Thursday, October 20, 2011

Unconditional Love...

Several of my friends have pets who are ill at the moment, and may perhaps be in their final illness. My heart breaks for my friends, because I know how much we can love our pets, and how much our pets love us ~~ unconditionally. They are our best companions, never judging, never asking for more than we can give, always affectionate, always ready to please. All they ask from us is our attention, love, and perhaps some food and water ~~ definitely food and water. That's a pretty good quid pro quo.

When my brothers and I were growing up on Vancouver Island, our home was almost a menagerie. We had the usual dogs and cats, and my brothers ~~ both animal lovers ~~ were always rescuing stray animals, much to my mother's consternation. Fortunately, we had a large closed-in back porch, which was turned into an animal hospital on a regular basis.  My father loved dogs, and we would often have two or three following along behind us.  The dog in this picture ~~ Shep ~~ insisted on having his picture taken with us, and my brother had to hold him still because he was such a show-off.  My brother went into a deep depression when Shep passed away, and refused to love another dog.  That is, until he met Sporty, our border collie.  Then it was love at first sight ~~ again.

One of the more unusual animals we had in our menagerie was a baby bear. His mother had been accidentally killed by loggers, and he was found crying in a hollow log. My father, ever the softy for baby animals, agreed to look after him. Of course, the task ended up being done by my mother, and she used to feed the little bear with a baby bottle from one of my dolls. The little bear cried just like a human baby, and loved being cuddled and rocked ~~ just like a human baby. Unfortunately, baby bears grow very quickly, and he soon became too big for us to look after him any longer. My father gave him to the forest ranger, who raised the bear to adulthood. Our little baby bear, when full grown, was often seen picking berries on the lakeshore road. We always called him "our bear", because he had stolen our hearts forever.

Another unusual little creature we had in our care was a North American Murre, a cousin to the penguin. He blew into our town on a huge typhoon storm that came in from the Pacific Ocean, and once again, one of my brothers rescued him and brought him home. My mother set up a galvanized wash tub full of water for him to paddle in, but he much preferred following her around the house while she did her chores. He could be seen padding along behind her on his little two feet, like a small child. He had a strange little call that sounded almost like a seal barking, and whenever my mother was out of his sight, he was grievously anxious until he could find her again. What a cacophony... He especially loved the warm laundry basket, and if we couldn't find him, we knew where to look. There he would be, buried under the towels and face cloths, having a snooze. Our little murre lived with us throughout the stormy winter, and in the spring my father released him back onto the open ocean. However, my mother had bonded with this strange little creature, and she missed him for months afterwards.

At one point we also had a shrew (or mole). He was an odd little thing, and he lived in an Eddy's matchbox filled with cotton wool. We called him "Moley", and the only food Moley ate was live spiders. So my father and brothers had to dig around underneath the porch, armed with tweezers, in order to bring Moley his dinner. They would slide the match box open, call "Here Moley, Moley, Moley..." and a little snout would pop out, grab the spider, and retreat back into the cotton wool. I'm not sure why we had this little fellow in our possession, but we all loved him. My father took the little mole outdoors and released him to the spider smörgåsbord underneath the porch, where he could dine to his heart's delight.

My favourite dog was Maggie, our Scottish terrier. Her full name was Margaret McTavish of Windbrae, and when we first brought her home, she was a fierce little thing. My mother and I were always jumping onto chairs, to avoid Maggie's sharp little teeth. She mellowed as she got older, but she was still fiercely protective of our home. Her bark, however, was much bigger than her bite. A special treat for Maggie was to sit in front of the fireplace in the evenings. Like all dogs, Maggie loved car rides, and she especially loved going to the lake.  A friend of mine had a pier and diving board out over the lake, and Maggie loved taking a flying leap off the diving board. Then she would paddle to shore, run along the pier and take another flying leap off the diving board. We were all heartbroken when Maggie was no longer with our family.

My most recent pet was a Siamese cat named Samantha. Oh, goodness ... what can I say about Samantha. She was evil, she was wicked ... she was the most wonderful cat I have ever known and I adored her. She didn't know she was a cat, and I didn't have the heart to tell her. Whenever I chatted on the telephone with any of my friends, Samantha would stomp up and down beside me, hollering, "Oh, yah! Oh, yah! Oh, yah!" My friends would ask, "Who the heck is that?" Of course, after a while, they knew not to ask. Siamese cats are famous for "adopting" other people, and Samantha assumed everyone in the neighbourhood was "hers". I would often get a telephone call from one of my neighbours saying, "Um ... Jo, your cat is sleeping on my chesterfield again; can you come and get her?" I cried for two weeks straight when my bad old Samantha was no longer with me. I still miss her, and sometimes I can see her, out of the corner of my eye, looking for some way to get into mischief.

My heart goes out to my friends who may be losing their wonderful companions. I wish there were something I could do to ease their pain, but I know from experience there is nothing I can do. We have all felt it. Unconditional love.


Rebecca Nelson said...

My Yorkie, Mollie, is almost 9. I am already SAD that she is getting older even though she wonderfully healthy. She's high-maintenance but I adore her. My gal-pal and precious friend.

We lost our Sheltie, Haleigh, right after she turned 10. I was busy raising kids and working a little outside the home and I regret NOT giving the beautiful dog enough attention. My motto is now if you can't love a pet enough let someone else do it for you. Animals thrive on attention and our Miss Mollie cries when I leave. It's pitiful but adorable.

Sweet Post...xoRebecca

Jo said...

Rebecca, yes, the risk in loving these gorgeous little creatures is that sometimes they leave us all too soon, don't they? And we are never prepared for the wrenching pain it leaves in our hearts.

JeannetteLS said...

for one reason or another, as an adult because my sister was allergic to cats and we were not allowed dogs in our apartments, I have not had a pet since I was four. We had a beautiful black dog named "Lady." She had a white throat. My aunt brought her home to us from Japan--she was an army dog who was not real bright.

I used to lie on her tummy and fall asleep. I was her puppy. when I fell off the swings once, I remember feeling her lift me by the scruff of my color and shake me. I was sobbing and she ran up and fetched my mom.

And I remember this vividly. In color. Lady was hit by a car because she napped in the middle of the road. I did not see that. But i saw my daddy drive her up to Heaven, so good were my parents to convince me of this. He drove straight up i nto the sky and Lady was looking back and me, smiling her doggy smile. I remember jumping up and down going, "Lady, Lady, come home and play." I was inconsolable.

But the one with the lasting scar was my mom. We moved to a house on a busier street and she simply said, "I will never go through that pain again. We have no fence. We haven't the money to build one. I will not watch someone else in my family die like that. NO."

We had no pets. Mom and my sister were terribly allergic to cats. JE got one for a month and broke out into horrid HUGE welts.

I am 59 and STILL I see my daddy driving her up into the sky. I tell myself to be logical and my little self says, "SHUT UP. I Saw what I saw." So I do.

Jo said...

Jeanette, of course your daddy drove her up to Heaven. For goodness sake, how can you doubt that for one minute? That's part of a daddy's job and they do it very well. And you can bet that Lady has been up there all your life, looking after you. That's her job. :-) And remember, love like that never dies.

Alicia said...

What a great post! I love the picture of you and your brother and Shep.

I've never been much of a pet person. I did have a cat named Norman once, but she decided she loved my dad more and would run away to go to him so I finally just let her live there.

I had a beta fish I named Dallas that I adored, but one day I set a bug bomb as the neighbor underneath us had tons of cats & fleas and the fleas migrated upstairs to my home. I forgot about Dallas and when I came back the next day he was floating. I cried and cried and felt so badly that I had killed him.

My sister gave me another beta fish about a year ago. I purposely never named him because I did not want to become attached to him. I just called him 'lil fish'. He's still alive to this day and I adore him. I know you won't believe me but he knows me and my voice. When I come into the kitchen he goes wild in the water and will hover just staring at me the whole time I'm in the kitchen.

But the pet who really stole my heart is my daughter's little Shihpoo puppy Chorizo. I adore this sweet little girl.

Animals add so much to your life, you're so right in saying they love us unconditionally.

jennifer black said...

Jo--you have got to turn this into a children's book.Oh my gosh this would be so fun to read to kids. And they would love to hear of the adventures!

Love the photo!


Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

I love this post, Jo! I especially enjoyed your stories about the unusual pets you've loved, but could most identify with your story about Samantha! The only problem with these wonderful animal companions is that their lives are far too short! Some tragically. I had two wonderful cats I used in animal assisted therapy as a small part of my psychotherapy practice. It is very unusual to have a therapy cat because in psychotherapy, of course, you can have people crying, screaming, fighting -- all things cats don't always tolerate well. Timmy, my first therapy cat, was a Burmese mix and great with people who were depressed or anxious. He would sometimes dry their tears with his soft little paws. He died when he was not quite nine years old of melamine poisoning from tainted cat food in 2007. I still have his brother Gus, who is very loving but not outgoing enough to be a therapy cat. My second therapy cat was a flame-point Siamese named Marina whom I adopted as a thrown-way two year old. She was marvelous and had a great talent for calming down patients -- either couples or families -- who were in conflict. She died of leukemia when she was three and a half years old. I'm currently watching Gus, Timmy's biological brother, age before my eyes and the anticipatory grief can be overwhelming. I so dread losing him. No beloved animal ever replaces another and each loss takes a little piece of our hearts.

the walking man said...

The only animals I have had are dogs and all of then just sort of came along, except the last one who is dumb as dirt, but I took her from the people who had her because they as a puppy left her outside all winter...grrrrrrrrrr. Haven't a clue as to what her mixed up heritage is but I do know now that at two years old she eats like a horse and will fight to the death if any one is messing with the wife.

We had a wire haired terrier that lived 20 years then one day in the car she just stood up looked around at the Shenandoah Valley laid down and died. Two weeks later we found a Jack Russel lost in the woods who'd been mauled by a are you going to put a dog down that would fight a bear? Her surgery went fine (though kind of expensive) and now she's somewhere near 12 and mellow as all get out until the horse starts to mess with her toys.

*shrug* Livestock guess everyone has to have some.

JeannetteLS said...

Just look at all the wonderful memories and love for animals you have inspired. I think this kind of is inspiring a love for a whole bunch of animals in general, perhaps a group of those which were killed recently.

But the responses are so beautiful, just as your writing of the initial posting is, Jo. How beautiful.

Jo said...

Alicia, I'm so sorry to hear about Dallas. Oh, golly. My father did the same thing, though. We had an outdoor lily pond with goldfish and carp in it. The pond was leaking, and my father decided to repair it while the fish were still in it. My mother said Nooooooo, but he did it anyway. Bye bye fish. I love Norman the cat, by the way. What a great name for a female cat. :-)

Jennifer, oh that would be so much fun to turn this into a children's book. Thank you for the suggestion! I just might look into it. (And I haven't changed much since I was four, have I? *heh*)

Dr. Kathy, Omigosh, what a wonderful story about Timmy! That is so cute. I did a post once about whether or not animals are sentient beings. Sometimes I truly believe they are. Researchers are now discovering that dogs are smarter than we realize, and can *read* pictures. They can also read human eye movements. And yes, pets are like people, we love them all differently, and all as much as each other, and no one can replace the other.

Mark, I remember when you did a post about that little Jack Russell terrier. Now that is a dawg! Jack Russells are tough little dogs. And that is an amazing story about the little dog that lived to be 20 and then just died. What a life...! (You have a horse?)

Jeannette, oh goodness thank you! And yes, I was heartsick at those beautiful, beautiful, beautiful (!!!) animals in Ohio that had to be shot yesterday. That was just hearbreaking to see those gorgeous animals lying dead like that. It was so unnecessary, but it had to be done to protect the public. I have never seen Jack Hannah look so sad.

Rob-bear said...

What an amazing person, raising a Bear cub. (Granted, it was only one of those little black Bears, but still.) You have my undying admiration.
Anyone who loves a Bear is a good Human!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I love animals dearly, and always took in abused and abandoned animals including a blind gray wolf who lived with me for 13 years, three ponies, and many dogs and cats, rabbits and squirrels as well as birds with broken wings who were released again after their splinted wings healed.

Losing a beloved animal is simply awful, and I have always wished that my animal family members could live as long as humans so I would not have to deal with their loss.

You are so lucky to have had a bear cub and a murre, and luckier still to have had parents who loved animals. When I was little, my father often stood in our backyard with bread crumbs and seeds in his hands and birds would eat out of them. Before long, I was feeding them, too. Animals have an instinct for those who truly love them.

PhilipH said...

This is one of your BEST blogs Jo, and probably THE best.
Beautifully written as always and with honesty and deep feeling.
Pets can break one's heart and often do. Their passing is often devastating.

Sextant said...

What a fascinating collection of animals your grew up with. I especially liked the North American Murre. I have never heard of it. Miniature, penguin--cool.

We always have cats. After one dies, my wife declares "No more cats. I can't take them dying on me any longer." Two weeks later she will see a photo for a cat needing a home at the beauty salon...the cycle continues. I am just as bad.

Anonymous said...

That was a very interesting tour of all the animals in your life. They certainly were all rather special.

Jennifer D said...

Great post Jo. I am so sorry about your friends pets, I hope they can find new furry friends soon. I love your stories about all the little animals you had. I have had many animals in my life too and losing they is always so hard. Last summer my dogs Gypsy (16yrs.) and Cosmo (14yrs.) died within a few months of each other. They both lived long lives and when they were gone I was devastated. Cosmo was a gorgeous Border Collie/pit bull and she was a very dear friend to me. I thought after they were gone I would go awhile without a pet to make travelling easier but within 2 months I was searching and found my new bestfriend Rugby. I love her so much I don't care if I ever travel again! ;0)

Jo said...

Rob-bear, the bear cub was the cutest little creature I have ever seen. I wish it could have stayed teeny tiny. :-)

Susan, my dad used to feed birds ut of his hands too. He fed them apple pie and cheddar cheese, of all things, and they loved it. It sounds as if your father raised you to love animals too. :-)

Philip, goodness thank you! And yes, losing a pet is just about as devastating as anything can be!

Sextant, yes, we have murres here in Canada, and they're funny little creatures. And yes, I haven't had a pet since Samantha. She was a hard act to follow. *heh*

Calvin, we had a lot of little squirrels too, and we fed them with peanut butter. :-)

Jennifer, yes, we think we can't love another pet again, but there you go, we end up finding another and loving it just as much. I hope my friends find new pets too.

Paula Slade said...

Jo, I have also been blessed with the unconditional love with over 40 critters during my lifetime, and I cherish each and every bit of unconditional love and beautiful memories that I have been blessed to receive. Your post was awesome! Thanks for sharing. :)

Jo said...

Paula, yes, I have quite a list too, and I have been thinking about getting a dog. I love dogs. It's just not the same without a pet, is it?

fiftyodd said...

Yep. We've stopped having pets about 15 years ago. Lock up and go. They just don't live long enough.