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Completing circles: what our animals teach us

November 23, 2009 3 comments
Celtic Knot

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I’ve been slammed at work for the last couple weeks – twelve hour days do not let me be a good dog (or cat) trainer. Some days, the cuddle time I get with Casey, Madison and Churro is all the interaction we share. I feed them, they eat. We go for walks. We cuddle for a few minutes before I go off to work, and they moan (M.) or groan (Casey) or purr and head-butt (Churro) with me until it’s time for them to go back to crates to nap the day away. I come home, and we repeat the process – except that cuddle time usually melts into falling asleep together. Then Casey wakes us all up in the middle of the night. I ex them all again, and they go into crates for a couple of hours until daylight, when the alarm goes off and we do it all again.

I’ve been so slammed that for a couple days this week, I didn’t keep up with my blog reading, or my Twitter stream. And then I saw a tweet from my friend @azahar – missing her Sunny, her 16 y.o. cat who earlier in the week hadn’t been doing well and had needed a quick trip to the vet.

Sunny died while I was off trying to coax a validation test script out of some co-workers and do role reviews in my application and help plan a retirement party. And my friend, a day ahead and thousands of miles away in Spain was deep in the agony that follows when a circle closes, and the realization that our lives are longer than the pets who enrich our days hits us, hard.

I can’t make Az’s pain less. I’m not sure anything can, except time. As I shift softly here on the couch, so that I don’t wake up my own old man Casey, reading about her pain reminded me how close that minute can be for all of us with pets, but especially for those whose pets are celebrating senior birthdays.

Casey will be 15 this week. No, to those who’ve wondered, he’s not dead – just living the slightly befuddled life of a senior dog who some days doesn’t remember who he is or where he is, but is otherwise physically healthy. This weekend, I’ve been slowly working at getting him trimmed up, to take a 15th birthday photo. He can only tolerate a few minutes of grooming at a time, so routine maintenance is a process – but I should be able to give you all a picture of my old man looking his best sometime before the week is over.

I vividly remember the day I went to meet Casey. We drove 3 1/2 hours through a blizzard to come home together. He rode in the #100 crate on my front seat. We stopped twice so that he could pee. He was so small, easily the smallest non-cat creature I’d ever had in my house, and as he sat at the top of the stairs to the side door, looking down, I could hear him thinking “It’s very far, Pat.” He played ball almost from the moment I brought him home. He adored my Gordon setter Bard and my English Springer spaniel Jazz (who were 8 and 12 1/2, respectively, when I brought Casey home.) He learned everything at light-speed. He was the little red speed demon that ran the fastest course of the trial on the day that he earned his NA…and the reason that agility hot-shots like Diane Bauman lined up the next day to watch *us* run.

Casey became the head cuddler as I worked my way through first the recovery from a hemorrhagic stroke, and then five+ years of cancer treatment – if you’d like more of that story, you’ll find it at Life Out Loud. He adjusted as his show career abruptly stopped, shifted gears, restarted after the stroke, downshifted again during cancer treatments, and then took on new directions when I grew stronger. In ’96 he lost his mentor Jazz; a few years later, his friend Bard. He outlived all of his cats: Aslyn, Rocket, and Rani. He saw me re-home the upstart Gordon setter Reuben – I found for Reu the active performance home he deserved, so that he didn’t have to spend his young life as my cancer therapy dog. Casey welcomed into our home his new BFF, Princess M., and a new cat, Churro. His circle is smaller now than it used to be, and I can see that it’s nearing the point where it will close – but not just yet.

I’m dreading that day. And Az’s week has reminded me that I must not let the other things in my world interfere with enjoying the days I have with the creatures around me whose lives are too short.

Az discovered some truths about herself while she lived within Sunny’s circle, and she shared them here in this post from Casa Az: “Learning to Love.” As I read it, hugging my own creatures, I realized how much I’ve learned from all of mine – Taryn, Jazz, Nola, Muni, Bard, Reuben, Ashlyn, Silkyn, Rocket, Rani – and now the ones who draw the current circles in the knots of my time: Casey, Madison and Churro.

But circles close – it’s their nature. It’s our gift to learn from the pets who author our circles, and realize how much they enrich our days.

What have you learned from your pets today?

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