Dogs Are Strange, Gross And Wonderful: Part Three

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.

Sammy’s eyes! Feb 2017. Photo by CS Sherin

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.

This is Samantha, 2 years old, not even a week after we had adopted her, Dec. 2013. We can’t get over how her tan color has faded into white in the last six years!

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 with one of her favorite toys, monkey. This is from 2017 when monkey was pretty new. Nowadays poor monkey has no face and his head is inside out. Eek.

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.

The cute way Sammy lifts her ears reminds us of a house elf; 2018.

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.

Samantha hanging with Wesley and near Gilbert, two of our three kitties. I would say that Wesley is kind of in love with her!

All in all, Sammy is a delight and so special, and we are so lucky to have her! Her story continues…

Our dear Samantha, this past August of 2019. We love our walks and hikes together!

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! 🙂


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Giving Up, And Starting Over

Wisdom And Love From A Mighty Cat

Boris William. Photo by CS Sherin

CS Sherin, Feb. 20, 2019

A Dark Day

I wrote the narrative below, Give Up, at the end of September in 2014. It is about a dark night I went through that I will never forget. It wasn’t the first hard time I have faced, but it was a pivotal one, different from other times.

It was August 11th, 2014. I experienced a deep depression that washed over me quite suddenly. I was to find out the next day, that it was the same day that Robin Williams died. He was someone who had been a bright light for me in a rough childhood — him and The Muppets. Finding out the next day about his death, I realized I had probably felt a “disturbance in the force,” so to speak, that had affected me. Robin was such a great presence on Earth, dear to many, and missed. I am sure his death was a real energetic part of what I felt that night. But there were personal dynamics at work too.

Before that night, I had already gone through some devastating loss. My oldest sister had died four months earlier, after a long battle with a cancer that had turned quite brutal. A few months before that, our elderly dog had also gotten a brutal cancer, and had to be euthanized suddenly. Simultaneously, I had come to a point in my self-employment where I knew I had to make a change. I had been doing holistic spiritual care for over a decade, and didn’t quite know where I was headed, if I were to stop and change.

Introduction

The story you are about to read is about facing inevitable change, loss, past traumas revisited, and grief. It is also about the life-giving transformations we are able to experience while in relationship with other beings, for instance, a cat. Reciprocal positive relationship with animals, and other beings, can be profound and important in so many ways, if we are open to it. I recommend being open to it.

Perhaps one of the reasons that humanity finds itself facing so many crises and ongoing-history-repeating-itself serious problems is because, we are not in active, consistent, real relationships with the countless other living beings we share this planet with — not in a way that is ongoing, respectful and more selfless than self-serving.

The trees, plants, aquatic life of all kinds, rocks/crystals, land animals, creatures of the air, and below ground all have knowing of various kinds in their being. An openness to cultivating conscious, caring relationships with any of those — choosing to be present for it — could be the transformative change we need at this time. It is important to note that any committed relationship within or between other species needs to contain: consistent presence, kindness, honesty, consideration, and mutual respect.

The following story is evidence of the deep, long-resonating, lasting rewards that come from: a balance of giving and receiving, helping and receiving help, listening and sharing, asking and telling – true friendship. I have Boris, the valiant cat, to thank for the real presence and wisdom won during that dark, hard night on August 11, 2014:

Give Up

There is an escalating pressure mounting around and within me tonight. It presses upon me like an ominous darkness of massive storm clouds, which contain a sharp cold front set against the air — stagnant, oppressive heat, humidity and no wind. A violent storm is looming.

Am I wearing rose-colored glasses, not facing reality? Not usually. I do love being practical and realistic, as much as positive and dreamy. Am I the eternal optimist made of ideals? Yes, that is true. There is a tireless, sleepless affinity in me for honesty and ethics…awake in my heart and mind like an atomic clock.

On my bed this day and evening, a powerful depression intrudes, and disrupts my true nature. I cannot continue. I want to give up, for real.

It is painful, blind, anguish.

It feels like that sucker punch in my solar plexus, from the mean boy in 4th grade. I was taken by surprise, robbed of breath and air, with that sudden punch of pain, that dropped me to my knees — sucking tears out of me without permission. He had walked away without a word.

This swell of sadness tonight is too dark, and overwhelms me beyond reason.

Boris, the cat, is by me now. He is the one who always comes running to see how he can help when it sounds, from somewhere in our house, like someone could be hurt, in trouble, or sick. If he were human, he would be a First Responder, a nurse, counselor, and/or healer. I tell him quietly and despondently that I am giving up. At first I am not sure if I mean my life. The darkness was so overwhelming. I ask myself, and feel deeply: No, not my life. My purpose and work — like a spiritual death, it seems. Boris tells me a surprising thing — with his wise eyes and being, Boris says, “Good. Give up.”

Startled into a sudden alert surprised awareness, that breaks the dark spell, I ask, “What?! Why? Don’t you care? You always care. Why don’t you care, Boris?” He answered with nonchalance, “Give up. I gave up once. After I gave up, good people found me, helped me, and then you found me. And now look at me.” He is beaming strength and love, smiling, eyes happy.

Boris, quite an elderly cat at this time. Photo by CS Sherin

Astonished and awakened, I remembered what he meant. I thought of Boris’s story. Boris had been abandoned by a previous family, along a freeway, that had a tall fence separating it from the countryside. When he was found, the shelter workers told us, he was dirty. The kind of dirty, they said, that only happens when a cat gives up. A cat giving up is a starkly tragic thing. Cats take pride in their self-care and stealthy ability to survive. He had been brought low by the trauma of being abandoned and then trapped near a highway, with bad weather/storms, and no food. He suffered PTSD for a while after we adopted him. He needed antidepressants for a few months, to remember what normal feels like, the vet said. And he did, he got better after those 3-4 months of medication. (Actually, his example back then with needing medication for a while, helped me to address my own needs during a health crisis, not long after his.) It took us a few years after adopting Boris, to fully earn his trust and full affection. In his elder years now, after 11 years with us so far, he is well and happy, fully loved and loving. We know he is no younger than 17 and could be as old as 19.

I paused, and took this moment in.

Maybe the thought to give up wasn’t as bad as it felt at first. It is simply hard to let go of work that I have given all my heart and effort to, along with sitting with the layers of grief. I am loyal. I am a hard worker. Yet, I need to let go of some big things, and adjust to a changing reality and changing needs. Boris is right. I looked over at him in awe. The four-legged, hairy, mahogany-red with white, tall, thin, elder fellow is right. I didn’t expect that from you just now, Boris. Thank you!

King Boris, or Chewy Bill, as we sometimes call him, gave me a jolt of understanding that allowed me to release the fear and illusion of failure. Boris helped me to boldly take up courage, and be okay with letting go — even if it feels like dropping off a ledge on a tall building with no net or cushion below. Boris has an intimate, expert knowledge of major endings that are like deaths, and how rebirth is on the other side of it, waiting for us — something much better, and really right. A really wise cat, that Boris. What a gorgeous guide! I scratched his cheeks and massaged his head and chest in thanks. He smiled his open-mouthed smile with twinkling eyes, that reminds my husband of Don Knotts. That makes me chuckle. What I see is a cat who blazes and shimmers, a noble being, who commands his new life with joy — a new life, that found him. He knows — he gained all of it after he had given up.

Afterword

Back to 2019. What I didn’t know yet, when I wrote that story, was that we would yet have to face the death of our elder cats, first Abigail, and then Boris in the following year. Living with, and processing all that grief, led me to shift and channel it, and the love, into practical, tangible work for healthy sustainable living (toxin-free) via Recipe For A Green Life, which took up nearly three years of my life, from start to finish. It was a big leap, and a big risk. It certainly didn’t pay well. Yet, it is and has been important, honors what and how I love, and speaks of our collective, interrelated, priceless connection to all life in totality.

Boris was such a strong presence in our lives — a magnanimous, extraordinary spirit, even for a cat. He always knew that humans are too often so slow to catch on to what animals know, and try to communicate. He was always persistent, and maddeningly so. I actually gained so much respect for his persistence — it can be an endearing, admirable quality. He never gave up on trying to communicate with us; helping us to understand what he needed or wanted, in quite obvious, when his subtle gestures were missed by us.

Pawing At My Heart

For a time before he died, he kept pawing at my upper chest, like he wanted to climb inside my heart. He did it so often. In my distracted, clueless, human way, I thought it was cute, yet strange that he kept doing it. Then, I found out that he was terminally ill. After a while of processing the two things, I finally understood what he was saying to me. He was saying,

One of the times that Boris had just been pawing at my chest. Photo by CS Sherin

“Keep me in your heart.

Don’t forget me.

I love you.

I will always be there.”

When I finally realized what he was saying, it loosed my tears, along with the enormous love grown through a positive, loving relationship with another being over so many years. It still loosens my tears of love, years later.

I picked him up, hugged and assured him that I finally understood. I told him that I would, always. He never did it again, so I know that he knew the message was received. I am so thankful that I was able to drop my human distractions for long enough to truly hear him before he had to leave us.

We are convinced Boris was a mighty spirit that took on cat form for a time, someone we were lucky to know and love. I could tell many stories about Boris’s ways. Like the Easter morning that he jauntily brought in a baby rabbit for me to cook for the holiday. Or, the nap we took beside each other, and the dream that we had — where he taught me to make healing balls of light (it was hard — he was really good at it). Or, how he always came to everyone’s rescue, never once afraid. And, how he wanted a dog so badly, and how he fell in love with her, when we did finally adopt a dog. And, how he had a soul mate, little Abigail (ginger cat) — and how they had an actual impromptu wedding ceremony in our back yard one Spring.

Boris, back in 2011 or 2012, with an orb of light near his paw. Photo by CS Sherin

Yet, for today, what I will say is this: The time, love, and presence of Boris, that strong bright being, lives on and is in my heart always. That alone, gives me courage and the warm action of love for this life — no matter what.C