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.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Animal Communication

I carefully approached my pile of books on animal communication. I would read one book and then sit with the stories for a good while before I was willing to start the next. I read with great skepticism, but I kept reading.

How can this be, that there are so many people that believe in this way of connecting, and yet I had never heard of this for the thirty some odd years of my life? It was as surprising as realizing the sky actually was green, but I had never known, because I had always been told it was blue.

I spent many months working my way through these books. One of the shelter volunteers admitted he "talked" to his cats through a professional communicator and he gave her name and phone number to me. I stored it away on my computer and quickly forgot about it.

A More Surprising Encounter

During this time a number of important events happened, of which I will only summarize here. My mind took a left turn, as if someone turned down the dimmer switch for no apparent reason. Then, several months later, the dimmer switch was gently turned back up. The surprising result was that I came back with my brain rewired. At the time, there was no explanation. In retrospect, I can see that I couldn't have moved any further in the direction I was supposed to grow until parts of me were rewired.

While before there used to be three or four simultaneous streams of thought running through my head, now there were only two, or sometimes one. What I thought was an extraordinary ability, to mentally juggle many things, now I have come to see was a real handicap. I would not have been able to hear the universe until the din and commotion in my own mind quieted.

As the lights came back on, I had an extraordinary experience that I could not explain. I had an encounter with a dying animal where I heard its cry in my head. It lasted for only a moment, scared the #%$#^ out of me, and left me profoundly confused. There was nothing in my understanding that could explain what I had encountered.

I had the opportunity to share my experience over dinner one evening with the cat socializers team. I had expected my story to cause a chuckle and provide some entertainment. Instead, they began to share their own stories of animal communication.

Animal Communication. What was that?

I did the only thing the scientist in me knew to do. I went to the internet and bought a pile of books about animal communication.

My life has never been the same.

A Surprise Encounter

One Sunday afternoon, the shelter foster coordinator approached me and asked if I could temporarily foster a kitten who had been unexpectedly returned to the shelter that day. Kittens were not allowed to stay in the shelter, around older cats, to protect them from shared diseases. I told her very sternly that I was NOT a foster home. I had three cats in a small living space and no room for more. She was desperate and kept insisting until I relented and agree to take home this kitten, temporarily, until a more suitable foster home could be found.

Once I agreed to this, I went over to meet the little guy. He had been adopted by an older couple who had found him just too much to handle and at four months of age, he was back in the shelter system again. His cage was covered by a towel, usually done to help cats feel more secure. I carefully lifted the towel and found my self face to face with a LARGE kitten, alternating between hissing and emitting a low growl. Oh boy. What did I get myself in to?

He came home and I settled him into the only spare room I had. To make sure he had some company, I alternated sleeping in my regular bed with my family (which was my sofa) and on the floor in his room with him. He was very affectionate, and would body slam himself against me as he laid down to sleep with his entire body pressed against mine. Although he was full of frenetic energy, he was easy to love.

Days turned into weeks as we worked to find him his new home. Eventually a very nice young couple adopted him, hoping he would be a good companion for their female feline. I liked them very much and felt we had found for him a good family.

Quiet time, growing time

For the next few years our little family - Light Heart, Golden Heart, Strong Heart and I - continued to find our path to connecting to each other. I had learned a lot more about the "science" of cats, but was also discovering the bonding one has with their four legged family. I remember many nights while I sat typing on my computer, Strong Heart rested his front legs on my arm, sitting peacefully for hours beside me. Sometimes I would lean my head toward his, and he would press his forehead against mine, and the two of us would just sit, resting our heads together, for long quiet stretches. Peace and contentment and the joy of each other's presence.

I was growing in different ways, exploring different ideas and different ways of being. I became a vegetarian, but cannot tell you the day it was decided. I had been consciously or unconsciously avoiding meat for a while before I had realized that was what I was doing. In retrospect I think it came in part because my relationship to the four-leggeds was changing, and caring for some while eating others was a practice of convenience, not of true honesty.

Of the three, Strong Heart was the "ponderer," one who drew into himself and dreamed of far away places. I don't know if his somewhat limited vision inspired him to turn more inward. I remember one summer evening, when a storm was blowing in, we lay together with our noses to the screen of the window. I watched him close his eyes and smell the storm breeze, reading its messages. I closed my eyes and tried to do the same, to feel the storm, to smell the storm, trying to connect with his vision of his world. To this day my senses remember that encounter - a gift he gave to me.

My family was gently molding me, preparing me for what was to come - an adventure so different I could have never dreamed it to be so.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Life moving on

The next few years were filled the many good things. After a short time at a bad job, I landed a job that I loved - good work, good coworkers, good pay. I continued my volunteer work at the cat shelter, first on the cleaning crew, then on the vet crew where I learned a tremendous amount about health care for cats, and finally, more by accident, discovering where my real talent was, working with scared and depressed cats.

I started doing this informally, going into the shelter during the quiet times to visit with the cats who needed special attention. Other volunteers were doing the same thing and in time we became the "socializing" team. We would compare notes on the different cats, trying to identify which needed help and what worked best for each individual cat. A depressed cat that stops eating can start to go into liver failure in as short as three days, and it was not uncommon for the stress of being in a shelter to make a cat scared and depressed. We were all aware of the importance of what we were doing.

I met some tremendous people and many unforgettable spirit cats during this time. Luckily my job was close to the shelter which made mid-day visits possible, when the shelter was the most peaceful. Sometimes I would sit next to a cat that didn't want to be handled and read poetry, thinking that a soft musical voice would be soothing. From time to time, the cats would peek over my shoulders at the pictures on the pages of the books from which I was reading. I pretended not to notice as I would read on.

Its been many years since I was a volunteer at that shelter but I remember fondly many of the cats I met there. I may share some of their stories from time to time, but as my grandfather spirit cat is reminding me tonight as I try and wrestle keyboard access from him, right now its the story of our family I need to tell.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Joy of Home

Strong Heart didn't have any obvious transition to being brought to a home with two other cats. He wasn't bothered at all by them, he simply seemed overjoyed to be home.

Light Heart and Golden Heart participated in the obligatory hissing that any respectable cat would do when faced with an introduction. Strong Heart didn't seem to notice.

I remember well his first day integrated in to the family after a brief period of separation. He would sleep on my chest as I lay on the sofa, only to wake from time to time, LEAP off me to the floor (he never carefully climbed down - he always bounded everywhere he went), played like mad with some toy until he was exhausted, and them climbed back up on my chest to sleep again - always sleeping on me.

To this day, I don't think I have seen a living being express such joy as he did in those early days, when he knew he had found his way home.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Family Building 103

Strong Heart

Over the next few weeks an amazing interaction unfolded. Each time when I entered the shelter, before I was in his line of sight but as soon as this little guy heard my voice, he would start to cry and cry and cry and would not stop until I pulled him out of his cage and sat down with him on my lap. He passed up on the opportunity for floor time to just stay on my lap, continuing his unique practice of pushing his nose up mine, causing me to giggle every time. Admittedly I started to look forward to my visits with him, and held my breath through each open house, hoping no one else noticed his charm and that he would still be at the shelter the next day.

A cat with an obvious medical condition, as this little guys cataract clearly displayed, isn’t always at the top of the potential adoption list but there are actually many more good souls that I would have thought that do come into shelters and look for the “less than perfect” cat. These are likely the folks that have learned what I was in the process of learning – that our relationship with our companion animals is profound and not limited by such things.

Soon it became clear to me that we had a bond and that I wanted this guy to come home with me. One of the other volunteers on the cleaning crew was also an adoption counselor and was more than happy to expedite the paper work. Before I knew it, I now was a three cat home, wondering what I had done, as growing my family was never in my plans. (Little did I know!)

Strong Heart had worked hard to find his way home. I pieced together what the shelter knew of his history. He was abandoned at an apartment complex and was one of a number of cats left there to forage on their own for food. A kind family noticed his eye, thought he should have medical attention, caught him up and brought him to the shelter. By the time I met him, he already has his own ophthalmologist (yes, there are veterinary ophthalmologists!).

I believe now that our animals find their way to us, having the intention before they are born of knowing where they need to go. Strong Heart had to choose to be born with congenital eye problems, be abandoned, and then travel many miles to be at the right shelter at the right time for me to find him. What I once thought was nothing more than happenstance, I now see as intentional universal design.

My little buddy found his long way home.

Strong Heart

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Moving On

I was growing accustomed to single life and starting to enjoy the new found freedoms that came with deciding all things for myself for the first time in many years. I had a chance to define myself instead of being defined by another.

One of the benefits of my job at the time was that I received the entire month of August off as paid vacation. While it was delightful to have that much free time, I didn’t have any extra cash to take any trips or do anything out of the ordinary. Not sure what to do to fill the time I decided to return to the shelter where Light Heart and Golden Heart came from and do some volunteer work. I worked on the cleaning crew, which came twice a day to clean cages, change water and record all eating and litter box activities of each cat. It was meaningful and fulfilling work and the experienced volunteers shared with me a lot of what they knew of cats.

One morning, as I was working my way down a row of cages, cleaning each one, I noticed that one cat had vomited in his cage. I wasn’t really looking forward to cleaning that up, and initially skipped his cage, and moved on to the next, putting off for a few more minutes having to address the situation.

What happened next was interesting. I had a strong feeling that I hurt this cat’s feelings when I passed over cleaning his cage. It was a strong enough feeling that I went back to his cage, apologized for what I had done, and started right away to clean up the mess. Of course, at the time I am sure I convinced myself that it was I who called up those feelings. It was not in my believe system to think this cat could know my intentions and of course I could have no way of knowing what he was feeling.

I still had so much to learn.

After I finished up cleaning his cage I took him out and sat down in a chair with him on my lap. He needed drops put in one of his eyes which had a mature cataract, even though he was believed to be only six months old. An experienced volunteer showed me how to administer the drops and afterwards I held him close, an apology of sorts for putting the drops in his eyes. He was content to stay in my lap and would get up from time to time and shove his face right into mine – literally putting his wet nose up my nostril, not once, but almost any chance he could. I had a wet face in no time.

Eventually I needed to finish my tasks but as I tried to put him back in his cage, he suddenly resisted being separated from me. He literally, just as you would see in a cartoon, spread his legs as far as he could so he would not pass through the cage door. I wrestled him until I finally got him inside and just when I thought I had outsmarted him, he turned and deliberately ran back up my arm and clung to my chest. He would not be separated from me.

Friday, January 2, 2009


It had been a rough year for me, with many loses, both professionally and personally. I didn’t realize until then how much I defined who I was by what I did. Before this time, if you asked me who I was, I would have said I am a scientist or I am a lesbian. I had thought my future was well mapped out, but now I could not see my future at all.

I read a small pocket sized book introducing Buddhism and found some jewels of wisdom that would eventually guide me through this dark time. It taught me about letting go of the script that would run in my head, about letting go of the struggle against the pain that sometimes washed over me, about just letting go of it all.

This vital message of lesson in letting go was an important step in the process of my reconstruction. Letting go of the old baggage created space for adventures I could not yet imagine possible.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Family RE-building 101

While my relationships with my feline family were beginning to flourish, my human relationship was ending, and within months of Light Heart and Golden Heart finding their way home, I found myself without human companionship for the first time in thirteen years. While a lot of physical possessions walked out the door with that ending, my one uncompromising absolute was that the cats stayed with me. There was, and there still is, no physical belonging that is more important than one’s family.

The following months were filled with many empty hours, loss of interest in doing much, numbing silence. Only looking back now can I see, with my new found eyes, the purposeful timing of Light Heart and Golden Heart’s arrival in my life. They came just in time to fill the void, to watch over me during this rough transition process. They became the main reason for staying present. I recall one morning when I couldn’t find it in me to get up from the sofa, sweet, sweet Golden Heart, still in the stages of kittenhood, brought her face right up to mine and looked me right in the eye. I could feel the tender question she was asking, “mom, are you ok? Are you going to get up?” Such a responsibility she had on her little shoulders to take care of me. Such a grown up act for such a little one.

I got up. I moved on.