴᴅɪᴛɪᴏɴᴀʟ ʟᴏᴠᴇ.” – Amy Martin

Every Day Is the 14th!

“It seems to me that love is everywhere. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” -Love Actually

Valentine’s Day is one of those days that people seem to either love or loathe.  But here’s the deal: Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be something we dread.  February 14th doesn’t have to be limited to cards and candy.  And it certainly shouldn’t be limited to the human loves in our lives.  Animals can be our Valentines, too!

Check out how you can make every day of the year, February 14th:

Conscious Companion

 This fire that we call Loving is too strong for human minds, but just right for souls.  ― Aberjhani, Elemental: The Power of Illuminated Love

One of my animal soulmates, Magma, a wise and gentle Aldabra Tortoise who is nearly 100 years of age


Are You All About The Valentine?

Valentine’s Day is one of those days that people seem to either love or loathe.  Every February 14, across the United States and in other places around the world, gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of Love and St. Valentine.  The history of this centuries-old holiday stems from ancient Roman rituals, but today February the 14th  has been taken over by the chocolate, flower, lingerie,  and greeting card companies.

Valentine’s Day has morphed into a world wide day of obligatory gift giving.   Men and women usually forget that the day is coming, then at the last…

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King Albert The Grey

King Albert the Grey

In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.

I don’t know any gods in this life, but I know a king.

He is a good king.  This king does not live in a palace made of stone and ivory.   He does not sit on a throne made of jewels and gold.  His throne is any place that he claims in his palace.  This king rules every being in his palace.  He does not rule with an iron fist, but with calm assuredness.  This king’s palace is our home.  This king is wise, brave, and handsome above all others.  This king’s name is King Albert The Grey.  He is our feline companion.  He is my teacher.  And today is his 15th birthday.

All Things Grey

Just so you know, we don’t walk around referring to our grey cat as “King Albert The Grey!” (with trumpets sounding in the background).   However, when the feline veterinary specialists call him by his full name we don’t correct them, because it’s hilarious to hear them say it so seriously.

But to Albert, things in his world are quite serious.

Albert is not known for being goofy and playful.  Anyone who knows him views him more like a military general, a mini grey panther, or a wee grey grizzly bear.   Albert is fierce.  But he is also fiercely devoted and unconditionally loving to those he trusts.  He is one of a kind.  He is our magnificent grey cat.

As Albert turned 15 years of age today he moved out of the “senior” years and moved into the “geriatric” years.  This has been a very challenging time.  It has also been a miraculous and life changing time for both me and Albert.  Although most people assume that senior and geriatric cats are in the “grey area” of life where things fade and waste away, Albert is proving otherwise.

As I reflected on what he is teaching us, and the many grey areas of life, I started to wonder about the color of grey.  I wondered about the symbolism of Albert’s grey coloring; could the color of grey have a deeper meaning?

People understand what the color grey is, but most are unaware of this color’s role throughout history.

Grey.  ɡrā/
1. of a color intermediate between black and white

synonyms: silvery, silver-gray, gunmetal, slate, charcoal, smoky

  • In Etymology- Grey comes from the Middle English grai or grei, from
    Griselda_chaucer
    Griselda, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, is known for her patience despite her suffering, and takes her name from the color grey.

    the Anglo-Saxon graeg, and is related to the German grau. The first recorded use of grey as a color name in language was in AD 700.

  • In History and Art –In the Middle Ages grey was the color of undyed wool, and therefore was the color most commonly worn by peasants.
  • In Literature – the character Cinderella takes her name from the color of cinders (ashes).
  • In Military – During the American Civil War, the soldiers of the Confederate Army wore grey uniforms. This was (and still is) the color of the uniform of cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and cadets at the Virginia Military Institute.
  • In Religion – In Christian religion grey is the color of ashes, and a biblical symbol of mourning and repentance used during Lent or on days of fasting and prayer.  Grey was reputed to be the color of the clothing of Jesus Christ, and for that reason is the color worn by monks of the Cistercian and Franciscan as a symbol of their vows humility, modesty, and poverty. Buddhist monks and priests in Japan and Korea often wear a sleeved grey, brown, or black outer robe. Taoist priests in China also often wear grey.
  • In the Animal World –  Grey is a very common color for species ranging from whales to mice.  Gray provides a natural camouflage and allows animals to blend with their surroundings.
  • In the Human World – The substance that composes the brain is sometimes referred to as grey matter, or “the little grey cells”, so the color grey is associated with all things intellectual.

    elves
    Scandinavian folklore depicts gnomes & nisser in grey clothing.
  • In Folklore – Grey is often associated with goblins, elves, and other legendary wise creatures.  This is partly because of their association with dusk, as well as because these creatures were said to be outside of traditional moral standards of black and white.

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The writer J. R. R. Tolkien made use of the folkloric symbolism of grey in his works, which draw upon Scandinavian folkloric names and themes. Gandalf is called the Grey Pilgrim; settings include the Grey Havens and Ered Mithrin, the grey mountains; and characters include the Grey Elves.

  • In Fashion – During the 19th century, Paris and
    cary grant
    The 1950s & 1960s were the age of glory for grey suits, worn by movie stars and President Kennedy

    London set the fashion for women and men. The intent of a business suit was above all to show seriousness, and to show one’s position in business and society.  To reflect this, bright colors disappeared and were replaced by a dark charcoal grey frock coat in winter, and lighter greys in summer.

  • In Society – Grey is most commonly associated in many cultures with the elderly because of the association with grey hair. It symbolizes the wisdom and dignity that come with experience and age.

 

King Albert The Grey
Albert in his excellent grey suit – He is not a monk, a soldier, or a movie star, but he is quite dignified.

Why I Celebrate The King of Grey

Albert could probably care less about those fun facts about the color grey, but they do shed light on the color of grey and its influence in the world over the centuries.  And  I was surprised to discover that much of the symbolism of grey is relevant to our King Albert the Grey!

There are so many things I could be doing with my time today, but I chose to share with you the many reasons why I celebrate Albert.  My hope is that you might come to see one of your beloveds in a new light.

Geriatric Senior Cats _conscious Companion_king Albert

A King Who Rules Many Kingdoms.   

grey skies
Grey skies over our house today, on King Albert the Grey’s 15th birthday

Anyone who knows Albert understands that he pretty much rules the house. He’s not bossy, but all of the other animals –  and even the humans – recognize his status.    He has the air of a king!  This morning when I woke I was not surprised to find that the sun had disappeared.  It was not gone, but merely clouded over by deep, soulful grey skies.  Today, after all, is King Albert The Grey’s birthday, so the skies reflected his day of birth.  King Albert controls pretty much everything in our home (Ahem, I mean, his palace), so of course he controls the skies as well!  Such is the life of a King.

A King Who Makes No Apologies 

One of the best qualities about Albert is his ability to never feel guilty or remorse for his choices.  What a lesson in life that is for us humans!  Albert sees his options, and makes a decision without wavering.  He stands firm and moves forward.  There is never a doubt in his mind.  He does not see right and wrong. He knows what works, what feels good, and what does not.  He does not allow the meager human trappings of obligation and guilt to guide him.  He makes conscious deliberate decisions that work for him.

“Guilt” isn’t in cat vocabulary.  They never suffer remorse for eating too much, sleeping too long or hogging the warmest cushion in the house. They welcome every pleasurable moment as it unravels and savour it to the full until a butterfly or falling leaf diverts their attention. They don’t waste energy counting the number of calories they’ve consumed or the hours they’ve frittered away sunbathing.  Cats don’t beat themselves up about not working hard enough. They don’t get up and go; they sit down and stay.  Relaxation is an art form.  From their vantage points on top of fences and window ledges, they see the treadmills of human obligations for what they are – a meaningless waste of nap time.― Helen Brown, Cleo

A King Who Knows What He Wants

Albert knows what his body wants. He knows what his body needs.  I now know this from the energy healing sessions, communications, and the many feline veterinary visits that we have been experiencing together.   He is wise in this way.  He knows what will aggravate, or help his medical conditions. He openly communicates this to us, when we ask.

Albert also does what he wants, when he wants, and not a moment sooner.  And when he wants something he asks for it without hesitation. These are invaluable lessons that I have learned from him!

Conscious Companion_senior Cats _copyright 2016
King Albert enjoying a few minutes of stretches and sunshine on his prescribed walkabout to help with arthritis and other physical challenges

 


He liked companionship, but he wouldn’t be petted, or fussed over, or sit in anyone’s lap a moment; he always extricated himself from such familiarity with dignity and with no show of temper.  If there was any petting to be done, however, he chose to do it. Often he would sit looking at me, and then, moved by a delicate affection, come and pull at my coat and sleeve until he could touch my face with his nose, and then go away contented. ~Charles Dudley Warner

A King Who Requires Respect and Boundaries

There is no forcing Albert to do anything.  This is another valuable lesson for anyone who wants to deepen the trust and bond between an animal and person.  Forcing him to do anything will not end well for anyone.  Respect and boundaries are a must.  He has taught me so much about what healthy boundaries are and how to set and maintain them.


 

In the middle of a world that had always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence. ~Rosanne Amberson

A King Who Walks with Confidence 

My Cherokee ancestors knew (and remembered) to call upon the spirit or energy of an animal for whom they needed help, guidance, or inspiration.  If one needed leadership they might call upon the energy of  mountain lion.  If one wished to invoke the energy of grounding forces and strength, they might call on bear.  We refer to this energy as an animal’s “medicine.”  In fact, even our domesticated cats have this medicine!  Some of their medicine includes: independence, healing, curiosity, many lives, magic, cleverness, seeing the unseen, dreaming, protection, and Love.

As the above quote alludes to, this world can be quite mad.  More than once in my life I was inspired to call on the energy of King Albert the Grey.  At the time I was nervous, scared, intimidated, and wavering in my thoughts.  I was shaking and so unsure of myself.

You might be wondering why I would call on a domestic cat when I was feeling those emotions, instead of a bear or puma.  I can explain.  At the time we shared a home with four cats.  None of them could offer what Albert’s energy could do.   Albert walks with confidence.  So much so that Albert has always felt more “bear” than feline.  He has the same confident predatory energy of the jaguars and cougars I once cared for.  His energy is like that of a lion.  In fact, he has always felt more like an actual king than a cat.  

This has always been so.  Ever since the day I first met him (as he was sneaking into my window one afternoon) he was beaming with calm confidence and unwavering focus and guiltless determination.  Even at 15  years of age, with his current health challenges, Albert exudes this same confidence and stability.  He radiates regal authority.  He rules our house with calm assuredness.  He teaches us with patience and compassion. This energy was exactly the kind of energy I needed that day. And the most amazing part is that I felt his energy as soon as I called upon him.

Animal Totems Susan Seddon Boulet
To the ancients, all animals had a sacred and spiritual meaning. The tribal healers knew the animal spirits well.  Each one offered their unique energy to anyone who called upon them.   Image from “Shaman: The paintings of Susan Seddon Boulet”

A King Who Heals and Teaches

Albert has introduced me to ideas and experiences that I never thought were possible.  Because of the healing and communication work that we have been doing together, our bond is stronger than it has ever been. Our relationship is deeper than I had ever expected, (or even wanted to have with him).  There is peace and harmony in our home because he is at peace.  Even with the health challenges he is currently facing, he is more alive and more vibrant than ever before.  While he is healing he is teaching us all.

Albert_Senior Cats _conscious Companion_just cats clinic
Offering Albert love and support while we were at the feline specialist last month

A King Who Waits Patiently and Allows

Another reason I humbly and excitedly celebrate King Albert today is because of the immense gratitude I feel for him.  What he has taught me this year has caused me to be (and I don’t use this phrase flippantly) … in total awe of him.  I am privileged to see Albert in a whole new light.  I thought I knew him before, but what I thought I knew of him were mere labels I had placed on him.  Now I see him.  I understand him.  I feel as if he has been waiting for me to listen to him, to see him, and allow everything to unfold perfectly. He is such a gift in our lives.

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Today we honor and celebrate your life, King Albert!  May the next 15 years be full of love, healing, and vibrant joy!  May your heart only know peace.  May you age gracefully.  May you always feel loved.

We love you, King Bear.

P.S. Thank you for allowing me to spend so much time on this post, instead of making you those birthday “catcakes” that I promised you.  Your patience will pay off quite deliciously in the near future, Albert!  =^..^=


 

Have challenging times brought you and your beloved closer? Have circumstances in life helped you to see your animal companion from another perspective?  How have they inspired or changed you? I would love to hear your story!

 

Pupcakes and Thanks

She called herself an angel.  She lived every kind of life and dreamt every kind of dream.  She was wild in her wandering, a drop of free water.  She believed in her life and in her dreams.  She called herself an angel, and her god was Beauty. ― Roman Payne

 

Sunshine Hocus

Four years ago, just before Thanksgiving our beloved canine companion, Hocus Pocus, and her siblings were born to a gentle homeless dog in the poorest county of the United States.  Below is the adoption ad that we responded to:

Cinnamon: 

• 3 week old puppy
• Female
• Large breed
• Primary color: Tricolor (Brown, Black & White)
• Coat length: Medium
• Shepherd/Cattle Dog Mix
Cinnamon Hocus
Our Hocus Pocus (A.K.A. Cinnamon) as a wee pup

 

This was Hocus Pocus’ Rescue Story:

Cinnamon and her brothers and sisters were saved just in time.  Their mom, Lola, was found very pregnant just rolling around in the middle of the street.  Lola only had a couple more weeks before she was due, and lucky for her she and her babies were saved by one of our volunteers. – Robeson County Humane Society No-Kill Animal Shelter, Lumberton, NC 

cinnamon lola
Why are you outside the Puppy Pile, Hocus Pocus?

Birth Dates

Fast forward to four amazing years later:  A few weeks ago someone reminded me that Hocus’ birthday was coming up, but as the day got closer we kept forgetting.  It wasn’t until just before bed last night that I realized we had missed her “official” birth date.   So of course we felt bad, then we laughed at ourselves, gave her a bunch of late-birthday-love and went to bed.

When I woke up this morning I was reminded that Hocus Pocus has the kind of life in which she’s celebrated as if it was her birthday every day, so missing her birthday doesn’t matter.  I know that she feels the love and gratitude that we have for her 356 days a year.  Plus, she doesn’t use a calendar.  Dates don’t matter to dogs.  Unconditional Love does.
IMG_4114
dog birthday

 

Daily Adventures

No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

forest adventures

Hocus Pocus lives a very enriched life. She has ever since she was a wee puppy.  Now at four years of age (She’s in her mid-30s!) Hocus hasn’t slowed down a bit, and her life continues to be enriched in innumerable ways.

The inspiration behind why I teach others how to have this kind of healthy and happy lifestyle with your animal companion in my workshops and with my clients is because this the kind of life I lead with my animal companions – 365 days a year.

We don’t wait for “special occasions” to have special adventures and games.  We do it daily.

squirrel hunting
Searching for squirrels!

dog birthday

Promises Kept

A while ago I made a promise to Hocus (and myself) that I will always make time for her.   I promised to never make excuses for why we can’t spend time together.  I promised to live every day like it was our last together.  We have daily adventures. We live life to the fullest.   Even if physical challenges creep up on me, I don’t make excuses; I find compromise.  I know that one day she may have physical challenges but that won’t stop her from wanting to explore and have adventures.
Dirty Ditty
Yes, she is actually blowing bubbles in the mud.
1335
Every Day is an Adventure for Hocus.
dog birthday

PupCakes 

I am honestly the worst at getting presents for people. And when it comes to pet-prezzies, I am not much better.  When the animals need something, we get it at that time, so when their birthdays come around (and I actually remember) I am out of gift ideas.  So I asked myself this question last night:
What kind of present do you give to a dog who:

– loves to eat

– goes bonkers for tasty treats

– rarely gets “people” food

– gets pig ears, trachea, cow ears, and frozen meat kongs on-the-reg

– has daily outdoor adventures

– could care less about most toys

Answer: PUPcakes

Then I thought, “Wait. But you don’t know how to make pupcakes.”

My next thought was, “How hard could it be??”

Turns out, it’s crazy fun and super easy.

And apparently irresistible.

Here’s the lowdown:

  1. Gather meats of choice. (Use only meats that you KNOW your dog is not sensitive to!)
  2. Mix in food processor/blender.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees in a muffin/cupcake pan for about 20 min.
  4. Cool. Then serve to the salivating birthday pup!
These were fun and easy to make, and Hocus went NUTS for them! (Well, she has only had one so far …. I am making them last all day!)
I don’t eat meat or know how to prepare it very well, so if I can make these, you can too!  If you forget about your pup’s birthday, don’t fret or feel bad.  You can make your pup a pupcake at the last minute and your pup will enjoy his/her birthday thanks to your baking!
dog birthday

Let Go of Guilt.

I mention the guilt idea because we all have busy lives and it’s easy to let things slip by us.  If you have ever forgotten a loved one’s birthday, you know how silly or even guilty you feel, but we don’t have to feel like that.  I have learned that when we are celebrating the ones we love every day their birth date kind of seems like just another day on the calendar.   If  we forget a birthday (or “hatch” day) we aren’t missing out on celebrating our friend, family member, or animal companion if we are honoring and celebrating their life every day of the year.
IMG_3748
2 years ago, Beach Day was nearly every day because we took advantage of it while we could! Never miss an opportunity to enjoy life!

Celebrate Your Loved Ones Every Day

The fact that Hocus came into the world on Thanksgiving is no coincidence to us.  “Thanks” and “giving” are what I think of when I see her sweet face, or think about her huge heart.  Every time I look at her my heart swells and fills with endless gratitude and love.  Her presence in our lives has made life exponentially more fun, more challenging, and more rewarding, and more alive.  Hocus Pocus has given us endless love, joy, and laughter.  She has also given these gifts to the lives of countless others. As I have written about before, it’s so important to honor and celebrate our loved ones every day.  Today and every day we give thanks to the life that she has chosen to share with us.

 

Birthday Blessings to your huge heart, Hocus! Now let’s GO PLAY!

 

Get IT! Stick play
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!  ― Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

Rebirth and Compassion Starts with Ourselves.

With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose. ― Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
 
full moon
Reflecting about what happened under the Full Moon this weekend

Katrina. 10 years later.

As I reflect back on what happened a decade ago my feeble words cannot come close to describing what thousands of souls experienced that fateful day and the following long months.   And honestly, no one wants to hear all of that.  It’s too much.  But I can share a tiny glimpse into what my animal companions and I endured, in hopes of bringing awareness and opening hearts.  I hope that by sharing part of my story others can heal, too.


Katrina_.jpg.

“You cannot un-hear what you have heard. You cannot un-see what you have seen. What you can do, however, is stop wishing that whatever happened in the past hadn’t happened.”

A decade ago the world watched the city, people, and animals of New Orleans suffer unimaginable terror, pain, and destruction.  It was one of the biggest national disasters, and total lack of national and local response on record.   What did we learn from it all?

Countless lessons.

One poignant lesson that pet guardians learned the hard way during and after this tragedy was simple but vital:  If it isn’t safe for you to stay, it isn’t safe for your animals.  They are family members.  Do not leave them behind!

I left someone behind.


Fate Took Over

That fateful day, I was at work with my Audubon Zoo colleagues, preparing to welcome hundreds of conference attendees and speakers.  We were hosting the annual American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) conference that weekend; an event we had been planning for years.  Our guests were arriving that day.

Hurricane Katrina was arriving, too.

Hurricane Katrina

As the dismal weather reports continued to flood in, we knew that instead of welcoming our guests with New Orleans sunshine and celebration, they would be welcomed with a category 4 or 5 storm.  As we prepared for our guests while listening to the news reports, we soon learned that Katrina was quickly changing course and headed right toward us. We were going to have to relocate ourselves and our pets to the hotel downtown where our conference guests were scheduled to stay.

But as Katrina changed course and complications came up, I was forced to leave home, like so many souls.

I use the word forced, but that’s only how it felt.  No one kidnapped me and drove me away from my beloved city.   I did what I had to do, and I acted on the best interest of many people and pets.  The conference delegates were now stranded in a city that was about to be ravaged by the storm of the century, so we had to get them, and ourselves to safety.  On top of that pressure, a dearly beloved canine and her people – my very good friends – needed my help.


The General Curator of the zoo was the leader of our Hurricane Team, and his wife was the director and CEO of the Louisiana SPCA, so they were both staying behind to lead their teams.  One of their dogs had recently been severely injured in a dog fight with another dog in their household.  Since Dan and Laura were staying behind with their teams, and the combative dogs couldn’t be evacuated together, the canines needed to be split up for their safety.  One of the dogs was in really bad shape and needed constant medical care, but it was not an option to leave her with our zoo’s veterinary staff; the Hurricane Team would have their hands full after the storm hit, and they had finite resources.

I adored and greatly respected both Dan and Laura.  And when I was needed, I cared for their dogs.  File’ (pronounced Feelay), the dog in need, had my whole heart.   As if that wasn’t motivation enough to do the right thing, I was also written into their will to take care of their house and dogs, in the event anything happened to them. So of course I would evacuate with File’.  Dan and Laura and the dogs were family.  I loved them all.  I would just add sweet File’ to the overgrowing caravan of people and pets. We would be fine!

Dog fight scars
File’ was badly injured and needed to be evacuated.

Now that a severely injured File’ was in the picture, relocating myself and my animal companions to the hotel downtown with my zoo colleagues and the conference attendees was not an option for me.  I had to leave. And we had to leave quickly.  From what we were told, we had hours to get out.


I remember very little about how things went down.  (Fear creates a muddy memory.)  But I vaguely remember being more afraid than I had ever felt before.  I remember feeling a panic steadily creeping into my chest.   Hell, everyone was scare and on edge.  Even my tough, always-oh-so-professional boyfriend and colleagues who were staying behind to “ride it out” as the Zoo Hurricane Team were nervous.   And frankly, none of us wanted to leave.  That was the last damn thing I wanted to do.  This was my home.  We were New Orleanians.  We don’t run.  We deal.  We can handle anything.

Katrina, and the epic failure of the city’s levee system, were not something that could be handled.

Eventually I accepted my fate of having to evacuate with strangers, a severely injured dog (who hated cats), three cats; one of whom recently adopted us (and who I wasn’t fond of), and a turtle.  I said goodbye to the Hurricane Team and my colleagues, invited strangers into my car, picked up File’ and her medical gear, and left the zoo.  We drove to my house a few miles away and started the oh-so-dramatic, pressured-filled process of evacuating; something I had never done (or considered doing) before.

I felt like we were running for our lives.


Moving quotes_relocation

The curator of mammals was a good friend of mine, so she offered to evacuate her animal menagerie in a caravan behind me so we could be there to support one another.  She met us at my house after she gathered her critter crew (and as many conference delegates as she could cram into her car).   She arrived at my house to find me wandering around aimlessly with nothing accomplished.   None of the cats or turtle were packed up. I was spinning my wheels with nothing to show for it.   In hindsight I can see that I didn’t know what I was doing.  I was acting out of pure fear and panic.  I couldn’t process what was happening, and I was scared.

As if a category 4 hurricane barreling towards us wasn’t enough, one week earlier I had returned from a nightmare of a trip.  My family and I had been at the nationally televised trial of a serial killer.  This monster, who had tortured and murdered one of our family members, was finally brought to justice.  I hadn’t even had time to process all that my family witnessed and learned during the trial.

Now this.

Being true to my procrastinating nature, I still hadn’t unpacked my suitcase from that difficult trip.  As I continued to wander in circles, my friend zipped up my unpacked suitcase, grabbed the cat carriers, and started filling up the bathtub with water (apparently we weren’t taking Little David, the turtle with us).   I had no idea what was happening.   I was still trying to process what was unfolding at what felt like warp speed.

But I did notice that Samantha, my beloved semi-feral black cat was no where to be found.

Samantha felt and heard the stress of the scene and left the house. This couldn’t have been worse timing.

I didn’t have hours to look for her.  I had minutes.

I honestly don’t remember a lot about that day, but I do remember searching for her everywhere inside and outside of the house.  I remember yelling for her over and over.  I remember hearing panic in my voice.  Standing outside shaking her “kitty crack” treats, (the one thing she could never resist) I prayed desperately that she would come running to me.

I finally realized that she had no intention of coming to me with all of the commotion that was happening in the house, in the driveway, and everywhere else around her home.   I decided I would wait for her to come to me.  I would just sit and wait and she would come eventually, and I would get her into her cat carrier.   Then we could leave.

She never came.


Leaving My Beloved Behind

I remember driving away sobbing uncontrollably.  I could barely breathe, let alone drive.  But I cannot remember why I left without her.  I honestly cannot remember the thoughts I had. I have no idea how I was able to justify it in my mind.  I don’t know exactly why I felt I had no other choice.  (Fear and panic tends to muddy the waters in your mind and you forget these kinds of things.)   Maybe I had to make that heartbreaking decision because we had such a small window to evacuate before the storm was on top of us; we would be stuck on the highway and bridges as Katrina came ashore.  Maybe it was because of a severely injured dog that needed help.  Maybe it was because of the two other cats, the strangers, colleagues, the pressure, and the feeling of having no other choice.

Regardless of why, leaving Samantha was the choice I made that day.

rescue misc 220


Looking Back

Leaving my dearly beloved Samantha behind is a decision that has haunted me, and pained my heart to this day.

Although she and I were eventually reunited during the third time I came back into the city to look for her, she paid the price of my decision to evacuate without her.  The terror and emotional and physical trauma she endured during that month alone eventually took her life a decade later. (One day I will write a fascinating post on how we know this.)   Despite our long separation and what she endured, the bright side of it all was that we were reunited. We were both done running, and doing our best to survive.  We had to relocated to a new home, but we were finally safe.

Finally back together again.

To this day, all of these events are something that I still cannot recall.  I don’t remember any details. In fact, I don’t remember much; my mind won’t let me remember.  For years I still had to remind myself that I did find her.  I found her.  I went to unimaginable lengths to search for her, and I found her.  She was found.   Alive.

Samantha


Lessons Learned

Katrina Rescue Pets

As an educator and behavior consultant, I now passionately teach others that proper planning before disaster strikes can help you remain calm and panic free in an otherwise overwhelming and stressful situation.  It will ensure your animal companions’ safety.  It will give you peace of mind.  I teach this to others now because I had none of that a decade ago.  I didn’t know what to expect, and I had no clue what it meant to “be prepared with pets”.

There were very few in our city (and nation) who were prepared.

But the few that were prepared, saved the lives of many, and brought peace and hope to countless souls.  These people learned from those who came before them; they learned from the mistakes and success of other who weathered previous storms. They learned how to be ready for the worst.  They were ready and they did what no one had ever done before.   Those who were prepared, and who responded to the chaos shined like diamonds.  These people were some of the greatest heroes our city had ever seen.  The Audubon Zoo’s Hurricane Team and the Louisiana SPCA were two of these bright diamonds.

Laura Maloney_SPCA_louisiana_new Orleans _Katrina

As I reflect back on that life-changing event, I realize that my decisions at the time, and that of our team’s, would indeed be those of the life and death kind and our leadership skills were tested in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined. – Laura Maloney, former director of the Louisiana SPCA

(You can read more about Laura’s lessons in leadership during a crisis here. )

Katrina Audubon Zoo Hurricane Team A and B
Great people doing great things during great challenges: Our Zoo’s Hurricane Teams (A and B) -Team A stayed through the storm. The rest of us came back later into our city as their relief team.

 If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. – Dr. Wayne Dyer

As life unfolds, we are bound to have heartache.  We find ourselves in situations we would never consciously choose.  But if we are wise enough, we learn from our mistakes, and misjudgments.  We live and we learn.  We make better choices for ourselves and others.   We see things in a new light.  We have another perspective.  We grow.  We forgive.

That fateful life chapter changed my life, Samantha’s life, and countless others in innumerable ways – some for the better; some we would gladly give back.   Looking back a decade later, I know I would have done so many things differently.  I would have never left her.  I would have waited for her.  But those choices aren’t an option now.   All I can do today is ask her for forgiveness.  I know she hears me from beyond this world. I know she holds no grievances. I know she has forgiven me.

More importantly, I have forgiven myself.

Two nights ago I laid in bed unable to sleep, thinking about everything my friends, colleagues, and myself witnessed and endured pre and post Katrina.  Until the decade “anniversary”, I never allowed myself to dwell on the past.  Not until now.   As my dear friend Laura so eloquently explains, Like many New Orleanians, I haven’t dug up Katrina memories; we tend to move on rather than look back.

I don’t believe in looking back, but this weekend my past caught up with me.  It was time for me to face it.

Laying in bed, sitting there with all of it, I couldn’t look away.  I felt panic setting in again.  I felt the overwhelming grief, sadness, pain, and judgement of my decision.   I needed to understand the “whys?” of leaving Samantha behind.  How could I make that choice?!?  Why?!  How could I?! How did I??

And why was this coming up for me to remember now?

I tried to push it away.  It was too difficult.  Overwhelming.  I asked and asked why, but I never heard the answers I wanted so desperately to hear.   So instead, I prayed for the strength to endure the heartache and pain.  Suddenly a deep and comforting presence of calm came over me and I clearly heard:  Have compassion for yourself.  

Compassion for myself was the last thing I thought I deserved.

Then I remembered that compassion is what I freely give to animals, children, nature, my family,friends, clients, and strangers.  Compassion heals.  Compassion opens hearts.  Compassion is how we forgive.   After everything I had gone through I needed to give compassion to myself.


REBIRTH

As I continued to contemplate the idea of compassion, I  remembered that compassion was what helped New Orleans to heal after the storm.  Compassion was what we New Orleanians gave to strangers, and what strangers gave to us when we were rebuilding.   Compassion was our glue.  Compassion was part of our Rebirth.

New orleans Second line Katrina

As I thought about how much love and compassion we felt during the darkest days, I was reminded that no matter what we experienced as individuals in that challenging chapter of life, we overcame it.   We made the best of it.  We grew stronger within ourselves and with each other.

We came TOGETHER.
We cried.
We laughed.
We loved hard.
We danced.
We rebuilt.
We. Were. Rebirth.

New orleans Katrina Halloween
One month after Katrina ravaged our city, we celebrated Halloween and made the best out of challenges we endured.

Compassion

Most importantly, this weekend I finally realized that the only thing we “need to do” is have total and complete compassion for ourselves, in all of life’s challenges.  We need to have compassion for what we endured and overcame – and what we are still enduring.   No matter what choices we made, we made the best ones we could at the time.  We did the best we could do at that time.   And that is O.K.  There’s no one to blame.  No judgement.  Only compassion.

Full Moon_compassion_self Love Quotes_conscious Companion


As you walk your path in life, my prayer for you is this:

May your soul heal from the challenges in life.

May the heartbreaks and setbacks be brief.

May your heart and mind only know peace.

May you never be afraid to live your life with a full and open heart.

May your heart always be able to love more, give more, and accept more.

May the trials and tribulations in your life be transmuted by the healing fires of forgiveness and love.

May you have an endless supply of compassion for yourself, and remember that you are doing the best you can.

firepit

Don’t dwell on the past; Live and love for today.   


And in case you were wondering what’s happened to our beloved city Ten years after Katrina, New Orleans is back – as loud and flamboyant as ever !!!