When we are confronted with that which is amazing and wonderous and profound, too often our first response is to reduce that experience with mundane explanations, even if in doing so, we are compelled to distort and forget that which we knew, if even for a brief moment, to be true.

These are the wonderous stories of the Heart Family.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Family Building 102

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The introduction of Light Heart and Golden Heart didn’t go exactly as planned. To be more honest, didn’t go as planned at all. I decided to throw caution to the wind and start opening the door a crack so they could meet nose to nose, and slowly to let Golden Heart out of the confines of her small room. After all, she could not live in the bathroom forever.

Light Heart was delighted by this turn of events and proceeded to chase her as often as he could, with sheer joy. She would run from his every advance, hollering the whole time. The great chase was on.

Now to be fair, I did give her time alone in the rest of the home, and put Light Heart away to give her a break and let her get to know the rest of her world, but we couldn’t keep him put away forever, just as we could not keep her confined to her small space.

At night the great chase would sometimes happen right across me as I laid in bed, and my only defense was to be fast enough to pull the covers over my head right before they crossed over my face. This was more chaos that I had ever imagined two cats could bring to my life.

A frantic call to the adoption counselor initiated a search through Light Heart’s medical records to confirm that his neuter process was actually complete (i.e. did they find both? as sometimes they do not). Indeed he was confirmed to be a fully neutered male. Apparently no one told him.

This would not be my last call to the adoption counselor for advice.

Eventually Golden Heart grew a bit bigger, and Light Heart slowed down just a bit on his chasing games and we managed from time to time, to have peace in the home.

I had come to realize that I had no idea what I was doing with regard to cat care. There was so much to learn. I bought a pile of books, thinking that is where I would find my answers.

Truly the real lessons I was going to learn would not come at all from these books.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Family Building 101

I carefully followed the instructions from the shelter regarding the introduction of two cats, thinking that if I followed the formula spelled out for me, all would go well and exactly as planned. Golden Heart was moved into the bathroom and Light Heart was stationed in the living room. They were separated by a door with a good space underneath so that they could “get to know each other” while still having a protective separation. With this perfect set up, what could go wrong?

From Light Heart’s point of view, no separation was needed. He as a big strong man and I just brought him a girl, HIS girl. He spent hours laying on his side the floor in front of the bathroom door, with his front leg extended as far under that door as he could possibly reach, making cooing noises (yes cooing, like a pigeon). I never knew a cat could make pigeon sounds. It was easy to imagine exactly what he was saying, “Come to me, come to me my darling, I am delighted you are here!” Hours turned into days of wooing her. He was determined.

Golden Heart on the other hand, three months his junior and still very much kitten, was not at all amused. She spent her days as far away from the bathroom door as possible and returned his constant affections with silences, interrupted periodically by hissing. She was very affectionate to her people. She wanted nothing to with the boy.

Oh, this wasn’t exactly going as planned, not at all.

One week of adjustment through the door separation turned into two, with no end to the standoff in sight. I was left scratching my head and wondering why carefully laid out plans didn’t lead to expected results and for how long I should let this standoff continue.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Suitable Companion

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Within a week I was back at the shelter looking for a companion for Light Heart, to be company for each other during the hours I was away from home. I had been working with a wonderful adoption counselor, a kind gentle and wise lady who read both people and cats well. She hesitantly suggested I consider a certain kitten who was spending her days living well in a foster home with five adult male cats. Her hesitation stemmed from my first encounter with this kitten in the shelter. She was feisty and opinionated, keeping her back to anyone that passed by her cage, turning only to deliver a disdainful hiss over her shoulder at us.

I was assured that many cats act much better in a home environment than in a shelter, and although I completely had my doubts about adopting what may be a challenging behavior case, I trusted the adoption counselor enough to at least make the visit to the foster home and meet this feisty girl in hopefully better circumstances.

Shelters are an extremely stressful situation for many cats, as I came to learn in great detail during my following years volunteering at the shelter. Almost every cat, once removed from the shelter, and given a chance to recover from the stressful experience, blossoms. Golden Heart was no exception to this rule. At four months she was the last of her litter to find a home. She didn’t hiss in the home, but did enjoy giving us a good chase to catch up with her. It was food that finally brought her front and center and into our hearts. With paperwork completed, Golden Heart was headed to her forever home. With fingers crossed, and confidence that we had well thought out the decision, we had high hopes that she and Light Heart would become fast friends.

I was naïve to assume it all would be so simple.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


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My understanding of my relationship to the four-leggeds has been turned completely on its head, but that transition didn’t happen overnight. Instead my world turned upside-down slowly enough that I didn’t see what was happening for quite a long time.

At first, my relationship to the cats was that of home provider and caretaker. I was responsible for their safety and security and health and basic needs. My reward then was the good feelings one gets tending to animals. Little did I understand in those early years that the reverse was actually true. They had, of their own free will, come to take care of me, to encourage me to grow, to open my eyes to all that really is, to nurture me back to physical and spiritual health and even to provide the safety and security for our family.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Light Heart was the first to arrive, endearing himself to me with furious head bumps to my hand as soon as I opened the cage door at the shelter. At that time I still held to shallow preferences of choosing a companion cat in part by their color, and thought my preference was to have a gray cat. Perhaps he knew this and understood his uphill battle to get my attention. His outpouring of affection brought me back to his cage again for a second consideration. As there was still another two-legged living in my home, approval was needed before the final choice was made, so I headed home without him, but he stayed on my mind.

I understand now that our companion animals choose us as much or more than we choose them. Some of my family had to work tremendously hard to get their home. For Light Heart, his work was probably the easiest – just pour on the charm and he had me. Within a week he had come home.

The day of his arrival, we released him to the living room. He tentatively left the carrier, lowered his body close to the ground and proceeded for the next twenty minutes to carefully sniff and inspect the entire perimeter of the room. He must have been pleased with the results of his inspection because when he was done, he moved to the center of the room, confidently made himself big, laid down and with resounding body language announced that he had arrived.

Light Heart was big for his age, and my naivety about cats let me to believe when I met him that he was already full grown. It was only after the decision was made and the paperwork was done that I heard a shelter worker comment on how large his paws were and how big he may grow to me. Apparently I didn’t just adopt a cat, but potentially a small lion. Today I would say he has the spirit of Lion in him, or perhaps better yet, Lion Heart, because of his tremendous devotion to my partner (JH). (JH was the last to arrive, making our family complete, but again I get ahead of the story.)

The next step in family building was to find a companion for Light Heart.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Endings and Beginnings

To tell a good story, one needs to understand the beginning. For me, the beginning was in reaching the point of many endings of that which I thought defined who I was - and with the endings came openings, empty spaces into which new ideas, new beliefs and a new family could find their home. The endings created unexpected opportunities and surprises and growth in new directions.

For me the old was protestant turned atheist, partnered but then single, a scientist with no connection to spirit, no sense of myself as anything other than mundane. No sense of anything more.

That is where my story begins.