I wish I could write of a companion pet; I have never really had a constant one. My ephemeral parade of pets includes Timmy the turtle, miscellaneous tropical fish, a dog named Buttons and four cats: Moonglow, Sunlion, Dreamstar and Whitefoot. They have since journeyed to the spirit world; Buttons visits in dreams, occasionally.
Critters have come and gone in my life, but like husbands and friends, none remain. I say this nostalgically, not regrettably, since I value my solitude. Cedric Red Feather teaches, “It takes intelligence to live alone.” He is correct: there is a certain focus in non-attachment.
The above may sound cold or diffident: I assure you, I am neither. I am generally a rank sentimentalist about relationships, however brief. I cry watching films involving lost or injured animals. I cannot bear to read of their mistreatment by humans. I cut plastic beverage rings into smaller pieces, so they won’t hurt sea creatures. I break for deer, geese and squirrels. I absolutely love critters.
Despite the brevity of my relationships with various species, I never considered them pets: they were family. My mother carried our dog, Buttons, down the long stairs each morning, holding him in her arms and talking to him as though he were a baby. The term “pets” seems a bit proprietary for me. If anything, it is the other way around: they owned me — every piece of my heart and soul. I have learned much from these brief stays of the critter kind. They taught me the true meaning of unconditional love. No matter what mood I was in, they always greeted me with enthusiasm, love and gentleness.
My dearest teachers have been horses. My few close encounters with horses let me know how intelligent, telepathic and sensitive they are. Horses are brilliant creatures full of love. My book editor boards horses occasionally in a fenced pasture on her rural homestead. One day, we were visiting, and she led me to a fence behind which were a dark brown and a rather mystical black horse. The dark brown horse turned his head to the side when he saw me. Immediately, I felt a telepathic connection with him. I followed what I perceived were his instruction that I remain quiet, speak softly when necessary and just wait for him to come to where I leaned by a fence post.
After a few minutes, he came over to me. My heart was racing. I was only afraid he might be afraid of me, and I wanted his trust so much. Gradually, he sensed it was right and swung his head gracefully over the fence into my space where I could pet him. His beautiful, dark, long-lashed eye stared through me. Our level of communication was indescribable. Horses are 100 percent present with you when you need them to be.
From my cats, I learned empathy. If I were feeling low or in a doubting mood, my cats were Johnnies-on-the-spot. Before I knew it, one would leap into my lap, turn around once and curl into a tight, warm muff, purring madly. Animals instinctively knew when I needed their support. With humans, it was always more of a push-pull tension between wanting closeness but fearing judgment. The cats never looked at me as weak or needy; they were tuned in and sweet.
Someday, perhaps, when I live out on the land, I will have room in my house and heart for a host of critters. I see how they make life richer. Love is never wasted. The key, it seems to me, is to practice non-attachment. Love and care for the animal species with your whole being; when it is time for them to leave, let them go.
Cedric reminds us that our animal friends never really leave us. Where there exists a strong bond of love between animal and human, that animal will always be with that person. If the love were strong enough, that animal will reincarnate as a critter again to be with that human.
There it is — another profound lesson from our critter companions: real love is never, ever lost.