Be Brave Enough To Live Creatively, And Tune In To The Good Strength Of Our Many Ancestors
C.S. Sherin, January 6th, 2020
Hello 2020, hello you! It is a new year, and a new decade! Wow. Time certainly is interesting.
I have taken this New Year transition as a time to clean out clutter, and to dust out and mop away the grime and accumulations of the past year, and years. Doing that felt so good! New Year’s cleaning and organizing, both literal and figurative, is a way to show up for myself at a time when our world and environment is presenting a lot of stress and overwhelm. The act of cleaning, organizing and such, clears the way for my life a bit, and creates clean, fresh new energy to work with, in the midst of everything else. I highly recommend it!
And while I am not one to take on “New Year’s Resolutions,” I do see this time is as good of a reason as any to review, assess, drop and renew any goals, to-do lists, tasks, and focus for the coming months and year. It is a great time to ditch things that aren’t working in favor of more energizing pathways and ideas.
This really can be a good time to assess where we are, and where we want to head in the near future. There are many things to take stock of: work and work goals, personal issues and goals, relationships and friendships; politics, rights, and welfare; lifestyle, and preferences vs. habits in how we use our time, energy, and other resources. In re-evaluating and assessing these, we may determine that the course we are on is good, and/or…that we need to adjust or completely change course (in various ways) in order to do justice to who we are now, and the circumstances we currently find ourselves in.
For me, that has meant easing away from social media, and discerning what personal and social activities I most want to end and continue.
Genealogy research has become one of my favorite hobbies and work over the years. I am keeping and investing more time to that right now. Also, I will have news in the coming year about a new book I have written, that is in the works! That is another something that I am keeping and investing more time to. These are two personal items I take with me now, to develop for the near future…and that feels good!
However, this certainly isn’t a comforting time in this world. There is so much unrest and severe injustice that persists at crisis point. There are so many countless urgent needs banging at our doors, and even within our own homes. All the while, the media and powers that be spin e v e r y t h i n g — large, medium, small and minute — to their own taste and motives, damned be what is in the interest of the common good of all beings.
It is so easy to despair, to give up, to feel overwhelmed, to be confused in the midst of all the challenges we currently face at large, in addition to personal ones. It is too easy to fall into an ongoing complacency and numbness about all that needs to change, but never does….in addition to the empty, inhumane, and futile and faulty manufactured systems that dictate our daily and weekly routines most often. These are temptations that I hope and trust we all can overcome and discard going forward.
In reality, each of us has the power to claim what is good, loving, and just within: ourselves, within our personal lives, and as we navigate through our daily and weekly routines — no matter who is dictating overall structures. We may not have the power to end and change all that is wrong in this human world…but, we do have power within — who we are, how we think, act, and what we choose each day. Is this always easy? Certainly not.
However, in persevering for and within our own: inner sovereignty, compassion, wisdom and recognition and gratitude for all that is worth living and loving — in this life and world — we open up to a deeper reality, and truer approach to life and living. Easy can often be boring and predictable. Taking the courage needed to be real and true to our own being, heart and soul, and its connection to all that is…that is a real and worthwhile adventure in this life. Let what and who you love, and most wish to invest in, be your compass.
For whatever reason, my personality is such that I am perpetually oriented to a universal and global awareness. My aims and goals have long been centered on awareness at the collective level. I accept that this is simply a part of who I am. Not a lot of people around me walk around with this ongoing mindset. So often, there are few outlets other than writing and teaching, to express this viewpoint that I operate from. A simpler way to say this, perhaps, is that I am a big-picture person.
My heart and mind seek to see and foresee the overall. This is why my professional gifts have been centered around: spiritual care, healing and holistic wellness, research, creativity, educational information and tools, and justice issues. This is why I enjoy providing astrology reports for individuals, family members, partners, and parents and children. And why I enjoy so much genealogy research, and research and archives in general. These aspects always tie in to a bigger picture of the past, present, and most likely future (relating to the collective), and bring many benefits and opportunities for expansion and healing.
One thing that genealogy is lacking though, I realized yesterday, is our relationships and lineages alongside other beings of this Earth…like animal companions, and the roles they play and have played in ours and our ancestor’s lives. As I wrote in an earlier three-part series here, animal companions and other beings of this Earth that aren’t human, have the power to save and change us and our lives in beautiful and essential ways. That and they are a hidden and powerful part of our family trees! Also, the relationships and lineages of the trees and other central beings and elements of this Earth in relation to our ancestor’s lives is overlooked and made invisible.
If you are familiar with the show, “Finding Your Roots,” on PBS with Henry Louis Gates Jr., then you know the incredible power of history revealed through family tree research. And, that power has the same impact in watching someone else discover some of their pivotal historic origins as it is for the person experiencing it. In “Finding Your Roots” so much important history is revealed about the facts of slavery and freedom in our United States history, and the ways in which so many ancestors rose above adversity, cruelty and hatred in the human world — against all the odds. Therefore, there are so many hidden strengths we can look to that live on within us. If, we find ways to clear the mind, make time for, and tune in to those truths carried on within us.
For my family tree, I seek to clarify and clean away what was painful, harmful, and muddy…in order to highlight and claim the hidden beings that contributed to my unique and hidden strengths, and those within my loved ones. I seek to share the most accurate family tree I can, to uphold the bigger picture truths of our melded lineages.
I start this decade with the desire, and actions, to contribute to generational wellness and healing. The actions may be small, but they accumulate…they count for something and have healing power. And with that big-picture view, I see what is also missing, and left unsaid and unnamed…like the lineages of animals, trees, land, rivers, and herbs that supported, informed, and so many times, saved our ancestors along the way. Which also leads to thoughts of the dances, the music, and the friends who also led the way, and made the difference for our ancestors, and their survival.
Along with an appreciation and actions for genealogy at this time, I see the importance in recognizing and naming our spiritual family and spiritual ancestors as well. These are all other beings, besides immediate family, who sustain and support us along the way, seen and unseen. Not all can be named. Yet all can be given acknowledgment and thanks in our hearts and minds each day. That becomes a foundation for a strength — a sustaining bond — between us and all that has been made invisible.
The Truth About Self-Employed/Freelance Women, And Their Rates & Fees
C.S. Sherin, Dec. 6, 2019
I love when people get right to the point, and so, that is what I am going to do. The following information is everything. It is the main point, which comes from a question about what something is worth…specifically when female freelance/self-employed professionals set the rates and fees.
So, you may wonder why self-employed/freelance professionals seem to “charge so much.” It is true that when you pay for services from an artisan, artist, trade specialist, editor, spiritual practitioner, or other self-employed or freelance professional — you pay for their specialization, and the value and quality of their service or product.
But why are some prices so high? The real reason for this is because self-employed professionals must pay for the following benefits themselves:
vision and dental care
maintaining or updating education/training
administrative tasks (non-billable hours)
In addition to these, self-employed professionals also need to factor in business expenses against all profits:
work supplies & equipment (shipping, packaging, labels, software, third party apps)
Not all independent professionals will have every single one of those expenses, but many will. And, all of this, of course, is in addition to the responsibilities we all have: rent or mortgage, property taxes, costs of child care or pets, transportation, education (debt), food, clothing, and so on.
You see, many freelancers and self-employed folks are, in fact, talented people who are brave enough to administrate a business on their own, without a safety net. If they do it well, they are the stars of the circus, so to speak.
Yes, some independent professionals do overcharge and take advantage of others. Corruption is present in every profession and sector, unfortunately. However, it is important to understand — the majority of self-employed/freelance folks simply want to make a decent and honest living doing what they do best. There is zero greed behind most fees and rates. In fact, most self-employed people undercharge for their services!
Let’s look at some recent statistics and reports on this matter…
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2015, 7.4% of men were self-employed and 5.2% of women were. Also reported, self-employment is higher among White and Asian people, and lower among African American, Native American, and Hispanic people. (The study actually didn’t mention Native American people, and I hated that exclusion, so I changed it.)
In August of this year, The Pew Research Center reported that only 10% of the US work force is self-employed, though there are many unreported self-employed folks, they think. And, only about a quarter of known self-employed people (3.4 million) have employees of their own.
In October of this year, Forbes reported that in 2018 women received a severely neglectful “2.2% share of $130 billion given out in venture capital. And that was a $1 billion improvement over the prior year.” The article expands on how gender bias towards women inhibits funding for their small businesses. One detail given was how women are often asked personal questions, rather than questions focusing on their business during interviews for funding.
Lastly, a recent joint report by Thumbtack and Square stated that self-employed women end up earning more money. This is because, in “regular jobs,” women are often undervalued and underpaid. At the same time, the report shared that:
“Women small business owners are 5x more likely than men to have had their expertise questioned in all industries, and are 10x more likely than men to have had their expertise questioned in male-dominated industries.”
~ Thumbtack Journal (“Build Her Up”) and Square
This of course affects funding, word of mouth, and ultimate long-term success. In addition, the report shares that self-employed females will experience less workplace discrimination. (It goes without saying…)
Studies are reporting that being self-employed can improve women’s lives. This means that women of color, women leaving domestic violence, women veterans, LGBTQIA+ womyn, all sorts of women…who have talents that go unrecognized and undervalued by traditional means have a chance to improve theirs and others’ lives, work, and projects through self-employment…if they have support through local, regional and/or government funding and clients.
But funding and customers or clients won’t last if the business, service, or product doesn’t have real worth, use, and quality. And businesses of real worth and quality can’t last without support and recognition. And, of course, along with local support, funding, and tools and education for small business, the independent professional needs to have integrity, expertise, and reliability. So, yeah, it isn’t enough to decide to freelance and set a well-calculated price. A lot of preparation, education, practice, and time goes into becoming that expert, that artist, that consultant, that independent freelancer who can be so appreciated, needed, and valued.
At the same time, women, especially women of color, are not getting the support and votes of confidence (financial and community-wise) they need to become that independent professional that keeps going.
Alongside all of this, I can speak first-hand about one of the big challenges for the self-employed, which is affordable, accessible healthcare insurance. The first two years of the government’s Healthcare Marketplace coverage, for me, as a female self-employed professional was great. After that, it quickly became too expensive. Talk about prices being too high! Catastrophic insurance is a safety net, but far-flung from a desirable long-term solution. We need better solutions, that is for sure! But that is another article…back to the topic at hand…
Working for yourself can be viewed as the easy life, but really, it is more likely to be that you are overworked and underpaid when working for yourself. And when you work from home most of the time, like I do, that means that it is possible to work 18–20 hour days between what needs to be done at home and work.
That is, until you realize that you are your own boss, and so you are responsible for balance, health, income, and morale of the business…and that it is all you. A good friend of mine is also self-employed part of the year, and she helped me a lot in realizing that I am my own boss, and what kind of boss am I? Will I be a good boss? Will I be kind? Will I be merciless? I’ve found that I can be all of those. This is a compass of awareness that keeps me steady.
When you are the boss, worker, and administrator, it is way too easy to work over-time and endlessly, with passion and eagerness to make a difference and provide the best for you and your clients. That is the double-edged sword of doing what you are good at, and doing what you love!
When I was first beginning as a self-employed professional, many years ago, I was more than willing to be underpaid. I was even enthusiastic about it! I wanted to meet people where they were, and still provide amazing services. For the most part, people were fair with me when I gave them that trust. But, undercharging was not long-term sustainable.
The Thumbtack-Square report supports this experience, stating that both male and female independent professionals have to undercharge for their services in order to build a clientele in the beginning. And most people with “regular jobs” that have benefits or not, can probably relate to this since fair wages equal to inflation are near to non-existent in our country in general.
As I started to gain confidence, I took a small business class and later a few sessions of tutoring from the local University’s small business program. Through that, I learned about all of the hidden costs to self-employment, crafting a business plan, and how all of that leads to the fees that you see when you approach a self-employed individual for specialized services. I also learned that women are less likely to ask for money, start a business, or take financial risks.
After that, I started charging more appropriate fees for my services. Overall, it went well. Loyal clients valued my services and didn’t mind paying more. But there were some bumps too. The reactions ranged from shock and distaste…to flat out judgement. These reactions were from women who were able to pay the fee without strain, and who knew me personally, outside of my profession. To be clear, back then I wasn’t raising my rate by hundreds of dollars or anything, it was only an increase of $20!
Being an artist, writer/author, editor, publisher, and holistic spiritual practitioner…I have had ample opportunities to come face to face with the preconceived notions of value and worth placed on the services, projects, and products provided by women.
Women have been subjected to this mindset at a deep level, and the problem is, too many women: believe it, don’t question it, apologize for wanting fair payment, or don’t even want to ask to be paid! I have watched absolute expert superstar women tell me about clients not paying them, and how they did nothing. Why? Because they felt bad, uncomfortable, ashamed, confused — you name it. Women are often taught to resist being bold and straightforward. Why? Because they are then seen as demanding and pushy.
In witnessing this kind of dynamic, I learned quickly to ask to be paid, kindly — with normality, and without apology.
I mean, think about this… Imagine if someone had a pop-up shop at a store, and they were selling homemade gourmet cookies. Someone walks up and says they’ll have three, takes them, and walks away without paying. Not only is that illegal, it is unjustifiable. Now imagine the cookie artisan person asking that thief for payment, but apologizing for asking. Yes, it’s completely bananas, I know. Yet this happens. And women too often struggle to deal with it. I know, because it has happened to me, and to my friends who are also independent professionals.
In time, in engaging in conversation, later, with some of the women that balked at my $20 increase in fee back then, I found that they were also learning about their worth and the worth of others, and it was a growing edge for them. They expressed that they had realized the need for fair payment, and that the region we live in isn’t too hospitable to that — favoring corporations and organizations instead. Others, I didn’t get to talk to, and I simply wrote it up as their issue, not mine.
In retrospect, I know and appreciate that we women all have mental and emotional hurdles to overcome due to systemic bias and discrimination. For LGBTQIA+, Hispanic, Native American, and Black women that is on top of any other personal challenges and levels of discrimination and bias they experience. Because of this, it is important for us to become more aware of these hidden issues, needs, and dynamics, so that we don’t perpetuate the problem for ourselves and others.
Yes, some women (and men) take advantage of others, and charge too much…even exploit sectors of business out of greed. I have been totally grossed out by some of the exploitative prices in certain fields of work that I have specialized in. I have been totally grossed out by those that make money the object, rather than the relationships, quality, outcome, and expertise. Still, they are not the majority! Please remember this when you look at services and fees listed by freelance/self-employed women.
Nowadays, I like to take a logical approach: this is what it costs to provide this service and maintain this small business. Period. End of sentence. We can tailor that cost to suit your needs. I can even give you a deal, but I cannot, logically or responsibly, work for you at a rate that will put me in debt by the end of the day, week, month, or year. It makes no sense.
I once had a speaking engagement where I let the hosts know my rate, and that I would be donating products for the crowd, valued at more than I would be paid. I was surprised to see them, at the beginning of the event, taking donations rather than a set admission cost, to cover my speaking fee, and to donate to a designated charity of the audience’s choice. Afterwards, the host said they didn’t make enough from the event, and asked if I would like to donate my fee to the charity that was chosen. I was shocked, and explained that the products I had donated for the night had already far exceeded the amount of my speaking fee (by hundreds), which they knew. The host reluctantly gave me an amount of money, less than what I had stated as my rate.
This was a tough experience for me, because the host was someone I had trusted. Sadly, it was clear to me, from that and other instances, that our needs and goals were no longer compatible. As much as I was disappointed, I moved on, realizing that it is more important to maintain what is sustainable for me, rather than caving to unreasonable and ongoing requests that put my livelihood at stake. It’s just one story of a million for women who put themselves out there. Well, in the freelance world it happens to both men and women, but it can be, and is, harder for women in many ways.
So, lessons learned! If your rate isn’t sustainable for me, it’s a fact, and we can move on in peace and mutual respect. I certainly won’t hold a grudge. Even with people who have tried to take advantage of my kindness, I won’t hold a grudge. It isn’t worth the energy. Best to move on, and make room to connect with those with compatible goals. Onward and upward!
So, the next time you are shocked by the rates and fees listed by an independent professional, please take into consideration all the hidden expenses that freelancers and the self-employed must plan for. Remember that we self-employed/freelancers most often have no safety net, and think long and hard about how to charge, and when not to.
Also, consider how much you would spend on other professionals, such as: an electrician, plumber, roofer, spa, or salon. And, remember how much money you usually spend on entertainment, fun items, holiday decor, and unnecessary food items. Then, consider the value vs. cost of a business relationship with a self-employed professional (whether they are an artist, writer, editor, consultant, advisor, artisan, or whatever), and how their services can truly make a positive difference for you, when given the chance.
Most of all, please do give us freelancers and self-employed professionals, and our fees, the benefit of the doubt. Most of us are worthy of your trust.
Look closely at what unique super powers we may have that can enhance your life, work, and project as the deciding factor — instead of jumping to conclusions about, and judging fees, without learning more. At least inquire, if you are seriously interested, and the fees are all that is stopping you. In most cases, independent professionals are willing to work within your budget (within reason).
The added bonus is that you can count on a personal touch from an individual who: deeply appreciates the business and the opportunity to exceed your expectations; and who seeks to forge a positive, mutually beneficial, ongoing business relationship with you. Win-win.
This article was previously published by C.S. Sherin, December 5, 2019 on Medium.com.
If you have been reading my blog posts for a while, you will have noticed that our cat, Boris, shows up in various ways…in stories about dogs, about life, and in poetry that I write. He really was an amazing cat with a big presence. His death, at an elderly age, was hard for us. The loss was exaggerated at night for Jeff and me, because Boris had set himself up as a night watchman. Every night he would lovingly tuck us all into bed, pouring proud purring affection upon us as we dozed off. It was soothing. It also seemed that he knew whenever we didn’t feel well, or even when we were having bad dreams, and he would come to stay by our sides. Loss is never easy, but some people and beings are larger than life, and when they are gone, the empty space feels vast.
In the last story series, I had mentioned that I could write a book about our dog, Samantha, and that is true. More than likely though, whatever animal or animals I would choose to write about would include cameos and lessons by Boris. Today’s story is one of those…
The third dog story, Samantha’s story, on this blog, mentioned the spiritual lineage — so to speak — of the cats and dogs we adopt, and how it is our legacy. This story will illustrate that statement more fully.
So, after Boris died, we were in a place with animal companions that we had never been before. Boris was the third animal companion to die from a quick and tough cancer in a period of two years. It began with our dog, Miss Honey, then our little ginger girl-cat, Abigail.
Abigail and Boris were like an old married couple. So, when she went so quickly, it left Boris without his dog and without his life partner. But, he still had us, and he still had Wesley, our ginger Maine Coon, who was truly like a son to Abigail and Boris. As I explained in Samantha’s story, we adopted Samantha nearly right away after Miss Honey died, because we needed to. We needed each other. So, Boris also had Samantha. And like Miss Honey, he welcomed her with calm authority and affection.
It was the same for us after Abigail died. We needed to rescue another life in her honor in order to find deeper meaning and solace to the loss. It was not right away, but not long after either. We went to a no-kill shelter for cats that we had never been to before. There, we adopted a little ginger girl-cat who looked a perfect combination of both Abigail and Boris. We named her Winnie, and she really looked and acted exactly as a kitten to the two of them would. Boris was thrilled to meet and know Winnie too. So, when Boris did die in the summer of 2015, he had witnessed a continuation of our animal companion family and lineage. Not only those I mentioned, but he also knew Aubrey (from the part one of the dog series) for some years, when he was first adopted. That generational connection felt and feels important. Boris was able to pass on some of himself to Wesley, Winnie, and Samantha. But, as I said earlier, his passing on left us with a big aching space, like a lost tooth.
Eventually, in the Fall of 2015, we went to the Humane Society, where we had rescued Abigail and Boris many years before. Who would be the special cat to be rescued in honor of Boris? I knew that we had to look for a cat that we could relate to and understand, not just one that we felt bad for, or that we liked for aesthetic reasons only. That led me to the cage of a very mellow cat, and he so happened to be a ginger as well.
His name was Solstice…because he had been found on the Summer Solstice. There had been countless compassionate people who gone out of their way to save Solstice, and that is something I am always amazed by, mindful of, and thankful for. This is the story that they told us about him at the shelter:
He was found in the countryside of a small town, near a farm, about twenty minutes from the small city we live in. He was small, thin, weak, and raggedy with ringworm and parasites. Both ears, at the tips, were split apart slightly. The workers believe the ear tips were damaged by being exposed to severe cold. He also was found with a stud tail, meaning that he had most likely fathered many kittens in the area. Overall, he was in very rough shape, and wanted to be saved from an early death that mostly likely would await him if he kept going out on his own through winters. The shelter workers saw that he was so mellow, sweet, and gentle, in interacting with him. Because of the kindness of his spirit, they felt especially moved, to do everything possible to bring him to health, and find him a forever home. He went through a lot of care from the shelter, and spent some time in a foster home to rehabilitate from the ringworm.
When we met him, I was struck by his wise and kind eyes and face. It was wild how very placid he was when anyone would hold him. He was someone we could feel comfortable with and relate to. His being draws out compassion and awe, really. We decided to adopt him, and so I got to speak with the woman who had fostered him, since she also worked at the shelter. She told me that he fit in with other animals easily, and with a sheepish look told me that she had let him sit on the table during meals, because he only wanted to be near them, and was respectful. Having lived with cats since I was born, this didn’t faze me at all.
Once the papers were signed to adopt, we had to wait for approval. In less than a week, we got approval and went to pick him up. They sent him home with a mini handmade crocheted blanket. That was so sweet! From the beginning, it was clear that there was great love and appreciation for this amiable cat.
At home we came up with the perfect name for him — Solomon. It fits his face and demeanor. We kept Solstice as his middle name. His introduction to the other animals went really well. Like Boris, he did not become aggressive or scared when faced with new animals. He had a very rooted and calm approach to dealing with others — most of the time. If he felt weird, he would simply keep his distance.
That first day, I will never forget — holding him in my arms, and feeling a heat like a burning fire build and build until I couldn’t hold him anymore. Even though I was no longer running my professional practice as a Reiki practitioner and teacher, I still did and do share Reiki upon request for friends and family; and for myself. Sometimes, when an animal is in need, they will simply draw on the Reiki energy for healing purposes. They often sense who regularly facilitates it, and go for the hands to get what they need. Since I have shared Reiki with many animals, I have been in many situations where animals that are not open to strangers, would spend inordinate amounts of time letting me touch them — their people always being amazed. This was for the Reiki. I actually started energy work for animals before I learned Reiki — and was taught how to do it by a Franciscan sister (nun) who was quite skilled, and an animal whisperer.
I had learned early on that when the energy heats up to that intense of a degree — unbearable, really — there is a serious issue going on that most likely requires more than energy work. Most often, that means that there is a medical condition that will need to be addressed. As I put Solomon down, I exclaimed to my husband and daughter that something must be wrong with him. I made an appointment to see the vet the next day.
What we found out is that there was something very seriously wrong with Solomon, but it was hard for the vet to figure out why. What they did know is that Solomon was anemic, and on the brink of needing blood transfusions. They began trying to treat him with medication, but the cause was eluding them. The funny thing was, our vet was the same vet who worked on Solomon for the Humane Society when they rescued him. So they had all his records, and the vet remembered him. She told me how small and thin he had been, and that he was looking better. She also mentioned how sweet and kind he seemed, and how important it felt to help him. We went through a long period of ongoing blood tests and medication for Solomon, and it was touch and go. I was really upset that he had to keep being put through so many tests. Finally, the vet realized the cause of the anemia…it was a side effect of the ringworm medicine they had given him. After some time, that health issue was resolved for good. And, knock on wood, Solomon hasn’t had any health issues since.
Something really changed after he recovered from that illness. We hadn’t realized that his coat and hair in general was thin and sparse, not a reflection of his true, full glory. He grew back all of his hair and it was and is…magnificent! He has a tail like an ostrich plume! His long hair is very Maine Coon like, actually, though he is an average cat size, not large. It was a surprise to one day realize his tail had filled in. We didn’t even really notice it. It was not long after his recovery. Boris had had an exceptionally long tail. Our Maine Coon, Wesley, has a great foofy tail. So, when Solomon’s filled in, we overlooked it for some reason. Friends from the east coast visited and mentioned his tail and how amazing it is. I was confused, because in my mind, Wesley had the grand tail. I was amazed to look at Solomon’s tail and see that breathtaking plume that had grown in. Well, he wins. He has the best tail ever!
Some of Solomon’s personality had been muted by his illness. Once he had recovered, we discovered more of who he really is. Though he is his own unique being, as we all are, there are many similarities between he and Boris. This is why I see it as a spiritual lineage that we care for. Like Boris, it took Solomon several years to feel comfortable lying right next to us or in our laps. This is something I see more in cats that have roughed it before being rescued, where human companionship hadn’t been good, or hadn’t been present. It takes years to build up the trust it takes to cuddle and stay near one another. Another strong quality Solomon shares with Boris is the need for a schedule and the inner sense of authority to demand that the schedule remains on track. The times when schedule is most important to keep to? Dinner, snacks, and bedtime. When either one is late, there is a lot of talking, complaining, pleading, and interrupting that goes on. Solomon also has a very specific meow with inflection that means snack. That is unique to him. That’s the other thing, like Boris, he is mentally very present, and is able to communicate and talk in a way that gets his needs met.
Where Solomon diverges into some of his own unique qualities: he adores water. If there is a bath or shower going on, Solomon wants to be there. He not only wants to be there, he wants to rub his cheeks on the the walls, furniture, and sliding doors to the shower/bath repeatedly and with great passion — to celebrate the shower or bath, and that he is near it. When taking a bath, it seems like he is verging on coming into the bath as well. He will head butt an arm or shoulder and receives wet handed pets upon his head, neck and back with glee.
For a while, when he was younger (he was around 3 years old, maybe, when we adopted him), he also had a dark side, from his more feral days. When he would play with Wesley, wrestling happily and then bathing each other afterwards…it was lovely. But, in the beginning, sometimes the wrestling would trip a wire in his mind and the play would switch into a terrible viciousness. It was kind of scary. And it caused some major behavioral problems linked to fear for Wesley for a while.
Thankfully, we were able to address and completely change that stress response, from when Solomon was on his own, and would have to fight for his life with other males. We established the time-out in the bathroom. The time-out is not a punishment, exactly. The bathroom is a place he loves. But when he would turn vicious, we would tell him that he needed a time-out, and we put him in the bathroom with the door closed and light on. We left him there until he had switched off that trauma based reaction and had returned to calm, loving Solomon. At the same time, we conditioned Wesley as well. Once Solomon was in the bathroom, we retrieved Wesley from his hiding place, calmed and comforted him, and put him in a place that gave him more confidence — like on a bed or in the cat tree. When the time-out was over, then we would tell Solomon why he was in the time-out and that it was over. After a year of this process, even asking if he needed a time-out would cause him to stop, separate, and calm down. This process has been completely successful. Solomon doesn’t break into that viciousness anymore. Though he can get carried away with other instinctual responses….
Solomon is still a mellow, sweet, loving guy. But, there is a dark side he shows sometimes when each of us needs to shower in the morning. Sometimes, just as a person has disrobed and is about to get in the shower, he positions himself so that he is quite near the entrance to the shower. At that point, if you catch a glimpse of his face, it is no longer the loving Solomon we adopted. He becomes a giant tiger lying above a waterfall, waiting to catch his prey. His ears go back, and his eyes look like he is planning to destroy you! At that point, fear flashes through our minds, and he sees it. The person quickly steps into the shower and screams out, because Solomon has just swiped with nails out or bit — the person’s behind. It is terrifying. At first, he was only doing it to Jeff and Samara. But they hadn’t told me about it yet! Then, one day, he did it to me. I couldn’t believe it. I yelled at him, saying “NO!” But, I noticed, yelling only made him worse. So that wasn’t the way to go. We keep coconut oil in the bathroom, and I know that he adores a little bite of it. So, instead of feeding his mad energy with my own, I offered him some coconut oil. That changed everything.
He no longer tried to attack. However, he still likes to swipe from time to time. But it is more of a funny game, than the predator-prey type feel that he first was giving off. Of course, we all handle these kinds of issues in our own way. Samara just kicks him out of the bathroom. Jeff simply screams and puts up with it. But, Solomon never really hurts him. And I think that Jeff thinks it is both scary and funny. So, yeah. I can see the big cat in Solomon. And I respect him, and know that he had hard times, combined with instincts that sometimes brings out his dark side.
I would say that the last two years he has truly blossomed. Having told you about some of his difficult behavior, I have to adjust the picture of him a bit. Solomon is a reserved, respectful, and shy cat. He wants affection and attention — very much so, but he will never ask for it. When he wants it, he will come near enough for us to reach out to him, and then run away. When he wants to lie down by us, he is just out of reach, but near. When he wants to lie on me for a minute, he waits until deep into the night, when we are all sleeping, and then climbs on my back and lays down, or head butts my head, and then cuddles me. It only lasts for a short while, and then his instinct to run kicks in. We have such a tender spot for him because of this. What we understand is that he didn’t have affection from people when he was a kitten. He learns a lot from our youngest cat, Gilbert. Gilbert is the most demonstrative and affectionate cat we have ever known. Solomon has blossomed a lot in trying out cuddles the way that Gilbert does it. He can’t do it for long, but his quiet little purr tells us that he likes it very much.
This October marks four years since we adopted Solomon Solstice. He is a gorgeous, really good cat! An endearing thing he has done since the beginning: if he is sleeping somewhere in the house and we walk by or near him, he will quite suddenly raise his head and make a vocalization that sounds, not like a meow, but like a: “Hi! What’s up?” And while he never asks for affection, we find that we can lean in and give him a hug and a pet, or a kiss on the forehead, and the little purr motor turns on in gratitude. We make sure to pick him up and carry him around, letting him know that we see, know, and love him. He really appreciates it. And he is just as placid, being held now, as he was back then. It is a happy place for him.
I told Solomon that I was telling his story today, even though his story is ongoing. He was extremely happy and excited, and couldn’t stop talking and rubbing against everything. We picked him up and gave him hugs and kisses. He understands so much English that it’s scary sometimes. When he talks so much, I wish I could understand every word, but I don’t. I told him this. Like Boris, he knows that humans miss a lot, and he is willing to work with where we are at in this life journey. What I do know is that the Summer Solstice is made more special in knowing Solomon — and in knowing that that was the beautiful day that the universe set the plan in motion to send him to his forever home — with us. And October is that much more beautiful, seeing his loving, wise eyes light up when we tell him, “Happy anniversary, Solomon! We are so glad you are here. We love you buddy.”
Our Family House Elf — Who Happens To Be Disguised As A Dog
C.S. Sherin, posted and updated October 3, 2019
This story will conclude this short series (part one, part two) about some of the dogs of my life and heart. The funny thing about this conclusion is that our current dog’s story hasn’t ended, thankfully, and sometimes we are not sure if she really is a dog…
Right after Miss Honey died was a rare instance, where we felt the need to adopt a dog pretty much right away. In most cases the best approach is to give one’s self and family plenty of time to process and grieve before taking on the responsibility of introducing and caring for a new family member. Yet, there are exceptions….there are times when waiting isn’t for the best. I have learned to trust my instincts in any number of ways, and this was one of those times — I was getting a gut feeling to begin looking, a week or more after Miss Honey had passed on. Part of this had to do with honoring Miss Honey. We had rescued her from the county shelter, an adult dog with behavioral and health issues, who enriched our lives forever. Christmas time was approaching, and we wanted to go to the same no-kill county shelter to see if there was a dog there that we could rescue — in her memory.
I looked online and found a picture of a dog with eyes like universes. Her name was Sammy. On December 23rd of 2013, with my daughter, I drove up to the county shelter to visit her. We had no expectation of adopting her that day, as it was Christmas time, and there are certain restrictions and requirements for adoption usually. So, we went only to see if we clicked with her. If we did, then we would consider filling out an application for adoption, if possible.
The shelter had been given some love via donations since we had last been there in 2005. It was a lot nicer in the shelter, but it was still cement kennels for the dogs — pretty standard. The two women working there were eager to show us Sammy. But first, they wanted to tell me her story:
Samantha had been among just over 40 dogs that were rescued from a serious hoarding situation. The dogs were being kept in an unheated shed in the winter. One of the older female dogs had somehow gotten out, found a couple walking in the neighborhood, and had led them to the shed, where the couple found all the dogs. All those poor dogs were neglected and had never been socialized. The county rescue handled the situation, and it took them a long time to process all the dogs. Samantha was one of the younger ones. The older ones were in rough shape with strange behaviors. The younger ones had more of a chance to recover and bounce back. They found that Samantha, though young, had lost enamel on many of her teeth from being kept in a kennel. Once Samantha made it to the shelter, one of the volunteers fell in love with her and adopted her. The volunteer lived on a farm of sorts where Samantha was socialized and remained very close to the woman — going everywhere with her. Samantha learned to get along with horses and chickens as well as other dogs and cats. Two weeks before we got to the shelter, the woman who had adopted Samantha surrendered her to the shelter. This was because of a divorce, change of residence and job, and the inability to be home with Samantha.
After telling me Sammy’s story, the shelter worker let me walk back through the kennels to where Sammy was. I was surprised to see an enormous dog bed pillow in her kennel. She looked depressed, but lit up when she realized that we would let her out with us into the main room. She was wearing a beautifully knit rust-colored sweater that hung on her skinny frame. As we sat down in the lobby with her she stayed close to us at all times, moving back and forth and all around to get pets. Those two weeks in the shelter had left her in the aftermath of abandonment, and the trauma of being in a kennel. She was thin, but generally healthy, bright, and so pretty! Her eyes are a mixture of white, blue and brown, and are absolutely filled with beauty.
All in all, we clicked. I told the shelter workers that I would like to apply to adopt. They were very happy about this…for Sammy and all involved. They went through the paperwork with me, and then they began checking on it to move forward while we were still there visiting. After a while they surprised us very much by saying that everything checked out, and that we “can take her home today!” I exclaimed that, “I didn’t expect this right before Christmas at all!” They explained and agreed that things don’t usually happen this fast, but that it did this time and that — it is meant to be! We were dumbstruck, and so thrilled to be taking Sammy home with us for our first Christmas in our new house (we had moved that past summer in 2013). Jeff was surprised, but quite happy. He had welcomed dogs back into his heart, this one included.
Now this is where we started to realize that Sammy wasn’t a usual type of dog. Before we left with Sammy, the shelter worker said that they would help us load up Sammy into the car. I was a little confused about that. What they meant was that — they would bring out all of her belongings! Samantha came with a bag of clothes, a bag of toys, and a dog bed that was big enough for a very large dog. Sammy is a petite medium-sized dog. Miss Honey was a medium-sized dog, but larger than Sammy is. It was wild seeing all the things packed in with her…all the love her former person left with her, we could tell.
She came home with us, bearing much pain and grief from loss, abandonment, high expectations for companionship, and dysfunction and suffering from her origins. We embraced Sammy with compassion and joy, deepened by our own grief, along with the wish to bring goodness to her and our family — at a time of year that can be challenging for many of us anyway.
How Samantha responded to being in a household that includes three cats: The moment she set paws in our house, the cats wanted to inspect her. She laid down on her back by Boris to let him, and all of them, know that she would not only respect them, but would be submissive to them, as needed. This was an incredible gesture — so smart! The cats approved. She forged friendships of various sorts with all the cats.
And, she went on to tune in to us, and as she did, she went out of her way to be a clown and to make us laugh. That is what I most remember, is that we were laughing all the time. And I remember being aware that she was facilitating a lovely way for us to process our grief (and perhaps her own), with play and laughter. What we discovered is that Sammy is a comedian and healer. She is the most funny and odd dog that we have ever known. She is also the prettiest!
That first Christmas she met my mother and my siblings. Everyone lit up when they met her — and people still do. There is just something about her energy and beauty, combined with her eyes, that is uplifting. The one thing that everyone also did was to feed her. She had all but starved herself at the shelter — so we made sure that she was getting the nutrition she needed to be well. It turned out that she had some really strange eating habits. She didn’t want to eat if we weren’t by her. And, she would take scoops of food in her mouth and carry it near to wherever we would happen to be in the house, to eat it. It took at least three years to get her to stop moving her food (she does it very rarely now), and to sit in one place to eat it.
Like most dogs, Sammy adores toys. Back then, even with the belongings she had with her, she felt like she needed more. So, in the first two years of her life with us, she would sometimes steal. If one of us would come in the front door in the winter, she would steal one of our gloves or a hat as we were taking it off. She would grab it and run off with it…and if we ran after her, all the better. That kind of stealing was harmless and pretty funny. Later in life now, she simply grabs one of the toys from her big basket of toys to celebrate someone coming home for the day. She doesn’t seem to need to steal hats, gloves, socks, or paper anymore.
She did also make tiny ventures into more serious attempts of stealing a few times. One time, my niece came to visit, and had a little stuffed animal in her purse for some reason. Samantha was not above sticking her nose into a purse to claim the stuffed animal as her own. We stopped her, but also had to put the purse up and away from her. Samantha wasn’t above stealing a stuffed animal from Samara’s room either. Samara is past the age of having a bunch, but there was one small bunny I had given her back in 2013, and, well…Samantha has that in her basket now.
Sammy also took on some of the mannerisms of the horse she knew at her former home, we think. She snorts like a horse quite often, for instance. She also seems to have fond memories of chickens and chicken eggs, judging by her responses to each of these at different times through the years.
Although she is quite different from our Miss Honey, Samantha is the perfect and fitting spiritual descendant for her in our family. Miss Honey was a Beagle-Terrier mix. Samantha, we found out via a small DNA test, is a mix of Toy Fox Terrier and Italian Greyhound, and a mix of other breeds as well from each side of the family…but those are the main two that are most immediate. Some of the Terrier traits can make a dog hyper and reactive on a leash. Miss Honey was, and Samantha is. We are constantly working on that issue. There is a general shape to their faces, as well, that is kindred. They both, in their own ways, desperately needed a home and family — and were/are able to bring great joy and healing to that home and family. It all feels like a continuity, like with our cats.
Rescuing and adopting animals is a part of our family, and our family’s legacy. If we had the means do it and sustain it on a bigger scale, we would!
With Samantha there are many tales to tell. The grossest…let’s see…how I can say this the most delicately? We discovered that we need to separate her from the kitty litter at all times. She is not to be trusted by kitty litter. If you can’t figure out why, I won’t tell you. Suffice it say, the reason is absolutely disgusting…yet a part of dog nature. As mentioned in Part One and Two, there is always the rubbing in dead things type of gross that crops up with dogs from time to time, followed by a bath of necessity. These are small annoyances, though.
Of all the things about Sammy, I would highlight that she is the most affectionate, personal, fun, and loving dog I know. And…there is also something really strange about her. Not bad-strange…just different and enigmatic. Sometimes she doesn’t seem like a dog. She seems like….a person? a seal? a fairy? an alien? or….like a house elf! Yes, maybe that’s it. She’s a free house elf, of course — she came with her own clothes! And, oh, she loves clothes, but only in cool and cold weather.
In the days before J.K. Rowling introduced us all to house elves, and, particularly, Dobby…I would have said that she is most like a helpful house spirit — like a brownie, elemental, fairy or something. But, in reading about and seeing Dobby on the big screen, I would say that she definitely has some kind of house elf energy! She has magic about her, and sometimes, when she looks at us humans with a long steady gaze, so many of us feel that she is more than a dog, and is trying to tell us something important…if only we could understand.
It can be unnerving and mysterious! It has happened to me, my husband, daughter and many of our friends and family who sit with her.
It wasn’t lost on me that both she and Miss Honey spent exactly two weeks in that shelter, and then they came to live with us. They both experienced an abandonment scenario that scarred them for life (Sammy has never fully healed from being left, and still is scared we will leave her), and they both came to us as adults, with great need, and lots of love to give. And where Miss Honey only tolerated the cats, Sammy respects the cats, and has some real cat traits herself.
Our cats are kind of doggish-cats and our dog is, well, cat-ish. This comes from the Italian Greyhound side of her, it seems. This also makes me think of Shaun and Aubrey (from Part One) and how my experience of dogs, from the beginning, was a merging of cat and dog energies. It was meant to be…
Sammy likes to cuddle in our laps, stands on the back of furniture, hates getting wet, and likes to be pet like a cat. She even cuddles with cats sometimes. Still, she really loves a playful dog as well, but prefers being the only dog at home — that is for sure.
A funny story: about a month ago I was walking Sammy in the neighborhood and a couple across the street were pushing a double stroller of little boys that looked like they were around 1.5 years old. One pointed at Sammy and said, “Doggie!” The other boy looked long and hard at Sammy and then said, “No, that’s not a doggie. That’s a weird kitty!” Then they laughed. I also thought that was strangely insightful, and hilarious.
All in all, Sammy is a delight and so special, and we are so lucky to have her! Her story continues…
Right now, she is happy and cozy, on a pillow wrapped in a big blanket as the weather gets chilly this October. Me working from home is what makes life right for Samantha. She actually can’t bear to be left for more than 5-6 hours at a time. It isn’t always easy to accommodate her needs, but it is worth it. We understand the kind of harm that she experienced early on. We understand the needs she has and why. Thankfully, we are able to meet them.
It is my honor to be here for her, and my joy to tell a little of her ongoing story to you. I could actually write a book about Samantha — but now is not the time! So, I’ll wrap this up. Thanks for taking the time to read these stories. I hope you enjoyed them.
Until next time…find a dog to walk and hug if you can. And, live for your dreams, and honor your heart! 🙂
The Story Of The First Dog I Ever Rescued As An Adult, Miss Honey
Sept. 26, 2019
Dogs are embodied joy. Most of the time, when I see a dog, I smile. Most dogs live in the moment with a sweet intensity and playful enthusiasm — it’s irresistible. Dogs are loyal and depend on consistent schedules and their pack/people. Dogs can be such good teachers and wonderful friends. While Shaun had introduced me to some of this, Miss Honey brought me full on into the depths of dog magic and love.
At the end of 2004, while being self-employed at home, and actively caring for a 3 year old daughter and a few cats, I found myself longing for a dog. Our most recent adopted cat at the time, Boris, wanted a dog. I could just tell. Boris was a doggish cat that would greatly appreciate the right kind of dog. My experiences with Aubrey and Shaun probably helped me to have insight into that part of Boris. Doggish cats are certainly the best kind of cats, being a wonderful blend of cat magic and dog wisdom and tendencies — like fetching, the adherence to and need for consistent schedules, and a sense of loyalty and duty. Boris was just such a cat. Having a dog would answer a need in him, and in me. And, this was an opportunity to adopt a dog into the family that my husband and I created together as adults.
I hadn’t had a dog in my life since high school. My father-in-law had a dog, and that fueled my heart’s longing for one to a certain degree. The obstacle, at that time, was my much loved and appreciated life partner/husband, Jeff. He grew up with dogs, and loves and adores them. And, he had a faithful companion, a dog that was his, while growing up. His dog, Gomer, was a Chihuahua-Corgi mix. In all the pictures I saw, from the time Jeff was in middle school and after high school, Gomer was by his side. After Gomer died, Jeff felt unable to open up his heart to a dog again.
Despite this obstacle, it came to be, that my longing for a dog was greater than Jeff’s resistance.
I was looking online at shelters both locally and regionally. I was searching for our dog. I assured Jeff that I would tend to the dog’s needs. He made clear that he would have no part in it.
Some of the private, loving moments of life are shaped, saved, and blessed by beings other than us.
At the beginning of 2005, Jeff’s father died suddenly. He had known that we were looking for a dog. By the middle of June 2005, I had narrowed it down to two dogs at the no-kill county dog shelter, about a half-hour away from our city. One was a little Pug mix named Buzz, and the other was a Beagle-Terrier mix named Summer. I showed our daughter, Samara, and Jeff, the pictures and they agreed that both were cute, and a good size for our family. Jeff especially thought that Summer was adorable, but with a guarded sort of appreciation.
Samara and I drove out to the county shelter. It was a tiny concrete building, just off the freeway. What a sad place it was! A tiny reception room, and through the door a concrete room of kennels with a door outside to a barren fenced-in yard that was sizable. The dogs were all so desperate, sad, and needy. I could barely stand the heartache of their collective pleas, expressed with incessant barking when they saw perhaps someone would take them home. Two people were working who clearly cared deeply for the animals. What the shelter lacked in warmth or comfort was overcome by their dedication. They were eager to introduce us to Buzz and Summer. My heart went out to all the dogs waiting for a home, and I said little prayers for each of them, as I readied myself to perhaps adopt.
Buzz came out first. Buzz was well named! We never actually got to see his face. He was like a tornado, twirling through the room, in tight excited circles. I knew immediately that the cats would not recover from that kind of a dog energy, and we probably wouldn’t either! After Buzz, out came Summer. She walked into the room slowly, and looked at the people working there. She then walked up to me, lowered her head and leaned it against my legs. I spoke with the people as I held her head, and rubbed her satiny soft ears.
She had been brought in by people who said they had found her at another small town’s golf course. She was wandering there. The shelter worker added that this may simply be a story, and that sometimes people surrender animals without admitting that that is what they are doing. One clue, the worker mentioned, was that they had suggested her name was Summer when they brought her in, which the shelter added as her name. Summer was estimated to be 5-7 years old at that time.
I knew, as we sat and petted her, that she needed us, and we needed her. I made the offer to adopt her. Unfortunately, she had just been brought in, so we were forced to wait two weeks, in case someone would claim her. In addition to that hard news, the shelter worker informed me that whomever gets to the shelter first on the first day that she is officially up for adoption, gets her. Back then they opened at 6:30 am.
As Samara and I moved to leave, Summer tried to leave with us. I leaned down and told her that I would return for her. It was so hard for us to leave that day. And for two weeks, our hearts were holding their breath, waiting.
So, it was on my birthday week, in the first week of July, that my daughter and I got up extra early to be at the shelter by 6:30 am to adopt Summer. There was no one else there but the workers, and the adoption was a go!
We re-named her Miss Honey, after the kind, gentle teacher from the book and movie, Matilda, by Roald Dahl. What we noticed about Miss Honey and delighted in, were the following things:
She kept her puppy ears — her ears were like silk. She had the prettiest white eye lashes. And she inherited the Beagle traits of singing, dancing, crooning, and sighing when she feels good.
It wasn’t long before we found out that Miss Honey had some serious health issues. She came to us with Lyme’s disease, a severe bladder infection, and many large and small stones in her bladder, which required surgery. From the x-rays, we learned, as a side note from the veterinarian, that Miss Honey had pellets lodged under her skin, probably from a gun while hunting for small game. It became clear to us that she had been, most likely, abandoned because of her health problems.
In addition to the surgery and recovering from Lyme’s disease, we discovered that Miss Honey didn’t know how to play. In addition to this, she had been traumatized by being abandoned by her people (whether that was at the shelter or near a golf course). She associated getting into a car with being abandoned, and she never recovered from that particular trauma. Even after many years with us, reinforcing that we are her “forever home” over and over and over — the scar and its memory never left. She had issues related to abandonment all her life. Despite this, Miss Honey healed well.
I taught her how to play. And I have Shaun, our dog when I was a kid, to thank for that. I taught Miss Honey how to play by getting down on the floor in the universal position for play in dog language. If you don’t know this position, it is when a dog is lying down with their front legs, with head down, and the back legs are standing, while the tail wags. This position means, “I want to play!” Then, I would play with a toy and gently encourage her to do so as well. I showed her that it was okay, and that she had permission to have fun. At first, if she did join in and start to play, but she would quickly get self-conscious and nervous. Then, she would begin licking her arm obsessively. It took quite a while to get past that stage of fear. The good news is, we did get past it, and she spent many, many years playing with abandon and great enjoyment!
When I first began caring for Miss Honey, and we began those first daily walks, I felt a great joy rise up from my being. It was so healing to have a dog in my life again. In fact, Miss Honey is responsible for much joy, insight, learning, and healing for me and my life — and for my family. I had gained the most loyal, faithful, loving friend, in dog form, that I had known. She held joy and connection for me alone, in some ways. Some would say that I was her Alpha, but really, I was her rescuer, teacher, adopter — and she was mine in many ways.
You may be wondering how Jeff was taking all of this, given that he was resistant to getting a dog…
Well, after about three months of me taking full responsibility for all of Miss Honey’s needs…and after Jeff also witnessed how Honey was utterly loyal to me, something in Jeff shifted.
Maybe it started when we were in a large field, and I went as far across it as I could, and Jeff and Samara held Honey until I waved my hands in the distance. As they let go of Miss Honey, she raced to me at full tilt, wanting only to be at my side, floating on the air with a beaming smile, and a lolling tongue of joy. Jeff’s heart melted. Well, all of our heart’s melted! In witnessing this love, it awakened great love and joy in him, and good, sacred memories. The pain of loss and grief was still a part of him, but it warmed into a continuity of love, translated into the present.
Jeff expressed such adoration in seeing the love that Honey had for me. For me, this was something new. I hadn’t had a dog bond to me like that before. It is humbling, healing, and a great responsibility. The beautiful part is that I was ready for it, and was able to be responsible to and for that beautiful dog.
The bond between me and Honey gave Jeff room to feel more, and open up his heart, without all of it edging in on Gomer’s place in his heart. Witnessing the bond allowed his grief to soften.
One day, I walked into the living room, and found Jeff lying on the floor by Honey, playing with her, and just the faintest hint of tears were in his eyes. It was on that day that I knew Jeff’s heart was open and healing. From that day on, we shared the care for Honey equally. And since that day, Jeff has told me that he always wants to have a dog in his life.
The other thing you may be wondering about is how Boris and Miss Honey got along. Well, he fell in love with her, of course. Miss Honey, for her part, only tolerated the cats for my sake. But, with Boris she was different. She respected Boris. He could lay by her without her wanting to leave. He could play by her. And when she got out of line, he would tap the top of her head like a drum roll with his paw — so fast, and not quite hard, that she would flinch and blink her eyes. When he did that, then she would shape up and stop causing rifts between herself and the other cats. It was funny, and just what she needed on some days.
I think I have covered how dogs are wonderful in this story, but maybe not so much the strange and gross. For the most part, Miss Honey was a lovely, loving dog. She was never trying to be funny. And she certainly wasn’t the kind of dog that thrived on being strange or gross, but she had her moments…but nothing outrageous.
Miss Honey did like to rub the top of her lower back where it meets her tail under chairs. She would rub back and forth like a bear rubs his back against a tree. She would do this without ceasing whenever she thought we weren’t around or wouldn’t notice. She also broke into a whole container of freshly baked gingerbread cookies that were sealed with a sturdy plastic lid. We came home to find the plastic lid torn, and most of the cookies gone and in her belly.
Once, she was going to vomit in the living room on the carpet, and Jeff ran to her and cupped his hands, of all things, under her mouth. His two hands happened to hold the exact amount that came out. That was certainly gross, weird, and strangely hilarious. I certainly will never forget it. Even Miss Honey seemed a little weirded out by that. And of course, rolling in nasty dead things is a given for any dog, so I won’t go into that. She did it. They do it, and it serves a purpose from their ancestral past — but in the present, it is just nasty.
At Christmas time, we quickly learned that there could be no wrapped sweets under the tree. My mother had left freshly made Divinity candy wrapped under the tree for my mother-in-law. When we returned from an outing with them, we found that Miss Honey had ripped them open and eaten all the Divinity candy! She was a dog who loved treats, and had a terrible affection for sweets! We certainly didn’t try to let her have actual candy or chocolate, but it sure was challenging keeping her away from it.
A fond memory for my husband, daughter and me is the day that we all went for a neighborhood walk with Miss Honey, and we decided to give her full reign. We let her lead us all around the neighborhood — wherever she wanted to go. She meandered for a while. And then, for a straight 8 blocks, she walked faster and faster, with more and more purpose and vigor. After about a mile of walking, we laughed and laughed to find that she had led us to the back of a local strip mall, and specifically to the back door of Coney Island. The smell of hot dogs, chili, and fries were intoxicating for her. We relented and got her a hot dog without the bun. She eagerly ate it. We also tried to keep her diet healthy, and that was not a repeat practice, though she wished it was. Still, we gave her plenty of healthy treats and good food.
It was always bliss to go for walks with her everywhere, and to see her dance with joy to get home into a warm, happy house. After dancing, she would sing that Beagle croon of happiness. What a dog! She would actually dance with us when we would have little dance parties at home too. She was such a respectful, obedient dog in many ways. But, not because we had disciplined her, because she was filled with the beauty and gratitude of new life…
One of my fondest memories of Miss Honey is when Samara’s kindergarten teacher let me bring Miss Honey for a show and tell. The children all sat in a large circle on the ground as Miss Honey and I came in. Samara’s place in the circle was empty as she stood and introduced Miss Honey and talked about her. As we were welcomed into the room, I let Miss Honey off leash and she immediately went to Samara’s empty spot and sat still in the circle, just like all of the children. Everyone was delighted and amazed by her willingness to sit and be with them like that. And the teacher explained that it takes a lot of time to get a dog to listen and obey like that. I didn’t interject at all or correct the teacher, but I knew that Miss Honey wasn’t doing it out of obedience or anything I placed upon her, she did it out of love. She was a beautiful teacher and friend.
Sadly, in early October of 2013, Miss Honey was diagnosed with an aggressive throat cancer. We applied the care of medicines to extend her life, while keeping in mind her need for quality of life. She continued to make the effort to run, walk, ask for table scraps and even continued to try to sneak-eat cat food. I told our youngest cat of that time, Wesley, that Miss Honey was having a hard time. Wesley went to her and licked her ears and rubbed against her. Boris would lay by her side, more and more. She was also old — she had trouble seeing, and had arthritis. Jeff went out of his way to give her little treats that she adored and that were easy to eat in the last months. He would give her small mixtures of cream cheese and peanut butter with the medicine. She loved that.
By the beginning of November (2013), it was clear that she needed to be euthanized. She began having trouble breathing, and began choking at times. We had never had to euthanize an animal companion before, and we were maybe waiting a bit too long, feeling afraid of having to do that.
My oldest sister, Kelly, who would die of cancer about five months later, said to me that November:
“It’s never an easy choice…they are family. I love you, whatever you do — she knows you love her, and you have given her a wonderful life…always know that. Love you.
~ Kelly Burns
Miss Honey didn’t want to leave, but she also became miserable from that wicked disease.
You know, there are never enough kisses, hugs, affirmations, or walks to express the depth of love that is really there.
After Thanksgiving of that month, Miss Honey was euthanized, and we witnessed that it was a peaceful, merciful death. It was terribly hard for us to say goodbye to her, and it was a blessing to be able to let her go peacefully. Right before she was euthanized I fed her little chocolates, which she gobbled up happily. Jeff and I both held her together as she gently left her body, and then we both ugly-cried.
There is no easy way to say goodbye to those we love…whether they are humans or other beings we share our lives with. But, sealed in the goodbyes are memories and love that lasts lifetimes.
This sacred dog story is shared with you because I feel the dogs wish for me to share them. Some of the private, loving moments of life are shaped, saved, and blessed by beings other than us.
Dogs are still mysterious to me. Even in all that I learned with Miss Honey, I still don’t totally comprehend dogs. Though, I do now respect and adore them, as I do cats, and other animals.
Well, this beloved dog story leads to my current dog story….stay tuned for the dog of my current life, and her story, next week!
Part One: A Nun’s Dog Was Given To Us, And Then Was Seduced By Our Cat ~ True Story
CS Sherin, September 19, 2019, edited 09-21-19
Being a dog or cat person has been such a big thing in our culture. I am truly an animal person, having an innate appreciation and love for most animals, and other creatures of nature. At the same time, I have experienced an affinity — a deep understanding of and with cats. They are accessible, fascinating beings who have always made life better for me. Dogs have been there for me too, but understanding them deeply has been a process over many years (particularly with three dogs in different eras of my life) rather than an instant access and affinity. Don’t get me wrong, I can delight in dogs, and have always loved them. It’s just that I don’t always fully understand them.
Like the rest of my life, getting to know dogs started off amidst odd circumstances…
When I was a kid, my single mother and I were close to a German priest, Gus, and an Irish nun, Rosemary — they both worked at an ecumenical retreat center in the tiny town where we lived. Fr. Gus ran the retreat center for most of the time that it was in operation, and Sr. Rosemary was the acting psychologist there. There were many other sisters and brothers there as well, who came and went, that were a part of my daily and weekly life in the 80s — from the time I was 8 years old until I was about 17.
Anyway, one year, Rosemary was given a puppy as a gift for Christmas. He was an American Cocker Spaniel, and came with a red bow around his neck. I will never forget the adorable puppy or the smile of glee on her face. Rosemary asked for us to help name him, and my mother came up with O’Shaughnessy right away to honor her Irish heritage, which Rosemary loved. We all then shortened it, most of the time, to Shaun.
Although Shaun was a heartwarming companion for Rosemary (and Gus, who also took to him and helped with him), it turned out that Shaun didn’t like any priests other than Gus. They told us that Shaun would chase after, and try to bite the legs of other priests, who were visiting the retreat center. Needless to say, this was bad for business, though kind of funny. It was also kind of strange, because Shaun was the most peaceful, non-violent, mellow dog you would ever meet. Because of this problem, Rosemary asked if we would take Shaun in as our own. My mother said yes — to my surprise and happiness! Since Gus and Rosemary would often visit us, and we saw them regularly, they still got to love on Shaun all the time. It worked out.
This was the beginning of how some big things were revealed to me about dogs, which really made an impression on me, at an impressionable time in my life.
After we left Shaun alone the first time, and when we came home, we found that he had had a massive tantrum. I had been into latch-hook rugs at the time, and had tons of the short yarn in open little boxes as I worked on them. Shaun had taken ALL the yarns, all of it, and had strewn it throughout the house, upstairs and downstairs. It was a staggering amount of energy he spent doing this. We couldn’t believe it! For me, as a kid, it was amazing to see how he could put his feelings all over the house like that, to let us know. Eventually it was funny. We could appreciate that he went all out…even though it was a major pain to clean up, there is a certain amount of respect we grant for that kind of dedication.
We had a little toy-box for Shaun in the living room. It was his pride and joy. Regularly, each week, he would take time to, seemingly, count each toy. Each toy was accounted for, and if it wasn’t there, he would look for it or ask us to.
Most notable about this little blonde, long-eared, brown-eyed doggy, was that he was extremely loving, peaceful, and really, a pacifist. We chalked it up to his first bonds with religious order folks. When he and I would take walks, sometimes we would encounter an aggressive or even mean dog. Shaun wouldn’t fight back. Not even a bark, whine, or growl would be expressed. I learned quickly to pick him up if a mean dog was loose.
The influence of his religious upbringing went even further. He seemed uninterested in female dogs. This disinterest also extended to our very beautiful cat, Aubrey. Aubrey was a tiger cat with a blend of tan, black, and red colors, and beautiful greenish-gold eyes. She was a super model of cats. Aubrey fell in love with Shaun right away. She must have thought he was the cutest, sweetest guy ever. And, he was not much bigger than she.
Shaun was extremely uncomfortable with Aubrey’s attention. She would come up and sniff at his face, and then try to rub back and forth around his body, ending, always, with an elegant wrapping of her tail around his face and under his chin, like a caress. It was hilarious to watch, because he would only move his eyes awkwardly, sitting still as a stone. This would go on, day after day, and he would still simply sit, stoically unmoved by her advances and affection.
My mother and I would laugh, watching this, because it was clear that after weeks and months of this, Aubrey cat, was starting to get to Shaun, the dog. He was starting to soften and enjoy her attention, but didn’t want to disappoint us, it seemed. He definitely didn’t want us to know. At least, not during the day in the living room. He would even, sometimes, jump up, uncharacteristically, to the top back edge of the couch, like a cat, trying to escape her advances. Often their interactions were better entertainment than anything on TV — besides The Muppet Show.
And then, the weirdness of all of this reached its peak.
I was asleep in my bedroom upstairs, and up they came, to my room. Why my room? I was a teen in middle school at the time. They came up making a racket of sorts, and woke me. It was Aubrey, walking around slowly in my room, with Shaun thumping along at her back, behind her. I admonished them for waking me on a school night, and whisper-yelled to try to get them to stop. They wouldn’t. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was crazy in love with her, that was clear, and she had broken down all his barriers. I was witnessing inter-species love!
After many times of this happening at night, and always in my room, I broke down, and told my mother. She didn’t believe me at first, and didn’t think it was possible. I asked if they ever went in her room. She said they didn’t at all, and that she had seen nothing of the sort. Well, I had news for her!
Eventually she believed me. She came from an era of no communication about anything sexual, so this was a bit of a breach for her, at first. But she came around eventually. Frankly, at that age, I needed the moral support. This was before internet. There were no people to ask if this was normal or not. Once my mother adjusted and accepted what I told her, we began to muse. We mused upon how Shaun’s first instincts had been shaped by his first adoption by a nun, and a priest who shared the care and duties for him. Both of them were children at heart, but lived a dutiful life, working and living as celibates for a spiritual purpose. They had high standards for Shaun, and he did his best to live up to them. Dogs want to emulate the unspoken standards of their pack. That is an endearing quality. But sometimes, this can inhibit some of the true self…
We laughed at how he had changed with us. Whenever Gus would visit, and when he had to leave, he would mention having to go back to civilization in a humorous way — he was a joker. But, really, as a kid, I thought about that. Gus and Rosemary felt relief and freedom visiting us. My mother created a peaceful, relaxed, hospitable home that was open and accepting of most anyone. It was a peaceful home-base for both of us, despite the stress, loss, and hardships of life at that time.
Shaun had come into his own. He had a box of toys, a house and yard of his own, a family, and extended family, and he had fallen in love. He was an endearing family member and companion. He was a gentle guy, always willing to go along with me, and whatever I was up to. Shaun had a really great amount of hair on the top of his head too, and I remember how delightfully fun it was putting mousse in it, and styling it. He didn’t mind at all.
This dog also loved when we would walk to see nearby cows in a pasture. Then, his feisty side would show itself. He would act very peaceful, getting as close as he possibly could, and the cows would approach him at the fence. When they all got close, he would surprise them with robust barking and running (on the leash). They would run for their lives, and I could see him laughing, in that way that dogs do. It was funny and fun for both of us, but not so much for the cows. It was harmless, though, and they fell for it every time. I have to think they were allowing him his game. Also, some memories of Shaun are strong because they were pungent. He also loved to roll in cow pies, as dogs do. Which is, obviously, disgusting. And cow pies simply reek. The worst part of that was when we had to put him in the car to get home, and the smell was so overbearing, that it was unforgettable.
Many years later, life changed for us and Shaun.
My mother found an apartment in the city where I had started going to college. The apartment allowed cats, but no dogs. We were heartbroken to think of having to re-home Shaun. It was unthinkable. Gus and Rosemary had moved away a few years before (as the religious go where they are told to go) and we were all he had. My mother asked my godmother if she and her husband would take in Shaun. They had always had dogs, and were extremely loving and caring people — to dogs and everyone else. They said yes, and as hard as that was to do, we knew that this was the best-case scenario for everyone.
Some of the private, loving moments of life are shaped, saved, and blessed by beings other than us.
However, there was something we weren’t prepared for…
When I was on vacation from college, my mother and I went to visit my godmother, her husband, Larry, and Shaun. We were in for some big surprises. We came with the feeling of grief and guilt. But, that quickly faded away with all the new things going on for Shaun.
First of all, they renamed him Porky. I can’t not laugh out loud when saying this. The one thing that Shaun had always been extremely unhappy about with us was that we didn’t give him people food or a lot of treats. It was pretty boring in the food area, and part of that was because we were always low on cash. Anyway, we had a re-introduction to this dog-kid, Porky. He was thrilled to see us! It was beautiful. He celebrated, and he gave us kisses, and we hugged and pet him in joy. But then, it got to be too much, and he made a loud statement. This statement was just as loud as the yarn tantrum, in fact.
With body language he told us, quite clearly, without mincing words, that he loves us, but greatly prefers his new people and new life as Porky. He went over to Larry, and demonstrated how he gets wonderful back rubs from Larry’s feet while he sits in the recliner. He showed us how, though, he wasn’t fat, that his every food fantasy was catered to here, and that he wasn’t about to lead us on. I think he was responding to my feelings of wanting him to be my dog again, even though I knew it was for the best.
When he felt stubborn, even though he was a little dog, he could sit like lead in one spot, not to be moved. We most often found this when trying to get him to the bath. On this day, it was in me wanting to show him more affection while also feeling a little bit of wanting him back…he responded by refusing to leave Larry’s side. He didn’t do it meanly, he just wanted to be clear. We appreciated his honesty, even if it felt like a rough kind of snub at first.
All in all, the visit was enlightening.
Shaun aka Porky showed us that while he loved us, he prefers the man of the house, which was something we could never give him. It seemed to us at the time that he preferred male energy. At that time we made that assumption — but we know now that isn’t true. He preferred the man, the food, and the back rubs — he preferred life at my godmother’s house — it was all good, and what he wanted! And really, we couldn’t ask for a better outcome. Shaun wasn’t dumb, these are salt of the earth people — and we didn’t blame him a bit. We were actually deeply relieved. We recognized that his ultimate joys were being fulfilled. What more can you ask for, for someone you love and care about? It couldn’t have been a better retirement for him! There was no Aubrey, true, but there were kind, loving dog people. Porky was in heaven.
It was many years later, when my godmother called my mother, weeping, telling us that Porky died peacefully in the yard on St. Patrick’s Day. She had been putting off telling us. My mother and I extended our deepest sympathy and gratitude to my godmother. We were so grateful for the love of and from this family for Shaun the Porky, and we were amazed and touched that he had gone home on a day that honored Rosemary. Since she had also passed on, I felt like it was a spiritual synchronicity that said in a deeper way, that all is well.
Stay tuned next week, for Part Two of Dogs Are Strange, Gross, And Wonderful….
Having lived with and loved many exceptional cats in my life so far, I am finally getting around to sharing some of their sage advice for life and living. The cats I know and love, and those that have since carried on across the Rainbow Bridge, all are/were the best kinds of cats. The best cats aren’t really aloof, mean or uncaring. Quite the opposite. Anyway, please enjoy some of the wisdom I have gleaned from generations of fur family companions, as it comes straight from them. 🙂
Life Advice From Cats
If you are a leader: lead with love and encouragement. Purr and smile when things are good. Also, correct bad behavior swiftly, and mean it. Hiss if necessary.
Become good friends with the dog. Keep it on the down low. And hit the top of her head (not too hard) if she gets rude.
Hold your loved ones paw until they fall asleep when they are sad. Stay beside them when they are sick.
Smile, run, play, eat, cuddle, nap.
Ask for what you need when you can’t do it for yourself. Be as loud and creative as needed.
Take your jobs and duties in life seriously, and keep your humor.
Vow to be true to those in your care. Watch over a child. Protect and guide them.
Be king or queen of your own life. Be just, valiant, fiercely passionate. Do this without apology or arrogance.
Be tidy in the bathroom.
Take sun baths whenever possible.
Cuddle with your loved ones.
Jump the fence. Even if it is quite tall. Do this to really live — not to run away. Go just a little ways past the fence and sleep under garden plants for the day, where no one can find you.
Get home in time for dinner.
May we all make the most of the life we have, with the luck of nine lives, and the health of a happy purr in our hearts that abides. Meow!
Dreams speak to us in many ways. Sometimes dreams bring to our awareness meaning and messages via symbols and archetypes. Other times, the dreams we have can be an actual journey of consciousness and spirit. At times, dreams are layers and mixtures of many things. Paying attention to and responding to our dreams is beneficial and deeply nourishing, and quite evident over time. Dreams mostly seek to help us to process, heal, and grow. They are a key to greater fulfillment.
I have been deeply invested in paying attention to, recording, and responding to my own dreams for the last 30+ years. I have found that the other part of our lives, spent in dream states, is just as meaningful and important as the wakeful state. Not only that, the one constant within both states is that the journey of our consciousness is present in both — something that anchors us beyond death and our current bodies, and on into new and different life and/or lives. Deepening our present moment consciousness via dream work (and meditation) is a priceless practice that supports and enhances the mundane, yet also goes far beyond it.
I am going to provide you with a concrete example of a dream from the past that I have worked with, which was profound and pivotal for my evolving spiritual and emotional development, at that time, through and beyond wounds and personality weaknesses. The following dream is from work I did back in the Spring of 2011:
Title: She Is Monumental
I am in a house we have just purchased. We are happy with it. Until someone who used to live here comes to the door. She comes in with a key she kept, and wants something. I am exasperated, and a bit angry at the intrusion. She leaves quickly though. I am near the door. I see an impossibly tall woman who is led around the house by an angel-type-being. I feel fear when I see this impossibly tall woman. With great effort, I look up at her face — way, way up. She has no mouth. I feel fear, which fades into compassion instead. I reach out my hand to her in friendship as she passes.
CS Sherin, Dream Journal Entry, “She Is Monumental”, May 2011
After so many decades of keeping dream journals, I have learned what most of my personal dream symbols represent. This is one of many important reasons for committing to a dream journal. Dreams really are cheated and mistreated when we use dream dictionaries, accept the general definition, and leave it at that. Tracking dreams and our own personal messages via journals reveals context, meaning, and timing that no dream dictionary can ever reveal. Just like a dictionary definition for a cat or dog could never come close to defining and expressing the who, what, why, where, and how of your specific animal companion. Dreams have life of their own, and some of it is indefinable.
PLEASE NOTE: While you may have an interpretation in mind when you hear someone else’s dream, the only person who can reveal the true meaning of a dream is the person who had the dream. Any meaning or interpretation that comes to your mind while listening to someone else’s dream can most accurately and respectfully be expressed as: what the dream would mean if it were your dream. This delineation and practice is essential.
I will translate this dream. Translation is the best word for it, as my dream is in the language of my unconscious mind and my consciousness/soul. It is personal and specific. As I provide a translation for my dream, keep in mind that my translation and definitions for things in the dream are not in any way static. This is my official translation for this very specific dream. This specific dream is, indeed, a symbolic dream, yet, not all dreams are. For other dreams, these symbols may carry completely different meanings, or may not be symbols at all!
For me, in this particular dream, a new house is a new way of being. The new way of being is good. The previous owner intruding briefly represents some unwelcome old habits coming back into my new way of being. But, they only intrude briefly and are gone, let go. The woman who is being guided through the house by an angel-type-being is tall — taller than tall. She is graceful and silent. Her presence is like a walking monument. She is monumental. My fear turns to compassion as I see her missing mouth as a disability. This monumental “she” is the divine self linked to soul or authentic being. It took me “great effort” to become conscious of the alarming symbol of the missing mouth. The missing mouth is symbolic of my ego’s distorted belief of separation from divine love that took shape in the personality by age three. The missing mouth is ongoing silence, separation, even disability related to relationship and listening to/hearing the authentic self — who has never been separated from the sacred.
CS Sherin, May 2011, dream entry translation for “She Is Monumental”
As a child and young adult I was so busy tracking everyone else’s feelings, needs, and expectations that I had no idea what my own were most of the time. The pain of the separation-illusion from my own being surfaced in other dreams in my youth — via dreams of being blind, which had morphed in recent years into being mute. These dreams were telling me that my distorted ego beliefs and fears had created some serious fall-out for my inner being.
A myth re-told in a new way for healing effects, is what came to mind as possible medicine for me, relating to this dream. Our culture enforces the belief of valuing the external over the internal (and the visible over the unseen) with glaring manic force, in advertising, news, via experts, and in storytelling. When the movie Shrek came out, I deeply appreciated the radical re-telling of old fairy tale stories that had before accentuated external and unrealistic importance. Shrek transformed that distortion in our culture, thankfully. The ugly, disgusting ogres possess inner beauty, truth, and authenticity, and are hero and heroine. The old external-value archetypes of the past are seen with human flaws and distortions laid bare. The deeper inner being is valued.
C. J. Jung believed that seeing archetypes revealed in a story (like Shrek), even if we are not consciously aware of the deeper meaning, helps bring healing to the personal and collective unconscious. Knowing that, Shrek was a deeply needed re-telling for the personal and the collective. Part of my dream work response to this dream, back in 2011, was to re-watch Shrek.
In this dream, I know that as I overcame fear and reached out in compassion to connect with the monumental self — I initiated a vital change of pattern, which released personality/ego-based distortion about relationship to my inner core/being. This was an important dream, a turning point for healing and consciousness.
My dream also reminded me that a lot of the younger ages of my life were spent neglecting my own needs and voice. The dream told me that there is much yet to learn and connect to that is real and monumental, really. This is what I wrote about back in 2011, in conclusion:
That bright, silent, tall being of my dream may seek to be a voice for the voiceless, my poetry, and my compass. I know she has much to say and show. I know she has a mouth and a voice. My awareness and compassion for myself is the doorway to deepening that relationship, and it has already begun. It has already come to the point that even this personality and ego of mine have learned enough to yearn, and yearn again, for her voice, leadership, and presence. This is a reward for walking through all the pain so far and doing the work. The ego wishes to serve the soul…and joy, abundance, and love begin to overflow.
CS Sherin, May 2011, reflection on dream entry, “She Is Monumental” (above)