Another Heartbeat

I’m the first to admit that my heart has been firmly closed off to all other heartbeats for a number of years now. There was no way I wanted to even know that another heartbeat existed.

There was the terribly hurtful, disastrous relationship from a few years ago. Most of that I never breathed a word of my pain to anyone (although if you can handle cryptic you could check out here and here). That’s about as forthcoming as I chose to be, for a whole host of reasons. But what I can say is that I firmly zipped up my heart and determined never, ever to let it free again.

And then about a year before was a grief of another kind when my dear cat, Penny (see here) got her angel wings and left this earth. She was sick and suffering, and as hard as it was to let go, I had to let her free. Penny and I had been together for twelve years. We had got each other through thick and thin, and to go through her final days and then to grieve when she was gone took a very big toll. I wondered whether I would ever be able to bear that burden of love for an animal again, knowing that at sometime heartbreak would come again.

As time has gone on I have struggled to think of allowing myself to love another animal. I had decided, and have no doubt that I won’t be loving another human in that intimate way again, but I tossed and turned about a pet, and each time deciding that I just couldn’t go there.

There were good excuses too. Money, earthquakes (yes, really!), housing, money again, and of course the fear of loving and then losing again. I came to the conclusion at one point that I would like to get a dog instead of a cat, and so then there were all sorts of excuses why that wasn’t going to happen either. Money, earthquakes, housing, even more money, would my health limit my ability to exercise a dog adequately, and the age-old fear of loving and losing. It was looking like it was never going to happen.

Until about three weeks ago, when for some reason I didn’t really understand I drove out to the local SPCA Animal Rescue Centre just to look at the cats. I wasn’t at all prepared to adopt a cat that day; I was “just looking”. I saw two cats that I was instantly attracted too. One of them was adopted by others later that day. I was certain the other would go within days.

And then I got sick (a long story not for this post) and I just assumed that ‘Zion’ as he was called, would be happily adopted and settling into his new home. I told myself I would have adopted ‘Zion’ if I hadn’t got sick, but now I (and he) would never know each other beyond that afternoon together on the floor of the SPCA.

But strangely ‘Zion’ waited. I finally got back to the SPCA Centre two weeks later and I was sure he would have gone. He was a two-year-old, healthy and friendly male and I couldn’t see any reason why he wouldn’t have been snapped up. But as the SPCA staff explained animals often choose their owners and perhaps ‘Zion’ hoped/knew I would come back. Either that or my guardian angel had kept him out of public view for two weeks.

‘Zion’ and I have been cohabiting for one week now and I think we are both happy with our new arrangement. After a long discussion (admittedly a little one-sided) he has changed his name to ‘Hobbes’ (after my favourite cartoon character) and he is settling down nicely. He’s fast asleep at my feet as I write.

What felt good was to having some ‘thing‘ else in the house with a beating heart. Something else, alive with likes and dislikes, good and bad habits, and of course a unique personality. I hadn’t banked on any of that. I had forgotten the joys of pets and to find another heartbeat near mine is a good thing.

It’s odd because when I think of another heartbeat, what comes to mind is that beating sound and sight of the ultrasound of a pregnant woman’s belly. I have never been a maternal person. I never wanted to have children (for lots of very good reasons mostly documented somewhere across the years within this blog), and actually, the thought of another heartbeat within my body actually freaked me out a bit.

As it is, I’ve got another heartbeat, not inside me, and not a human one thankfully, yet one who still takes up half of the bed. I am growing quickly to love him. He doesn’t yet understand when I am in pain and so don’t appreciate that some of his endeavours to express his affection, and I guess that is much like a young child. I do believe though, that in time he will come to understand my needs of him as much as I understand his needs of me.

We are a partnership. If my theory that he waited those two weeks for me is correct, I hope he will soon come to the conclusion that I was worth the wait. That will be something I can only guess at.

Maybe my desire to keep my heart safe isn’t altogether that healthy. I don’t know, but it’s necessary to keep my mental health intact for now. It’s taken me just over five years to get another pet, and I hope that has allowed me the time to find within myself what I need to be able to give to Hobbes. He deserves the best of me, and I hope he gets it.

Before I forget, meet Hobbes:

“Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.”
— Colette

Thanks for reading

Cate

Even When Your Voice Shakes

Today I am heading into the city to be part of a protest rally against the use of animals to test party pills (legal highs).  It is one of a large number of protests around New Zealand today, the largest ever combined rally for animal welfare in this country.

The thought of using animals to test party pills just appalls me, with not the least reason being that animals react differently to humans with these concoctions, so other than to harm innocent beings it seems a waste of time.  Some animals die from the testing.  I’m inclined to say that if people want party pills then they should test them on themselves.  But then that allows no compassion for those who get caught up in that scene without really wanting to be there.

I’m learning to speak the truth, even when my voice shakes, and being part of this rally is one way of doing that.  I don’t plan on saying anything but the ‘voice shaking’ bit for me comes in the form of going to a crowd gathering.  Crowds just do my head in.  I struggle enough at the supermarket on a quiet day, and I mostly do my best to stay away from anything at which a crowd might gather.

I’m not a particularly anxious person.  I don’t have panic attacks (or I haven’t for a very long time).  I’m just not confident around people, especially people I don’t know.  A crowd seems to close in on me and I have the sense that I just don’t belong, and that I need to escape and get out.  I can’t remember when I last went to some type of protest gathering, although I regularly have strong feelings of support for them.  I just haven’t been able to get past my ‘voice shaking’.

What makes this one different?  I have a growing concern for the welfare of animals because of a number of things I have recently witnessed.  To see an animal treated cruelly, or with indifference breaks my heart and fills me with anger.  In the past I wouldn’t support any cruelty but it wasn’t a personal issue to me, until I spent 12 years of my life living with this little lady.

Penny Kitten

Meet Penny.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while you might have met her before.  This is actually a painting of Penny, as a kitten, done from a photograph by a good friend and talented artist.  Penny was my first pet.  She’s passed on now (about 18 months ago) but she will always be my first-born.  I love her dearly.  She taught me so much about compassion and accepting each other.  Penny never had the opportunity to have kittens but she cared for me in a way that left my jaw dropping open. Yes, she was a cat and could be as indifferent as any cat, but she also loved me and was constantly there for me, particularly when I was unwell.  She saved my life at one point, simply by being with me and giving me a reason to live.

It’s difficult sometimes to put aside the teachings and beliefs that we grow up with.  I just took for granted that, as I was taught, animals were down the scale of importance compared to humans.  Humans were on the top of the hierarchy of beings, and all animals were beneath.  Not as important.  Animals were on earth to provide for humans.  Animals did not have a soul and that is what put them down a peg or two.  They were less than me.

I don’t believe that anymore, and mostly that has come from the lessons Penny taught me.  My personal belief is that all animals are created equal, and are worthy of as much care as any person.  It feels (coming from my background) like almost blasphemy to say that.  I know it’s not a unique viewpoint, but to come from where I came, it is in some ways turning my back on my beliefs.  Again, my voice shakes.  If we are in any way superior in any of our functioning it is only so that we may care for other beings.

I didn’t have pets while I was growing up, except for a mouse for about two hours, and guinea pigs for about two days (another story).  We were told we couldn’t have pets because Dad was allergic to cats and a dog wasn’t allowed either…  something to do with shifting cities every few years for Dad’s job.  Actually I think my parents just weren’t people who could see the value of animals.

I can remember asking my Dad (a minister) where animals went when they died.  I ‘understood’ that people went to heaven but because animals didn’t have a soul, then they just died.  End of story.  Hmm.

I believe that Penny is in, what I understand to be, heaven.  I believe she’s there with my father.  They died about eight months apart and in spite of Dad’s allergy to cats, he never had a problem with Penny.  Actually he loved Penny, and he was the only other human she would go near.  This is my view but it’s okay if you don’t see it that way.  Really.

Penny taught me a lot of things, but mostly that each creature (including me) are equal.  We all deserve to be safe and treated with compassion, animals maybe more because for some they don’t always have the environment or ability to care for themselves.  I hate the idea of animals not being treated with love, and I hate the idea of them being used as test subjects for party pills or any other substance.  It’s wrong.

I don’t have any pets at the moment, because of uncertainty caused by living in a house with substantial earthquake damage.  I’m trying to hold off getting any until I have the repairs done (whenever that is).  But I miss having an animal in the house.  They are so intuitive.  More so than us, often.  Right now I make the most of my time with Duncan, my brother’s dog.  He has become very special to me, even though I only see him about once a week.  He’s young, he’s exuberant but he’s loves his humans very much.  I don’t believe for a minute that he is beneath me somehow, or that he doesn’t have a soul.

Duncan

“Man is the cruelest animal.” 

― Friedrich Nietzsche

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” 

― Mahatma Gandhi

Deserving of Our Care… Animals (Passions Profile Challenge #2)

Meet Mila, a recent but very large addition to top rating news items and heated discussions around New Zealand homes, government departments, and of course Zoos, this past week.  Mila is a 39 year old African Elephant who has spent most of her life working as a circus animal in New Zealand under the name Jumbo.  She currently lives at the Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary just south of Auckland, New Zealand.

Last week in a tragic accident Mila fatally injured her trainer and friend, Dr Helen Schofield. There have been many stories put forth of what really happened but what is important to my post is that Mila has been working with Dr Schofield for the past four years to rehabilitate her from her previous life as a circus animal, preparing her to live out her life at Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in San Andreas, California.  This is an animal who has been having behavioural problems and panic attacks on a regular basis and Dr Schofield had been working hard to help her.  I know what panic attacks feel like and they’re not nice.  I can only begin to imagine what it is like for an elephant.

My personal view of the care of animals is that they should be cared for as we would care for ourselves.  Accordingly Mila should never have been required to work in a circus, I doubt she should ever have been brought to New Zealand (conditions here are vastly different from Africa).  Mila has only ever had humans and other species of animals around her.  I’m no expert but I know that elephants are a herd animal.  They need to be with other elephants but in 39 years, she never has.  I wouldn’t treat another human being, or myself like that so why has she been treated that way.

What happens to Mila now is still on the discussion table but I very much hope that somehow my country can find a way to send her to PAWS asap.  That is the least we can do.  Unfortunately there is much debate and a lot of it leaves me cold.  There should be no debate.  We owe this to Mila.

Mila (formerly Jumbo)
Image via franklinzoo.co.nz

“I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.
An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.”

Dr. Seuss, Horton Hatches the Egg

 This post forms one part of my Passions Profile Challenge, so it’s important to say that my passion about the care of animals is not just about Mila.  I feel strongly that animals should be respected, both their traits and their needs.  I currently don’t have any pets as my darling cat Penny, died three months ago.  But the way I treated her was that I cared for her better than I cared for myself.  I was privileged to have her, and it wasn’t my right to have great expectations of what she could do for me.  Recently I heard a woman saying she wanted to get a dog because a dog would give her the love she craved.  It’s true that if she treats the dog well, the dog will respond in love but my perspective is that we should only get a pet for what we can offer it.  Am I strange?  Maybe.

Admittedly I have had somewhat of an about-face on animals.  I grew up being taught that animals did not have a soul and because of this they were less important than humans.  Because animals didn’t think like humans, they rated lower on the ranking of importance.  I really believed that humans came first, then animals and I suspect that continued down the chain to … perhaps pond scum.  But where did I learn this?  I can’t remember.  I suspect I learnt some of it courtesy of my 1970’s education but then maybe there was some type of biblical reasoning my parents or Sunday School teachers used.  I can’t check but I did ask one of my brothers whether he had learnt the same thing.  He had no recollection of this so who knows, maybe I made it up.  I do have a vivid imagination but then I have read of others having similar theories.

Now though, I can’t believe that I was taught that way.  All creatures are God’s children, and I believe that applies no matter who or what your idea of God is.  So my strong belief is that I should treat animals at least as well as I treat myself.  And yes, I think everyone else should be doing the same.

With this in mind when Penny became very sick and was suffering I ended that suffering by having her euthanized.  It broke my heart but I knew (and still know) that it is what was right for her.  I am comforted that I believe she is now with my Dad, both in my concept of heaven and neither of them have any more pain.

My inclination has been to now get a small dog but I can’t adopt a dog if I know I can’t afford to take good care of it and ensure I can cover adequate vet care.  I can’t do that right now, and so I have to wait.  I very much miss having an animal in the house and I would love to be able to care for, and enjoy a dog.  One day.

As for Mila, in my opinion, she needs to be sent to California to be in a natural environment in the company of other elephants.  The sooner ,the better so she can recover from the life so far.

PS.  You’ll notice in the related articles below that some have labelled Mila a ‘killer elephant’.  I find this so sad.  She is an elephant who made an unfortunate mistake.  Yes, literally I guess she killed, but to label her that way totally denies her reality as a victim.  Something which I am very much against.

I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls.  They always say because it’s such a
beautiful animal.  There you go.  I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her. 

~Ellen DeGeneres

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons.  They were not made for humans any more
than black people were made for white, or women created for men. 

~Alice Walker

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. 

~St. Francis of Assisi

Rest in Peace

Penny

Meet Penny. You can’t meet her in real life because she died seven weeks ago. She was 12, and should have had more years left in her, but we both knew her time was up and it was time for her to head to cat heaven. Penny went peacefully at the end. It was like she knew what was coming and she was ready to go, but it still tore me apart having to say goodbye, watch the injection go in, watch her quickly die, and then walk out of the vet clinic, alone, with an empty cage. It completely broke my heart.

I adopted Penny when she was just eight weeks old. It was at a time when I was starting over. The year before I had spent 11 months in a residential psychiatric treatment clinic during which time I made the decision to leave my marriage. I decided a new town might be best so I chose to set up home in the city where I had been at the clinic.  That way I could continue to see my psychotherapist from there as an outpatient. So there was lots of new stuff going on for me.

Pets weren’t something that had never really been part of my life. My father was allergic to cats and so for that, and various other reasons we did not have pets while I was growing up. Except for a couple of weeks with Patch and Badger, who were guinea pigs. That ended in disaster for eight year old me when the youth from the church next door to our home decided it would be funny to let them out of their cage one night. We never saw Patch and Badger again. So adopting a cat was a big decision for me, but I wanted something live to care for. I liked the idea of coming home to a cat and to having cuddles.

Penny quickly let it be known that she was boss (like most cats) and she made her likes and dislikes clear. She had something of an anxiety problem, perhaps a social phobia, because she would take off the minute anyone came near the house, not returning until they left. She loved me, and me alone. Actually in time she also grew to love my Dad and for some reason she was the only cat he had never ended up in fits of sneezing around. Penny also wasn’t into cuddles. She sat on my knee a lot but it was on her terms. She hated to be held in my arms, she always needed to be able to make a quick exit. That said, she was very loving.

Having Penny was great for my mental health. I had someone else to think about and so my decisions could also affect her. On several occasions the only thing that stopped me from doing things that would have got me a trip to hospital, was the thought of who would look after Penny. It was great because it wasn’t just all about me and my actions and consequences were for than just me. At that time my belief in myself was at an all time low and so to make the right choice for me seemed virtually impossible, but I could allow myself to make the right choice for Penny. Penny saved my life more than once.

When I was upset, Penny somehow knew and would come and just sit down next to me. Sometimes she would even try to wipe away my tears with her paw (usually resulting in a scratch across the face, but the thought was there). Somehow she knew when I needed her, even if she had to come inside to find me. She actually stopped me from self-harming because she would insist on sitting with me and I couldn’t bear to do it in front of her. It was a crazy notion that hurting me was fine but this would also hurt her (not physically) and so I couldn’t do it. I also think that when I was struggling with my eating disorder, having the responsibility to feed her gave me a message too. It was ok for her to have food and so it was ok for me too.

Penny had to be euthanized because she appeared to have a heart problem. In the year before she died she developed hyperthyroidism, something I also had at the time. When she got sick again, stopped eating and just wasn’t herself anymore; while I hated to say goodbye, I knew it was time for her to leave. She had shrunk down to 2.5kilograms and was just fur and bone. She could hardly walk straight because she was so weak and her heart was racing. It had been a stressful time for me in the last year but it had been too for Penny. She too, had endured over 10,000 earthquakes. She had no idea what was happening to the world as it shook. The earthquakes took their toll on my health, that of my family, but also on Penny.

Saying goodbye was the hardest thing. My Dad died only 10 months before and actually I wept so much more with Penny. But then Dad’s death was importantly I knew Penny was ready to go. Her time was up and I couldn’t let her suffer. Actually I believe that Penny is with Dad, and I’m sure this time he won’t have allergies and she won’t be afraid of cuddles. And neither of them will have heart disease. I’m left with Penny’s collar and her ashes (they’re going to be sprinkled under her favourite tree but I just need them inside for now). For me this song by The Pretenders will always be Penny’s song and even though I don’t have her, she will always carry on.