Pet Therapy

A dear friend and mentor provided me with this quote just today, noting that it dates back to 1949, well before blogging was a thing:

Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. …”Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

The past twelve months or so have been a little tumultuous. with big decisions and changes. I left behind a steady income, benefits and pension, just like that, to pursue freelance work. While I know I made the right decision for me, it was a bit of a leap off a cliff.

In many ways I am still falling through the abyss, looking back on my rather extensive experience in biomedical research, and sorting through what to keep and what to toss. This is an emotional journey, fraught with regret and self-doubt. Some days, though, I feel I am more floating than falling – floating on an invisible future that just might have good things in store. This is, I suppose, what faith looks like for me.

Part of the journey is learning to write, and while the voice in my head tells me the world does not need yet another blog, here I am. There may be many topics: some technical, some serious, some not so serious, and as much as I wanted to start off with something really, really impressive, I keep coming back to my non-human companions, likely because they are just that important to me.

My whole life, I have loved animals of all sorts. If I had not developed severe allergies in my teens, I would likely have a hobby farm by now, or be operating an animal rescue. I could list a bunch of reasons why I like animals better than people, but the best reason I know came from an Indigenous elder: Animals don’t lie. Nature doesn’t lie. It just is. People try so hard to be something, but animals, and plants, and earth and water and air, don’t try to be anything other than exactly what they are.

Even in building a freelance identity and constructing an online presence, I am trying, and probably lying. Marketing and branding are all about consciously projecting an image that will appeal to a target audience. That’s hard to do when you are trying to be all things to all people. My animal companions remind me that I don’t have to try so hard, that it’s okay to just be.

This is an introduction, then, to the lighter side of my life: the side that keeps me grounded in being. It might not be the only side to me, but it’s probably the side I like the best.

Meet Cranky Cat (age 13). She wishes she were an only cat, which is why she is cranky, because she is perpetually annoyed with her siblings. Her real name, Princess Leia, came from the cat shelter where I found her, where all the cats were named after Star Wars characters. She spends her time looking annoyed and claiming stuff by sitting on it, including this egg carton – but also books, papers, computer keyboards, and of course human laps. She self-medicates with tortilla chips and popcorn, when she can get them.

Next, we have Awesome Cat (age 5), who lived the first six months of his life as a half-starved, half-frozen feral kitten before he found a hole in the foundation into our crawl space and realized he was more hungry than petrified. Five years later, he is living proof that cats really can show gratitude.  He will stand up on two feet begging you to pick him up, then nuzzle under your chin in a way that melts even the hardest heart. Also known as The World’s Most Affectionate Killing Machine (I mean, check out those fangs), this one will eat an entire small rabbit, head first, in one sitting, and then lie around like a snake with a bulge and not eat for three days. His name tag says Boo, but that got changed to Mr Tumtums.  You can blame that on Sam. 
 
Number three is Zen Cat (age 3), seen here waiting patiently for the roast chicken he has been smelling all afternoon. He is Zen Cat because of the perpetual dreamy, almost spaced out look on his face. He is, in fact, brain damaged, which makes him slow and awkward and clumsy but all the more adorable and entertaining for being so. Believe it or not, the kind of ataxia he exhibits is not all that uncommon and is accompanied by (according to our vet) strange food preferences. This one loves salad. And pancakes, but that’s not as weird as salad. 

His real name is Creeper, but not for the reason you might think… If you know Minecraft, you will see it here:
Exhibit number four, shown above in a cat pile with her big brothers Zen Cat (top) and Awesome Cat (middle) is our very own Demon Cat (age 1). This tortoiseshell-tuxedo is officially designated Luci-fur N. Voldetort, or Luci for short. Brought to our door as a stray close to Halloween, Demon Cat’s destructive and insatiable curiosity resulted in the evolution of a name that represents pure evil, complete with intended pun. (Just in case it’s not obvious: building on JK Rowling’s villain Voldemort, vol de tort is “flight of harm” and … tortoiseshell – I know, right?). The N is for … Naughty. Mentored by her big brother, she is as damaging to small woodland creatures as she is to house plants, glass and ceramics. We try to keep the creature carnage in check with bells, but truthfully her collar probably needs a siren. And strobe lights. As for property damage, well, we didn’t need that glass-topped end table anyway. And why wouldn’t a full glass of water be the perfect thing to launch from the countertop? If I had a loonie for the number of times I have said “it’s a good thing you’re cute” to this monster while she purrs under my chin, well, let’s just say  I wouldn’t be looking for freelance work, would I?

And last, but most certainly not least, we have Schmoopy Dog, a nine-year old Norwegian Elkhound who in this photo is enjoying his most favorite thing ever: a boat ride. Officially known as Bjorn, Schmoopy Dog is an only dog, and that is a very good thing, because he thinks he’s a cat anyway. This animal coined the term all bark no bite. The biggest chicken in the whole world hides behind the loudest bark you will ever hear. (Thinking about this, I wonder if the whole “animals don’t lie” thing isn’t a pile of poop – I mean, he wants you to believe he’s fierce, and he’s putting on a show to hide his fear… I shall ponder that further. ) When he’s not trying to beat a jetliner on the Decibel meter, or cowering in the presence of any other canine, he’s actually the most cuddly of all the dogs I have ever known. Cuddly and neurotic. What’s not to like?

So there you have it: an introduction to the menagerie of cute and crazy. When I’ve had enough of the world, these non-human beings give me hope. So I’ll be writing about them for comic relief, because pet therapy is a thing that works.

I will sign off with these images of Zen Cat, who really knows how to relax. Namaste!

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