Living A Life That’s Golden

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I’m taking my freedom

Pulling it off the shelf

I’m taking my freedom

Wherever I choose to go

It will take me far

I’m livin’ my life like it’s golden

Livin’ my life like it’s golden, golden

I’m taking my own freedom

Putting it in my song

Singing loud and strong

Grooving all day long

I’m taking my freedom

Putting it in my stroll

I’ll be high-steppin’ y’all

Letting the joy unfold

“Golden”, by Jill Scott


Do you know that song from the goddess Jill Scott?  It’s really good.  I first saw Jill at Jazz Fest in New Orleans nearly a decade ago with a soul sister and she blew my mind; such powerful positive energy!  I shared the lyrics to her song  “Golden” because that is how someone I love very much lived his life, and it’s also how others have,too.  But before we go there, I would like to ask you some questions.

Who came into your life unexpectedly?

Who holds a key to your heart?

Who has made an impact on your life in ways you never expected?

Who has given you gifts that you can never repay?

Who has taught you some of your greatest life lessons?

Who would you do anything for?

For me, one soul that fits all of these is the focus of this post’s discussion.  His name is King Albert the Grey.

I wish you knew him.  In fact, I wish the world knew him the way I do.  He is a king. A badass.  A warrior.  He is a friend to few, a lover of fewer, and a Great Love of mine.

Please allow me to share why he is the King of our wee kingdom.

Note:  Below is an excerpt (and a very abbreviated version) of a chapter from my book about caring for senior cats.  This is one of my longer posts, so get comfy with your critters and settle in.  Oh, and you might need a tissue, too.


During the spring of 2005 a rather intimidating stray cat the size of a bobcat began sneaking into our house, via the cat window that my zookeeper boyfriend had designed. Our cats Mr. Beaux (a melanistic Siamese, and Samantha, a semi-feral cat) were free-roaming cats at the time; oh how things have changed!  

My roommate, the head Sea Lion trainer at work, would come home nearly every evening and find one of the neighborhood strays in our house.  As soon as she opened the front door this huge cat would come hauling butt out of our house!  We named this brute “Big Fat Grey Cat” (BFGC) because he was big, fat, and grey.  Not a clever name, I know. But we didn’t care. We just wanted him gone.  This shamelessly bold stray cat had a habit of creeping into our home, eating the cats’ food, playing with their toys, and pooping in their litter boxes!   I was livid.  And our cats were really starting to freak out.   So, one day I decided to put an end to the shenanigans.  I was going to catch this creepy cat in the act.

On my next day off I pretended to go take a nap on my bed, right next to the cat window where we assumed he was entering.  My plan was to scare the crap out of this cat so he would never come back.  As I laid there on my bed, I soon heard the chair below the cat window on the porch move (I knew he had hopped into the chair at this point).  I laid as still as a could with one eye open.  Within moments a huge grey head peaked through the rubber window flaps.  His long grey whiskers and ears were pushed forward fearlessly.  His bright yellow eyes were as wide as saucers, scanning the room.  I quickly closed mine, pretending to be asleep.   At this point, the only way this cat could enter the house was to literally walk over my legs.  That’s when I would pounce like a panther, forcing him to retreat and never come back!

I waited for him to step over my legs.  My heart was racing.  His must have been too.  I laid there for what seemed like forever, waiting for him to step between my legs.  To my utter shock and surprise this ballsy stray cat carefully began to lay himself down on my bed just inches away from my feet.

 “What in the world was happening here?!?!”, I thought to myself.

Both appalled and amazed, I opened my eyes and looked right at him, thinking my direct stare would surely scare him off.  As he continued to gingerly settle into the bed, he slowly glanced at me, gave me a slow blink, then turned his head slightly away from me, still maintaining his posture of confidence, but keeping his full awareness on me.

 “This cat had some nerve!”, I thought. “Who the hell does he think he is?!?”

 He knew who he was.  He was a King.  And he had just claimed my bed.  

And clearly this house.

Something came over me.  The plan of executing an angry attack on this creepy cat had changed.  I had gone from a human hunter waiting for her prey, to a curious cat lover wanting to understand what was happening in my home.  I took the bait. 

I looked at him.  He looked right at me, but with a gentle energy.  His eyes were softer.  He truly felt as if he was politely asking permission to just be there, on my bed with me, in our loving home.   I could feel and sense that he had no malice or ill intent.   He was asking for my permission to stay.  So, I took a deep breath, opened my heart to him, and said, “Well hello there.”

 For nearly six months after that, Big Fat Grey Cat stayed near our home.  It was all still very odd and a bit unsettling to me.  He was, as everyone knew, the neighborhood bully.  He was a brutal fighter and killer.  He literally captured and killed every prey animal he came across and consumed it in plain sight.  He fought every dog he saw, and every cat that was careless enough to come close to him.

 I vividly remember one examples of his fearless ferocity.  One afternoon while cleaning dishes, I looked out the kitchen window to discover BFGC standing in our driveway with a huge snake in his mouth!  I hollered at him, pounding on the window, hoping he would drop it (I am a HUGE lover of snakes!).  BFGC barely glanced over at me, intent on keeping his prey secure in his mouth.  I raced outside to rescue the snake from the jaws of death.  Big Fat Grey Cat stood his ground with the snake wrapped around his neck and head …


The rest of that story will be shared at a later date.  The point is, being a fearless hunter, an endless explorer, and an unapologetic badass was in Big Fat Grey Cat’s DNA.  Do you remember the infamous scene in Pulp Fiction at the end, with “the wallet”? (you only need to watch it until 1:05 to get the point.)  If this cat carried a wallet, that’s the kind that King Albert the Grey would have had.  It’s who he was.  He had no fear.  None.  Not for the 17 years of life that I knew him.  He lived for a thrill.  He took risks.  He never stopped exploring.  He was a badass.

But here’s what really captured my heart:  He followed sensitive, scaredy pants Mr. Beaux everywhere (which really freaked Beaux out), but he was always kind to Beaux; he never raised a paw and he let him lead.  He gave Samantha the extra space she required, and he knew when to keep his distance from our guests.  And he never came back inside through the cat window; he always asked to come in through the front door.  He even welcomed me home when my truck pulled into the driveway.

He adopted us as his family.

But I still wanted to know where he came from, and why he chose us, so I did some investigating.  It turned out, his owner was an elderly man that had become too weak to care for him and his brother, so BFGC and his sibling were left homeless.  He was truly looking for a new home, and he chose us.  I also know now that my grandmother In Spirit sent him our way (more on that later).   Eventually we embraced him fully into our family but that came much later, during and after Hurricane Katrina, and our evacuation adventures together.   I talk all about this much more in the book.   All you need to know now is that he was discarded onto the streets and became king of the streets.  He was once unwelcome, but we welcomed him.   He once intimidated us but we learned to see his softer side.

He ruled the streets with a grey iron paw, but wanted a loving home with us.  He was a ruthless hunter, but had a heart of gold for his companions.   He ruled his world with confidence, bravery, determination, focus, and strength.  He was unapologetic in every decision he made.  He understood the importance of healthy boundaries.  He was respected by all who encountered him.  He was both feared and admired, yet he could care less of what others thought of him.  He was loved by those who knew him, yet he loved only a few.  He was choosy with affection, in charge of his kingdom, and capable of attaining anything we wanted.  He truly was a great king.

This beloved King left our home for a new kingdom on the night of March 31, 2017.

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There are souls who come into this world to be the catalyst for change, healing, and growth.  And even fewer who can be fully understood for what they offer, what they embody, and who they truly Are.  King Albert the Grey was all of this and more to me.  He was my friend, my muse, my feline companion, my teacher, and my guide.

And he still is.

The death of his body has not caused any of that to change.  He is still all of this and more.  Those subjects will be shared in much greater detail at a later date.  For now, I want to focus on the manner in which he lived his life, instead of how his physical life ended.

My intent today is to focus on how he chose to live before he became the king of our household; back in the distant days when he had the freedom to choose absolutely anything.  King Albert’s former feline life played a key role in what occurred in the days, weeks, and months before he left our world for a new one.  After 17 years, King Albert The Grey’s feline life came full circle.

My intent is to share why it’s important to recognize the life he once lived.  How he lived his life as King of New Orleans’ streets (prior to becoming an indoor house cat) affected how King Albert was invited to live his life before he left this world.

This is how his Golden Years came to be.


Hocus and albert puzzle feeder senior cats

I have written about Albert before, and also about how we shouldn’t wait until it’s too late.  I’ve shown why I.E.P.s are a vital part of helping cats to age with grace and ease, and how senior and geriatric cats can greatly benefit from gentle novel foraging activities. But what I haven’t shared with you, is the transformational  Life Force behind one’s Love of Life.   King Albert’s love of life was one of the driving forces that fueled him; not only in his youth, but well into his senior and geriatric years.

This is what I offered him in his last life chapter.

He didn’t want, or ask for our pity, our worry, or our sadness for his health challenges and complications.  He never did in his youth, and he certainly didn’t as he aged.  He saw and felt beyond all of that.   He wanted to FEEL ALIVE, no matter the age.  He wanted to experience all that he could, despite his age.  He wanted the kind of life challenges he had in his youth.

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King Albert in 2005

Albert lived with vigor and fearlessness in his younger years.  Challenging himself and trying new things set his feline soul on fire.  King Albert was most alive when he could choose to go, be, and do, anything!   But even as his body began to fail him, he never let go of his love for life.  Albert embraced this vigor, well into his geriatric years.  I was in awe of him every day.  Truly in awe.  No matter what was going on in his body, he was at peace in his mind and his heart.  He didn’t let discomfort bring him down.  He was always ready for more.   Even on days when he could barely get up, he got up.

He never gave up.

And I never gave up on him.  Not for one moment.   Albert overlooked the body.   He taught me how to do this.  I learned to see beyond his aging, struggling body to the young, vibrant soul who was within.  I learned to trust him.  I let go of trying to control everything.  I learned to let him lead me.

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Look at your animal companions right now.   How would you describe their Love for Life?  What makes their heart sing?  What makes their soul soar?  Who were they in their younger years?  Who, what, when, and where did they enjoy most?  Do you have images of them from back then?  Find them.  Look at them with your animal companion and your family.  Find and SEE that young spirit that is alive within them now.  Ask your beloved what they want.   How would they want to spend their last days, weeks, months, or years?  What would their Golden Years become if they could choose?  What would they want to have, be, see, or do if you would allow it?  Who are they at heart?? Can you see their vibrant soul within their aging body??

It’s still there.

This is some of what Albert taught me when his body began to fail.  Recognizing his vibrant youth within a geriatric body and constantly seeing beyond his body was one of the greatest gifts I could give him every moment of our days together.  Recognizing his innate feline needs, acknowledging his heart’s desires, and how much he LOVED life was what I needed to see, feel, and know.  Once I finally recognized these, I was able to give him what he needed.

I gave him a life that was golden.

I knew who King Albert was and what he wanted in his golden years.   I knew because I knew him back in his youth.  All of those adventures and escapades he had never left him; he still wanted to have those even as he aged.  He still wanted to try new things.  He wanted to live bravely and fiercely, even at 17+ years of age.  Albert wanted to be able to relish everything that life had to offer him.  The scents on the breeze;   The grass, soil, and sand between his paw pads;  The Earth’s healing energy under his body;  The warm sun on his face;  The wind in his whiskers.  These were some of his favorite things.  These are what Albert wanted every day of his life.

This is what I gave to him during his last days on Earth.

Below is a short film that I created as a tribute to our King Albert The Grey.  I hope it inspires you to give your aging animal companion a life that’s Golden.


Living a Life That’s Golden from Conscious Companion



My husband and I are both Make A Wish Granters; we have been serving in this role since 2009.  This role has been life changing for me. The incredible and unique wishes that are granted to children and their families during their most challenging times change all of their lives forever.   What we gave to our King Albert during his life threatening illness is very similar to what families of children with life threatening illnesses are able to experience through The Make A Wish Foundation.  When these amazing children are faced with constant medical procedures, daily/hourly medical care, and the stress of illness, they need a release from the emotional and physical discomfort! So Make A Wish gives them their One True Wish.  Not only is the child able to participate in their deepest heart’s desire, and receive a reprieve from the medical monotony, but so does their family.  The child, parents, and siblings are One throughout the entire process; everyone needs a break, and a chance to celebrate life together!

This is very similar to what people go through with their pets when they are going through a life-threatening illness, or when they are living their last days on Earth.  Round the clock medical care at home can be mentally and physically exhausting for everyone in the home.  Both people and all the animals need a break from the constant focus of sickness; we need a time of celebration. We need to let them Live Their Life, even in the  midst of sickness.

We have the power to grant our beloved their One True Wish.

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“ I’ve learned to heed the call of the heart.  I’ve learned that the safest path is not always the best path. I’ve learned that the voice of fear is not always to be trusted.” ― Steve Goodier


Think about this. When your dearest friend or family member is leaving for a better opportunity, or the time has come for them to move on because of life circumstances, do you beg, cry, and plead for them to stay?  Or do you celebrate the time you had together and the time you still have left, by relishing every moment, every smile, every laugh?  Do you celebrate where they are headed?

Celebration and support is what our aging animal companions need from us.

Consider what you could create together when it’s time for your beloved to move on.  Rather than putting your energy and emotions into defeat, consider putting your energy into creating a celebration of the last days you have together!  What adventures and memories you will have! What a gift you will give them!

Please know that I am not being flippant about death by any means.  For goodness sake, I am an Empath; animals are my life and the emotions that come with them are not for the faint of heart.  Animals are my best friends and my family.  They are my heart.  But I have been in the depths of depression too many times to count when I had to suddenly say goodbye to my beloved in the past.

I finally know better.

Now I put all of my energy into loving and celebrating every moment with them.  Now I am focused on creating love and joy with them, instead of drowning in sorrow.  And I can promise you this: If you saw, felt, and knew where they were headed, you would throw one helluva party every damn day with them.  Wherever you are in this process, there is no time to waste while they are still with us.

Celebrate their life while they are still here!

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Not only did I give Albert every adventure he asked for near the end, I also gave him my unconditional love, endless support, and patience.  This love came in many forms.  From Hospice care at home, including force-free medical care multiple times a day (voluntary injections, fluids, and oral medicine).  And not once was he forced to participate; we were a team from the get-go.  This love also came in the form of finding the best holistic vet, to working in collaboration with the best feline medical hospital and their amazing team who let Albert set the pace.   This love came in the form of alternative, holistic medicines and energy healing.   This love came in the form of me consciously managing my energy, removing my fears, and learning to let go of control and trust him.  This love came in the form of creating a deeper connection and soulful communication with him every day.   This love and patience came in the form of allowing him to choose in every circumstance.

This love led us together into our best last days together.  This love allowed him to live his golden years with grace and ease.  We gave it our all with love.  We never gave up on each other.   Love led us to each other, and Love helped us all to lead him Home.

This love lead him Home to The Light.

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Although it has been just over a week since he left his kingdom here for his new Kingdom in the heavens, the grieving process is still occurring.   I am remembering to be gentle with myself, to be conscious of managing my energy, who I interact with, what I allow into my awareness, and the manner in which I continue to fully accept this hand of fate.  Although I have not written here in a few months, I felt it was important to share this with you now, especially while I am still processing his passing and honoring his incredible, full life and the lessons he taught me.

These lessons are now being shared with you.

If you, or someone you know is struggling with an aging animal companion, take heart.  Do not forget for one moment that you and your beloved are connected in heart and mind.  When we are faced with the certain (or uncertain) fate of our beloved animal companion we have two choices.  Listen well, and remember this.  We can choose to fall into fear, or we can choose to lift ourselves and our beloveds in Love.

In every moment, we have a choice.

No one else can make this choice for us.  It is ours and ours alone.  We can cry over the circumstances or we can embrace them fearlessly.  We can choose to stay angry and resentful about what’s in front of us or we can choose to celebrate their last days on Earth with them.  We can find creative solutions, or we can give up.  We can choose to accept defeat, or we can choose to proceed ahead together with an open heart of acceptance.   We can sink into the swamps of sadness that steal our joy, or we can stand tall, walk with our beloved joyfully, and celebrate every breath together.  We can choose to stare into the face of their declining mental and physical health and become burdened with despair, or we can keep searching for solutions.  We can choose to see sickness and death, or we can choose to see beyond their body; we can see, feel, sense, and know their vibrant soul within.  We can give up or we can give them a life that’s Golden.

We get to choose.

When we choose to let go of fear (anger, sadness, control, etc.) we let them (and fearless Love) lead.  When we find peace, we give them permission to live their last days in peace.  When we see beyond their body we are giving them the greatest gift; we are recognizing and remembering who they really are.  When we learn to listen to their needs, their requests, and their wishes, we are honoring them and respecting them.  When we honor and love ourselves through these challenges we are also honoring them, for We Are One.

Ea Nigada Qusdi Idadadvhn 

(Cherokee for “All my relations in creation”)

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One of the promises I made to King Albert the Grey before and during his transition was to live my life the way he did:  To be brave and fearless, to set clear and firm boundaries, to love unconditionally, to embrace each day, to never waste a moment in sadness, to remember our True Home, to love and appreciate family, to never put things off for later; to seize the day, and to relish every moment, to be focused and determined, to collect memories not things, and to celebrate the gift of life.  One of his clearest messages is to never put off what I can give to myself and others today and to have amazing adventures every damn day!!!  This is what I have been doing every day since he left this world.

It has already begun to change my life.

The all-too-familiar soul crushing sadness has not been my constant companion, like it has been countless times in the past.  Depression, stagnation, and sadness have been replaced with gratitude, celebration, and joy!  I feel unconditional love when I see him in The Light.  I feel gratitude when I celebrate his new Home in his new Kingdom.  I find joy when I remember where he is and what he gave to our family.  I feel overwhelmed with humble appreciation when I recognize that he is now my constant guardian.   And I feel alive, as Albert did, when I get up every morning and seize the day.


 

“We must be able to look forward in old age to the next day and to look forward to the great adventure that is  ahead.” -Dr. Carl Jung


I love you, King Albert.  You ruled our kingdom with strength, grace, and dignity through your very last breath here on Earth.  I know you are doing this now, in your new world.  When your fierce and brave Spirit was released from your body you were in my arms at home.  It was an honor, but it broke my heart.   The grief was almost to much to bear again.  But then my heart began to heal when I remembered:  Who you are cannot die.

You are now in a state of grace forever.  You are now a warrior of Light. And every moment that I honor you and the Truth of who you Are, all of our hearts and minds are healed.

Be well, brother.  May you never stop expanding, and may your adventures never end!

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There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. -J. Nehru

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This post is only one aspect of our journey together before he transitioned.  I will share more about these pieces in the future.  These topics include:

• Cat Harness Training – safe walks without fear and frustration for everyone

• Getting Real Consent (force-free medicine, medical procedures, and end of life choices)

• Hospice for Animal Companions

• Natural Death – Assisting with Their Transition at Home

• Utilizing Soul Speak for Life’s Challenges

• Death – The Great Divide or Daring Adventure?

All of these topics will be included in detail in the book, but I will do my best to share them here as time allows.




The picture gallery below is a beautiful reminder that we have the power to create miracles and magic during trying times. We CAN give our animal companions a Golden Life, no matter where they are on their journey.  An aging body and life-threatening illness doesn’t have to be the end of their days.  These circumstances can be the beginning!

We can grant their One True Wish (and a hundred more)!

The animals pictured in this gallery have passed on (some very recently), but but the grief of their passing is surpassed by the love and adventures their people gave them during their last days on Earth.  The gifts these souls were given will remain in their hearts and minds for all time.  Their people knew what they needed, wanted, and wished for; they gave it to their beloved animal companion.  During their last days on Earth they all lived a Golden Life.

Click on the images to read how these superstar souls spent their last days on Earth.


If you would like to share how you gave your beloved a Golden Life before they passed on, you are welcome to contact me.  I will be adding more pictures as the stories of love and celebration come in, so feel free to share their story.


Be well, friends.  Love each other.  Appreciate and celebrate every moment with your beloveds.  Don’t waste a moment.  Create adventures and memories now.  These will be part of the love they bring with them into their next life!  The time for celebration is NOW!

Conscious Companion

Their World of Gratitude

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There is always Light behind the darkness.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.

 

Hello.  I hope this finds you and yours doing very well and at peace.  I hope wherever you are in the world you are enjoying the holidays and the changing seasons of life.

You may have noticed that I have been absent in sharing with you for many weeks.  Things on our end have been nonstop and challenging, to say the least.  I haven’t had time to share here, continue writing my books, or working with clients.  I have made a few videos, but in general, all professional work has been on hold.

Since I last shared with you we have had many successes and a few scares.  We’ve had three birthdays in the house (woot!), four surgeries, one near-death experience (on a birthday), one reactive rover who trusts again (hallelujah!), funerals for fallen Marines, family and friends visiting, awards ceremonies, best friends battling cancer, and a multitude of other experiences.

But today I am allowing myself to take a break. Today I am choosing to channel my energy into this post in hopes that it will inspire and uplift you. Today I am focusing on something we often forget to focus on: gratitude.


Ever since we moved to California there has been one challenge after another. One struggle after the next. One illness after another. Pain. Heartache. Frustration. Exhaustion.

But that’s not the full story. That’s only part of the picture. There has been much more at play. There is another side to all the stress and strife.  The other side of the struggles are at the heart of this post.

Between the physical and emotional struggles there have been miracles and wonder.  There’s been growth, expansion, hope, strength, endurance, and bonding.  There have been life lessons learned, friendships forged, soul contracts at play, inspiration gained, and new horizons seen.  There have been unimaginable success, hard-fought healings, and life-changing growth on every level possible.

And through it all, somehow we have remained in gratitude. We come back to gratitude. And we remain there. Looking above it all, I am in awe.


Each one of the struggles and successes deserve a post in itself.  In fact, there will be several chapters dedicated to each of them in the books I am writing.  But for now, I will summarize a few of them because not only is there too much to cover in one post, but some stories are not ready to be shared with the world just yet. But they will be one day. I look forward to sharing that with you when the time is right.

Today I want to keep it simple.  I want to uplift and inspire.  My goal is to redirect our focus. And to see life from a new perspective. Even if it’s merely a glimpse.

Today I will be sharing something from the animal’s perspective.

I took the liberty to share not only what they have shared with me over the years, and what I have learned from them lately, but also what I perceive their truths to be.  All of this is centered on their idea of “Gratitude.”


“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson


 

Thanks and Giving Beyond November

I have discussed the idea of making room for gratitude before.  I have discussed why it’s so powerful, why we need it now, and why you deserve thanks.   But this post takes a new spin on a familiar topic.  And it curtails the many thanks and giving that some have been enjoying lately.

Here in the United States we just wrapped up Thanksgiving.  It’s a lovely time of year if you create the time to slow down and enjoy it.  I love seeing people smiling, sharing, and caring more this time of year.  I love seeing and hearing the words, “grateful”, “gratitude” and “thankful” tossed around like autumn leaves on the breeze.  An attitude of gratitude seems to permeate people.  It’s really quite beautiful.

But then it leaves.

Just as the vibrantly colored leaves float to the ground, briefly rest on the Earth and quickly dance off into the horizon, so too goes our gratitude.

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But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Gratitude can be an attitude that we embody during the most challenging times. Gratitude can be a cloak in which we cover a tired body.  Gratitude can be the breeze we choose to ride.  It can be the wind we set our sails to while riding the rocky seas.  Gratitude can sooth the most exhausted mind.  It can heal a broken heart.  It can change your world.  And it can radically change the world of our animal family members.

But we have to choose it.

Gratitude is not a gift. It is not reserved for the elite, the special, or the few.  It is who we are.  It is who you are without all of the other thoughts, beliefs and judgments.  Gratitude, like Love is always only a thought away.

I am reminded of this during every struggle.  In fact, I am reminded of Gratitude when I look at how the animals move through their lives.  I am reminded of the power of gratitude when I see them shine; when their light is brightest even when there is a dark cloud above them.  I am reminded of gratitude when they outshine me.

It’s as if all the world could be falling apart, but they somehow remain grateful in their heart.  They rise above it.  They see beyond temporary, fleeting circumstances. They know that this too, shall pass.  They know more than we realize and gratitude is their guide.


“Just an observation: it is impossible to be both grateful and depressed. Those with a grateful mindset tend to see the message in the mess. And even though life may knock them down, the grateful find reasons, if even small ones, to get up.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free


Gratitude as a Gift

I started thinking about how gratitude has pulled me out of my darkest depressions and my most intense anxieties over the years.  Gratitude has transformed boredom, frustration, fear, and anger into hope, trust, and joy.  I thought about how much there is to be grateful for, even during the darkest hour.  I thought about how gratitude has been a driving force pushing me through the past few months.

Then I thought about our animal family members.  I wondered what they might be grateful for this year.  I wondered how gratitude played into their perspective.  I wanted to really look into what they were thankful for, without stepping into the quicksand of anthropomorphism.  I wondered what they would say “Thank you” for every day.

What I discovered wasn’t a surprise; these aspects are all part of their journey and the story of their lives.  If the animals were to say “thanks” for the circumstances and gifts in their lives, their lists might include these:

  • Unconditional Love
  • The ability to let go
  • Hide and seek games
  • Seeing the world through innocence
  • Fireside snuggles
  • Seeing our people become stronger and fearless
  • Meals tailored to our individual needs
  • Foraging and hunting opportunities
  • Being unattached
  • Sharing our people’s bed
  • Play time
  • Knowing this world is temporary; a place away from our real Home.
  • Being unapologetic
  • Energy healing sessions
  • Holistic care
  • Animal communication
  • Living a force-free way of life
  • Being silly and goofy
  • Food used as a tool
  • Soul contracts being honored
  • Unexpected car rides in the Adventure Box
  • The ability to choose
  • Meeting nice people out and about
  • Healthy boundaries
  • Seeing my people happy and healthy
  • Getting permission to roll in smelly goodness
  • Overcoming illness
  • Watching our person learning to let go
  • Warm beds
  • Communicating on a new level
  • Smelling the scents on the breeze
  • Our person learning how hidden emotions affect us
  • Excellent boxes
  • Teaching our people new life lessons
  • Meditation moments
  • Knowing that our people are doing the best they can
  • Watching each other grow
  • Feeling the sun on our fur and face
  • Aging with dignity and grace
  • Soul mates
  • Unlikely friendships forged through trust
  • Just Being
  • Force-free medical care at home
  • Bonds that never break
  • Being seen as an individual
  • Polite play dates
  • Being listened to and heard
  • A loving home
  • Being near the one you love
  • Adventures
  • Being loved for who I Am

 

…Those were just a few of their “thanks” that came to mind.  These are a merely a snippet of what I have been honored to learn from them.  I am grateful.  I am humbled. I am honored.  And I am grateful for each of them.

Teachers. Gifts. Angels. Lights in the dark.  That is what they are to me.  This is some of what I am grateful for each day.  This is what I will focus on as we move through this life together. This is what I will remember when things get hard. When life is rough. I will remember these things and I will share their gratitude.

Our gratitude won’t end now that Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Our gratitude will last.  It will be within us 365 days a year.  And as we grow gratitude, we will pass it on to others. If you’re interested I made a quick video about this. You can view it here.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/193259849″>An Attitude of Gratitude 365</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user31689127″>Conscious Companion</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



 

What do you believe your animal companions are grateful for? What are the gifts in their lives? What supports their attitude of gratitude? What would be on their “thankful for” list?



Before I go, I would also like to share that I am grateful for you.  Thank you for being here. Thank you being a part of this community.  Thank you for reading, staying inspired, and for being willing to stay in an attitude of gratitude every moment of the day.

From our family to yours,

Much love and light


“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
― Meister Eckhart

carlsbad-sunset-conscious-companion
Sunset at our home


YouTube

 

Moments Like These

snowflake up close

“Snow falling soundlessly in the middle of the night will always fill my heart with sweet clarity”- Novala Takemoto

I hope you are enjoying a most relaxing weekend.  We sure are.  This morning I awoke to discover a soft fluttering of snow falling outside our house.  Considering the extreme lack of snow we have had in our nation’s capital this year, it was a most welcomed sight!

My heart leapt with joy when I saw the gorgeous details unfolding just outside my window.

falling snow.png

The evergreen tree boughs held the falling snowflakes ever so gently, and the grass gladly accepted each falling snowflake as if it were a dear friend helping a loved one settle down to rest.  The snow was falling effortlessly.  Not one of the snowflakes struggled.  Each unique snowflake drifted down with ease and grace.  They appeared to be so light and free.  I wanted to be those snowflakes!

snowflake up close high rez

I stepped outside.  The moment I stood there under the gently falling snow my heart was happy.  My mind was quiet and at peace.  Every time a snowflake landed on my eyelashes and caressed my face I lit up with the joy and laughter of an innocent and playful little girl.

snow VA vienna.jpg

After my giggles and laughter subsided, I felt another sensation.  What I noticed almost immediately was the calm, quiet, stillness of what I was witnessing. The world was silent.   No cars.  No kids.  No sirens.  Just beautiful silence.  It was if the chaos of the world had been put on pause by a giant mute button.  I was taken aback by the beauty in that silence.   And a part of me longed to experience that forever.

snowflake up close ice.jpg

In moments like these, the entire world appears to be completely at rest and in harmony.  Experiencing this kind of serene silence, stillness, and peacefulness is when I remember that we all have the power to experience this kind of peace of mind and stillness, no matter what appears to be happening outside of us.

snow falling.gif

Life gets chaotic.  Work and home can get hectic.   It can be hard to weather the storms that come straight at us.  But we can learn how get through them all with grace and ease.

Whether we are struggling with finances, health, a relationship or career, or if one of our beloveds is aging or dying, we can still find peace despite the heartache and stress.  We can experience moments of deep peace in the middle of one of life’s storms.  Animals do this all the time.  In fact, it’s one of the most miraculous and beautiful gifts they give us; they know how to find that peace within. They show us how to do this.

We can also go within and find this peace.  We can find this peace when we look into the eyes of our beloved animal companions, our children, friends, and life partners.  We can find this peace in art, nature, meditation, prayer, and a million other ways.  We can find this kind of peace watching the snow fall with grace and ease.

This peace and stillness is always available to every one of us; we just have to choose to experience it.


Where do you find moments of peace?  Where and when can you enjoy the silence?

real-snowflakes-falling-up-close

“Thank goodness for the first snow, it was a reminder–no matter how old you became and how much you’d seen, things could still be new if you were willing to believe they still mattered.” ― Candace Bushnell

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 !!!

Stranger in Black 

There are no ordinary cats. – Colette beaux_Conscious Companion

August 2, 2015

Have you ever met someone when you least expected it? And not only did you meet them when you least expected it, but they ended up being one of the greatest influences in your life?

I have. Many of them, actually, but the one who surprised me the most was an animal.

A black cat.

16 years ago after graduating college at Louisiana State University, I was working at LSU’s veterinary teaching school. One fateful day I happened to walk up to the front desk to receive a drop off.  We often received a lot of injured wildlife, but this animal was an injured and exhausted young black kitten.

We had “no room at the inn”, but the staff agreed to hydrate and treat him if one of us could take him home temporarily.  I immediately declined; I really was not a huge fan of cats.  Plus, I was currently searching for our M.I.A. pit bull, Daisy. – She would have certainly thought this wee kitten was an offering to her!  I couldn’t take the chance.

Taking this kitten home was not an option. Period. No way. No how. Never. Not me.

I took the kitten from the woman’s hands, and held him on my left arm. Looking back now, I realize that I was uncomfortable holding him near me.  But before I knew it, this injured and dehydrated kitten was curled up in the crook of my bent arm, fast asleep.  My arm ached terribly, but for some reason I didn’t want to wake him. (Note: This was the start of him training me!)

My colleagues and the woman who found the kitten continued to pressure me into taking him “for just one night!”  The woman who brought him in offered to pick him up promptly the next day after work, “I promise! I’ll get him tomorrow. I just have to get to work. I’m so late!”  I very reluctantly agreed. I told her, “One night. That’s it. If I find my dog the cat cannot be at my apartment.”

I never heard from this woman again.

The next day began the beginning of the rest of my life with Mr. Beaux.


 

 

Beaux Fall carlsbad 2017


Fast Forward to 2017:

18 incredible years have gone by and he’s still with me.  During this time together he never ceases to amaze me. We have been through more together than any animal or person I know.  We have survived countless moves, missing-in-action-adventures, misunderstandings and musings.  We’ve endured countless Hurrications, heartbreaks, ghost sightings and hauntings.  We have experienced the passing of loved ones, weddings, deployments and homecomings, health and sickness, and everything between.  Beaux snuggling as usual

He’s seen me at my absolute worst, on my darkest days.  He has watched me bloom in my brightest hours.  He has taught countless children and adults what cats are capable of.  He’s watched me learn how to let down my barriers to love, thanks to his persistent ability to love unconditionally.  He’s taught me how to truly listen to animals through the heart, how to listen more than speak, how to hear my inner guidance, and how to be the teacher and always the humble student.  He’s taught me how truly magnificent and magical cats truly are.

Beaux has taught me more in our 18 years together than any species I’ve ever known.  I have learned more from Beaux about life, love, and cats than I ever thought possible.  Who knew that a melanistic Siamese could teach a person so much??  I sure didn’t.  After all, he was “just a cat”.

I am still learning from him, including how to be a better guardian to him every day.

Conscious Companion_black cats
“What greater gift than the love of a cat.” ― Charles Dickens

 


There must have been an angel by my side
Something heavenly led me to you
Look at the sky
It’s the color of love
There must have been an angel by my side
Something heavenly came down from above
He led me to you
He built a bridge to your heart
All the way
How many tons of love inside
I can’t say

-Kiss of Life, SADE


Thank you, Beaux, for being one of my greatest teachers in life.  Thank you for being my  Bodhisattva.  Thank you for helping me to write our book about you.

I am so looking forward to more adventures with you, more magic and wonder,  more love and learning, and to continue celebrating the amazing soul that you are.
Happy birthday, Mr. Beaux!!! ❤

Conscious Companion_Copyright 2015_black cats_Mister Beaux

P.S. Although you are now 18 years of age, I wrote this when you were 16  … and I know you think it ain’t no thang to you (even if it was equivalent to 80 human years!)  But as you so perfectly proclaimed, “I am young and vibrant!”

Damn right you are.

And may that always be so.  Cheers to another decade together.

Namaste, my feline friend.

 

Black Cats_ Mr. Beaux_Conscious Companion

This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree.  ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat


 

Beaux
Mr. Beaux, my beloved Bodhisattva at 18 years young


“Cats are good; half in, half out anyway.”

– John Constantine

Honoring a King, Whose Death Sparked Outrage Around the World

All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We do not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. – Chief Seattle

Cecil the Lion

I was deeply saddened and angered today when I learned of another senseless and preventable death.  His name is Cecil. He was a 13 year young African male lion (Panthera leo).  Cecil was a regal male who was breeding and helping to increase Africa’s lion populations.  Cecil was -and remains- a symbol of strength, beauty, and courage. Cecil was in the prime of his life just weeks ago.

His body was found decapitated and skinned outside of his preserve earlier this month.

This Was Not an Honorable Death

According the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a charity which focuses on the conservation and preservation of wildlife in the southern African country, Cecil was lured from the safety of the private safari across an old railway line, which acts as an invisible boundary, onto hunting lands.  It was here where the hunters were waiting to take advantage. They used a goat carcass to bait Cecil onto their land -an all too common and dirty practice seen throughout Africa.

Cecil was then shot with a crossbow in the Gwaai concession about 1,100 yards from the protection of the national park. Cecil did not die immediately; it took two days to track the lion and kill him with a rifle.  Cecil was then skinned and his head was removed as a trophy.  They left his body there to rot.

Hwange conservation consortium says this hunt was illegal.

Although it is legal to kill Big Game such as lions, giraffe, elephants in some of these areas, the hunters claim they had not realized who this lion was: “It was a magnificent, mature lion,” they said.  “We did not know it was well-known lion.  I had a licence for my client to shoot a lion with a bow and arrow in the area where it was shot.”

Apparently, there were other irregularities in the hunt which are being investigated, including the fact that in the Gwaai Conservancy no lion hunting quota was issued for 2015, and the GPS collar on Cecil was destroyed by the hunters.

Cecil was wounded by a crossbow and arrow, and then killed, skinned and decapitated 40 hours later


Cecil Was a Part of a Conservation Research Program.

When he was killed, Cecil was wearing a GPS-collar.  A team of researchers in Hwange National Park have been conducting an ongoing study on behalf of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University since 1999.  It’s been an ongoing ecological study of African lions in Hwange.  They are measuring the impact of sport-hunting beyond the park on the lion population within the park, using radio-telemetry and direct observation.  The research they have gathered to date is startling.

34 of 62 tagged lions died during the study period; 24 were shot by sport hunters.  These sport hunters killed 72 percent of tagged adult males from the study area. This caused a decline in numbers of adult males in the population.


Cecil’s Prides

Conservationists are concerned that by killing Cecil, his death leaves as many as 12 cubs vulnerable to infanticide by male lions who will assume leadership of Cecil’s prides. (Males commonly kill the cubs of ousted pride leaders so that they may sire their offspring with the females they inherit.)  Cecil was in coalition with another male lion, Jericho.  Between them they had two prides that consisted of six lionesses, and about a dozen cubs.

Cecil lion cubs pride

Cecil’s death is a tragedy, not only because he was a symbol of Zimbabwe, but because now his cubs will die too; a new male won’t allow them to live, to encourage Cecil’s three females to mate.  Hunting predators on the boundaries of national parks such as Hwange causes significant disturbance and knock-on effects such as infanticide when new males entered the prides.  As a single male, Jericho will be unable to defend the two prides and cubs from new males that invade the territory. This is what we most often see happening in these cases. Infanticide is the most likely outcome.

 -Dr. Andrew Loveridge


 Cecil the African Lion in Hwange, Zimbabwe

The video below shows Cecil, like many of the species in the area, enjoying life on the preserve with his family.

Footage of Cecil with one of his prides

Tourists from only one lodge collectively pay $9,000 per day. Zimbabwe could have brought in more in just five days by having Cecil’s photograph taken, rather than being shot by someone paying a one-off fee of $45,000.
Tourists from only one lodge collectively pay $9,000 per day. Zimbabwe could have brought in more in just five days by having Cecil’s photograph taken, rather than being shot by someone paying a one-off fee of $45,000.


Lions Are Complex.

A recent study conducted on the socio-spatial behavior of lion population following the perturbation by sport hunting shows that there’s growing evidence that lion populations which are socially disrupted may be more prone to coming into conflict with human communities on the boundaries of protected areas.  They believe this is largely because movement patterns become erratic and lions are more likely to leave the park.

“These cats are complex, which is why disturbance of their social system has such far reaching knock-on effects.” – Dr. Loverage


Lions By the Numbers

  • 600 lions are killed by tourists each year.
  • Lions have vanished from over 80% of their historic range.
  • Lions are listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
  • In West and Central Africa, the species is now classified as Endangered.
  • Lions exist today in 29 countries, including 28 countries in Africa and 1 country in Asia.
  • Illegal killing, relentless habitat loss, and over hunting of wild prey by humans have left lions precariously close to extinction.
  • Kenya loses 100 of its 2,000 wild lions every year due to killing by humans.
  • At this rate, lion experts believe there will be no wild lions left in Kenya by 2030.
  • 100 years ago there were 200,000 lions living in the wild in Africa. Today there are fewer than 30,000.
  • Lions are extinct in 26 countries.

The premature death of this lion highlights a sobering reality: lion populations are in catastrophic decline across Africa. A century ago, more than 200,000 lions roamed the continent; yet recent surveys estimate that in the last two decades alone, lion numbers have decreased from approximately 30,000 to around 20,000. –Panthera

Africa’s Lions Face a Tri-Fold Threat:

  1. Retaliatory persecution by herders and farmers
  2. Dramatic loss and fragmentation of habitat
  3. Scarcity of wild prey due to overhunting by hu­mans.

lion
Graphic from Panthera

Lions have slipped under the conservation radar for too long. If we do not act now, lions will find themselves in the same dire predicament as their Asian counterpart, the tiger. – Dr. Guy Balme, Panthera’s Leopard Program Director


Weighing In

Below are recent statements from sport hunters and conservationists in the area where Cecil resided.

Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides AssociationJuly 23 at 10:33am ·

“Zimbabwe Parks Wildlife Management Authority, are currently still conducting an investigation on the legalities of the hunt that took place and for which they are the appropriate authority to do so. We therefore can not and will not comment on the legal aspect, whilst this investigation is ongoing. ZPHGA are working together with ZPWMA and Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ).  ZPHGA confirms the Professional Hunter in charge of the Safari is a member of ZPHGA. Therefore ZPHGA can make a ruling on the aspect of ethics and his membership at this time.  ZPHGA in the follow up of the investigation concludes that in regarding the responsibility of his membership, the PH was is in violation of the ethics of ZPHGA.  ZPHGA therefore with immediate effect, suspend his membership indefinitely.  The professional hunter and company he works for have been co-operative in the investigation.  ZPHGA re-iterates it will not tolerate any illegal hunting or any unethical practices by any of its members and their staff. ZPHGA will await the completion of the current investigation by ZPWMA before commenting any further.  We ask all members of ZPHGA, as well as the general public, to please respect the ongoing investigation underway by the appropriate authorities ZPWMA.”

——

Bhejane Trust  July 23 at 1:58am · An update on the killing of Cecil, the famed Hwange lion.

“The PH, Theo Bronkhurst, and the concession “owner”, one Honest Mpofu, were arrested and appeared in Hwange Magistrate court on the charge of illegally killing a lion. According to sources, there was no permit for lion on their hunt, and the concession area (Antionette) does not have any lion on quota. They have been remanded out of custody until August 6th. so Parks can continue their investigations.  Cecil was shot at night, no doubt after being blinded with a spotlight, undoubtedly over a bait which would have been dragged along the Parks boundary (supposedly for a leopard!) – indicative of the poor ethics and the poor quality hunter that we see too often these days. Undoubtedly, the PH intended to do a “quota transfer” where Cecil would have been recorded as shot in another area which had a quota and permit – the satellite collar blew the plan ( although Bronkhurst apparently tried to destroy the collar and all evidence of the dead Cecil). Had this lion not been collared, Bronkhurst probably would have got away with this crime, and I very much doubt this is the first dodgy episode in his hunting career.   Lets hope that corruption does not prevail and the full force of the law falls on both these characters – we do not need these types operating in Zimbabwe.”

Latest update on Cecil’s killing, July 28:

JOINT PRESS STATEMENT BY ZIMBABWE PARKS AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY AND SAFARI OPERATORS ASSOCIATION OF ZIMBABWE ON THE ILLEGAL HUNT OF A COLLARED LION AT ANTOINETTE FARM, HWANGE DISTRICT ON 1 JULY 2015 IN GWAYI CONSERVANCY BY BUSHMAN SAFARIS

“Theo Bronchorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris is facing criminal charges (VIC FALLS Police CR 27/07/2015) for allegedly killing a collared lion on Antoinette farm in Gwayi Conservancy, Hwange district on 1 July 2015. The lion named ‘Cecil’ was well known and regularly sighted by tourists in the Main camp area of Hwange National Park. It is alleged that the hunter connived with the Antoinette land owner, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu to kill the lion. Ongoing investigations to date, suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015. Therefore, all persons implicated in this case are due to appear in court facing poaching charges.  Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management as the Regulatory Authority and custodian of all wild animals in Zimbabwe issues hunting permits and hunting quota for all hunting areas in Zimbabwe so that only animals on quota are to be hunted. In this case, both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.   Both professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst’s licence number 553 who was involved in the hunt and the owner of Antoinette farm, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu are being jointly charged for illegally hunting the lion. The two are due to appear in court on Wednesday, 29 July 2015. Efforts are being made to interview the other professional hunter, Zane Bronkhorst, licence number 558, who was also involved in the illegal hunt. The Professional Hunter Theo Bronkhosrt’s Licence has been suspended with immediate effect. The lion trophy has also been confiscated. The relevant stakeholders have been informed and are being updated about this matter.”

Cecil the Lion
Cecil in his prime


Cecil Is Not the Exception. 

The premeditated killing of Cecil is tragic and heartbreaking.  People all around the world are in shock.  But be aware, friends: This situation is not the exception, but rather the rule all around the world.  American hunters kill hundreds of African lions each year. – 600 in fact. That’s almost 2 per day.  Poaching, sport hunting, illegal animal trade, and everything between happens every day.  Most people don’t know about it until a story like Cecil’s strikes a deep nerve.

The loss of Cecil is absolutely reprehensible, and sadly, this case is not an anomaly. Many people around the world are unaware that what happened to this lion is happening all over Africa, dozens of times a day. Illegal killing of lions is a real threat to the species’ survival. If we are to save the lion, the international community must come together, as it has in support of Cecil, to fund conservation initiatives that are mitigating the species’ greatest threats. -Panthera’s President, Dr. Luke Hunter

A 19-Year-Old Cheerleader Who Hunts Endangered Species
A 19-Year-Old Cheerleader Who Hunts Endangered Species

We are all outraged today because an iconic animal and protected species was lured out of his sanctuary and murdered for sport, but this kind of business has been, and continues to happen in every country in the world.  And what’s really happening is a much greater problem than we are willing to recognize and admit.  Killing for sport, trophies, profit, and fun is happening within younger generations.  We are even seeing young girls being encouraged to hunt and kill for the thrill of taking life.

Cecil’s story has gone viral within hours, but there are countless other species whose lives have ended for much less profit; species far less iconic and less “attractive” than Cecil.  Whether it’s critically endangered species such as the Blue Iguana, Pangolin, or Northern white rhino, people are treating all species as if their lives don’t matter.

The team of hunters who killed Cecil are going to be prosecuted, but honestly, I am not focused on blaming this guy and his hunting team in particular, because there are a thousand more rich Americans who are willing to do what he did, and they do it legally every day.  In fact, while we all mourned Cecil’s death, 5 of Kenya’s endangered elephants were killed.  This is insanity to me.

I have to ask,  Where is the disconnect?  

When did honor and dignity of life become so undervalued?  

How did we become so disconnected from the other lives with whom we share this planet?  

How are so many of us behaving unconsciously?  

Where is the compassion and connection? 

Big 5: Jones says her first kill was a rare African white rhino, part of her quest to bag the Big 5 African game animals (rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and lion)
Jones says her first kill was a rare African white rhino, part of her quest to “bag the Big 5” African game animals (rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and lion)


May Cecil’s Death Shed Light On Our Darkness …. and Our Ability to Love.

Conservationists are heavily involved in working to stop this illegal (and legal) activity.  These people and organizations are incredibly passionate and dedicated, but they have their work cut out for them.  I know because I have been involved with various conservation projects for decades.  In the process  I have witnessed incredible people doing amazing things to save species and conserve lands, but I have also witnessed more ugliness, greed, disdain, complacency, and tragedies than I care to recall.

Along the way I learned something: When we are disconnected from ourselves, each other, and the world that surrounds us, people can easily do what we have witnessed with Cecil.

Understanding this fact has helped me to rise above the disgust, anger, and judgement that I initially feel.   When I see blatant disregard and respect for life I am urged to look at the situation from a broader perspective.

Once I get the anger and sadness out, I am free to be able to ask, What can be learned from this?  How can we grow from this?  How can we guide and inspire others to respect all life?  It’s not enough to be angry and judge “the people who did this”, or merely want things to change.  We have to do more.

Change Begins with Each of Us.

If you want to see change, look within.  Once we look within and are honest with ourselves we are better equipped to make a real difference out there in the world.  This current situation with beloved Cecil is an opportunity for that.

If we want to end this kind of heartless and disconnected behavior around the world, we must ask ourselves tough questions:

What are we looking away from that needs to be discussed?

Are we idly sitting by and allowing this to happen?

Where can we take productive and meaningful action?

Have I done something like this to another species?

How can we remove the hate and prejudices that blind us?

Am I  withholding love to anyone or any form of life?  

Have I taken any specie’s life without forethought?

Am I disconnected from others?

Am I disconnected and from nature?

How can we maintain and enhance our connection to all life?

How can I become more connected?

How can we remove judgement and blame and find solutions?

How can we infuse Love into situations like these?

How can we do our part to protect species and the Earth?

How can we encourage children to appreciate all people and all species of life?

What are we teaching our children?

Before we judge anything outside of us, before we throw hate, anger, and blame at others, we must look within.  


Honoring Cecil

Cecil’s death has inspired millions of people to see things from a different perspective, and to take action around the ongoing global issue of animal abuse. His death has shined light on how disconnected so many are from our fellow travelers on planet Earth.   Cecil, thank you for bringing awe, joy, and awareness into countless people’s lives while you were here with us.  Thank you for the lessons that you continue to teach us.  May your soul be at peace.  May the circumstances of your death be the catalyst for change.  May all nations learn from this.  May one day, we all see every living being as our kin.

Cecil the Lion
Be at peace, brother.

I see a world in the future in which we understand that all life is related to us and we treat that life with great humility and respect.  -David Suzuki 


Recommended Related Reading

As the world mourned Cecil the lion, five of Kenya’s endangered elephants were slain 

Rich American tourists kill hundreds of lions each year, and it’s all legal. 

The State of the Lion.

–> Project Leonardo: Saving Africa’s Lions

–> How you can help Lions right now

–> Panthera and WildCRU Call for Global Efforts to Conserve the African Lion

Petitioning CEO, Delta Air Lines and 4 others to End the Transport of Exotic Animal Hunting Trophies

Our Brothers and Sisters

The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.    ~ Henry Beston

compassion_animals_soulful_pets souls

Having a blog allows me to share my thoughts, experiences, and opinions with the world.  I have finally arrived at the point in my life where I will no longer hold back what I feel and experience out of fear that it might offend someone or make them uncomfortable.  I am going to share what moves me, what inspires me, and what frustrates me.  People don’t have to agree, like what I say, or give me a loud amen, but my hope is that people will listen and consider the ideas that I feel compelled and inspired to share here.

So here goes.

Yesterday was Independence Day here in America.  People in every city all over the United States were celebrating and honoring our Nation’s birthday in their preferred way, and our neighbors to the north just wrapped up their celebrations of Canada Day.  We live just outside our Nation’s Capital, so you can imagine how extravagant and far reaching the festivities here can be. We had plans to get up-close and personal to the big display downtown, but decided at the last minute to stay home because a number of factors.

I am glad we did.

Although it was relatively quiet all day in our neighborhood, there were some loud celebratory 4th of July explosions around our town when the sun went down. They lasted well into the night.  Considering the disruptive and startling nature of fireworks, the animals in our home did really well.  I spent most of the night helping them to feel safe and counterconditioning them to the Big Bad Booms.

As things finally settled down in our town, we all settled in for the night.  It was then that I became very frustrated and upset with something I saw unfolding on social media.

Countless strangers, friends, acquaintances, and various connections on social media sites shared pictures from all around the world of their cats, dogs, parrots, rabbits, ferrets, etc. being scared out of their minds because of the fireworks.  I saw dogs shaking and trembling in bathtubs, cats crouching in terror under chairs, and parrots terrified in their cages.  As I was sadden to see SO MANY ANIMALS IN SUCH PANIC AND TERROR, I was even more saddened to see people taking pictures of this and posting them!

Let me be clear: These people weren’t asking for help or advice.  They were making sarcastic comments about how their pet “wasn’t feeling patriotic” or that “he needs a drink”.  Rather than helping their pets cope with the assault on their senses, they were sharing their pet’s misery with the world.

Most would claim that these pet owners weren’t being cruel to their pets, and maybe they had other harmless intentions that I am unaware of, but what I saw begs this question: Would you take a picture of your grandmother or child while she was cowering in the corner, experiencing real terror and fear?  Would you take a snapshot of your mother panicking and post in on social media?

You wouldn’t.  I wouldn’t.  Who would?

So why are we doing this to the animals we claim to love so much?

I believe it’s because there is a disconnect – a missing link – between people and their animals.

I see this disconnect manifested in a dad who calls me to “fix his dog.”  I see the disconnect in the young woman who tells me she’s “going to kick the cat outside for good if I can’t stop it from pissing everywhere.”   I see the disconnect in the countless parrots that are abandoned at shelters and zoos.  I see this disconnect in the people who release their pet rabbits into the wild because they are “too much work.”

This disconnect is why people give up so easily on their pets.  It’s why people find it easier to euthanize than understand, and then compromise with their pets.  It’s why we see animal cruelty even in the most subtle forms all over the world.

This disconnect is deeply damaging.


I have to ask:

How did we become so deeply disconnected from the animals we share our homes with?

How is it 2015, and we still see a dog as just a dog, a cat as just a cat, and any other animal companion as just a pet?

Where is our compassion, empathy, and understanding?

Where is the meaningful, soulful connection?


This post isn’t meant to berate, judge, or condemn people who are disconnected from their animal companions. I am asking tough questions and bringing up something that I hope people will consider and ask themselves.  My goal is to encourage pet owners (and dog trainers, veterinary technicians, veterinarians, zoo keepers, aquarists, and other animal care professionals) to really take a hard and honest look at how they view, treat, and respond to the animals under their care.

Although it deeply frustrates and saddens me, I can understand the disconnect, because I’ve lived it.  Well over a decade ago I saw animals as something separate from me.  I failed to recognize their universal connection to me that my Cherokee ancestors understood.  As a child, religion taught me that humans are the superior species and that all animals were here for “human purposes”, but somehow, I think somewhere deep inside my heart, I knew this was not true.

Now, from personal and professional experiences, I see their suffering, their joy, their depth, and who they really are.  I see them as species living along side of us, in a world of their own; a world that is just as meaningful and dear to them as we view our world. Their lives are no less than ours. Their souls are as infinite as our own.  Their lives are just as valuable.

We are the earth, made of the same stuff; there is no other, no division between us and “lower” or “higher” forms of being.  – Lauder

It took countless difficult (and beautiful) experiences for me to see all animals as our brothers and sisters in this world.  This requires questioning what we have been taught.  It requires looking deeply at our personal beliefs that have never been challenged.  It also requires a great deal of inner reflection at who we are as a person.

I learned that when we are open to, and compassionate about our own suffering in life, this allows us greater strength and courage to recognize the suffering of others, and to fully embrace it – instead of looking away or dismissing it with laughter and jokes.  This includes the animals we are guardians of in our professional and personal lives.

Compassion requires both openness and equanimity. As we practice opening to and coming close to the suffering in our own lives with compassion, we then have greater strength and courage to be with the suffering of others. – Awakening Compassion in Ourselves


I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on all of this.  Have you felt a disconnect with an animal companion at some point in your life?  What helped you to bridge that gap and connect more deeply?  Are you still feeling disconnected? Are you willing to make a deeper connection?  I ask because I really do understand this feeling and frustration. I have been there many times, over many years.  I ask because I genuinely want to see people and animals form a lifelong, deeply enriching and life changing bond.  It’s there.  It’s available to all of us.  We just have to open our hearts.

When we understand that all animals are our relatives, perhaps then we will treat them as our brothers and sisters. ~ A.D. Williams


On a side note, I would like to give a sincere shout-out to all of you who shared this post about food, stress, and fear on your personal Facebook feed last night.  I had a feeling that you all were watching many similar posts about pets and fireworks.  Thanks so much. You guys rock.  I hope you were able to help other people and their pets.  Because isn’t helping people – helping all living things – one of the best things in life?


Recommended Reading

Ben and Denali – Companionship That Transcends Time

When someone you love walks through the door, even if it happens five times a day, you should go totally insane with joy.

Denali

I came across something today that moved me to tears within minutes. I am a sensitive woman, but few things move me to tears that easily.  This did.

Maybe it’s because I can relate to saying goodbye.  Or maybe it’s because I know what it’s like to love another soul deeply, with every fiber of my being, that I would do anything to help them.

Regardless of why it moved me, I would like to share it with you.

Normally I wait until the end of the week, for my Soulful Sunday posts, but I couldn’t wait. It’s too amazing.  Please take a moment to turn inward, and set aside all of life’s distractions to watch something truly beautiful. You’ll be glad you did.


This is a filmmaker’s tribute to his beloved and loyal canine companion.  The video, Denali, is told from the point of view of the dog. – quite hilariously at times.  It’s so well done.  And other artists have recognized it’s brilliance: The film premiered at 5Point Film Festival, winning both Best of Festival and People’s Choice, and was an official selection at Telluride Mountainfilm.

This short film is a gorgeous and poignant expression of friendship, gratitude, honoring a beloved companion, and unconditional love.

This film is a celebration of life.

It’s a celebration of real friendship.

It’s a glimpse into how powerful a bond can become between a person and their beloved animal companion.

It’s something that I hope you can experience one day.


As I have written about before, friendships come in all shapes and sizes.  And this film shows us just that; an illumination of the resilience we can create together with the help of true friends.   But as many of you know, these friendships have to end sometimes.  That’s just the crappy part of this life.

And as Ben shows us in his deeply moving film …  

There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a friend, especially when they’ve supported you through your darkest times.


Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Whatever we were to each, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be the household word it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was;
There is absolutely unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of your mind because I am out of your sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near just around the corner…
All is well. Nothing is past, nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before,
Only better and infinitely happier,
And forever we will be one together.

~ Henry Scott Holland


Denali on beach

Love Transcends Time and Space.  

All of the souls you loved are never lost.  They are merely a thought away. 

Keep them close to you in your heart. 


Related Links

What Our Dogs Teach Us About Aging by David Dudley

Ben Moon

In ‘Denali,’ Remembering a Man and His Dog

Don’t Wait. It may be too late.

There Is No Death