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Posts Tagged ‘animal rescue’


Madison rolled on her back, legs splayed wide, teasing me to rub her belly.  That’s not something she usually does; she has to know we’re alone and not in danger of intrusion from her brothers and sisters.  We enjoyed our quiet 20 minutes together while she wrapped the nook of her paw around my wrist and wriggled under my tickles.  I thought she’d choke on her purrs while she wrestled my hand in sheer uninhibited pleasure.

She’s the newest addition to our four-legged family, joining us several months ago when our fostering morphed into full-time adoption.  We’ve fallen madly in love and every time she’s near I’m awed by her startling beauty and sweet temperament.  She’s a blue point Persian, my first pedigree animal and she’s nothing like the snooty elitist I imagined she’d be.  She’s just a cat that wants to be loved, groomed, fed and sheltered and reciprocates with warm affection and devotion.

In fact I find all of our animals to be appreciative of our family.  They’re all rescues of various backgrounds with unique stories of how they came to be ours.  At this writing we have 5 cats and a dog, Pogo, the first canine in my life.  Their energies are completely different from each other and so is their interaction with us.

My tickling session with Madison happened while I was collapsed on my bed after a vigorous morning at the barn.  Each Tuesday I volunteer at Horse Haven of Tennessee, an equine rescue that rehabilitates those horses that suffered abuse and neglect.  They come in starving and distrusting people and they leave hundreds of pounds heavier and ready to be ridden.  As a life long animal lover and an aspiring horse owner I choke with emotion at the difference we make in their lives.  And they know it and appreciate.

This morning, like most Tuesday mornings in September, I loved on Toby.  He’s a Tennessee Walking Horse who’s become the latest object of my horse ownership fantasy.  He’s steadily gaining weight, muscle filling in the gaps between his protruding bones.  Because I’ve been grooming him we’re forming a friendship that eventually I’ll have to break when he’s well enough to have a new home.

As I reflect on this month I realize how prominent a role animals and nature play in my life. I need both for my soul to thrive.  That’s always been true and now that I lead a self-directed life I seem to drift deeper in that direction.

Mornings are occupied with walks through my wooded neighborhood with Pogo.  His nose works overtime picking up scents of the most recent critter that’s crossed our path.  When I’m quiet and tuned in, I notice an active wildlife community.  We have box turtles, squirrels, hawks, blue heron, snakes, deer, gofers, chipmunks, fish and insects of all shapes and sizes.  The animals we occasionally see are coyote and fox.  People go to zoos to see the animals we live among.  I’ve come to realize I love the woods and if offered a choice to live near the ocean or the woods I’d choose the latter.  Everything about me calms down when I’m surrounded by wilderness.

That’s why I’ve finally decided to hike trails in the Smoky Mountains, a National Park within an hour’s drive from my house.  This month I bought a trail book and each week I grabbed a neighbor to tackle 7 – 8 mile trails rated moderate in difficulty.  They take 4 – 5 hours to complete and the scenery along the way can be breathtaking.  We pass by rock-strewn streams and rivers, gushing waterfalls, caves, wildflowers, trees of many species and nothing but mountainsides and valleys everywhere we go.   The hike, combined with the scenery clears my head, opens my heart and makes me appreciate everything about my life.  This is where I live!  I don’t have to take vacations to visit here like most everyone we pass on the trails.  The beauty of nature is unsurpassed.

Bike riding offers a similar pleasure.  Because I ride on greenways I can usually avoid traffic and allow my breathing rhythm to be influenced by the peddling.  When the distraction of cars is eliminated the bike pace becomes amplified and the world slows down or speeds up accordingly.  I see people playing in parks, walking engrossed in conversation and fellow cyclers – many of us going nowhere fast, just out to enjoy the fresh air, scenery and exercise.

As I reflect on how I spent September one thing that stands prominent is a daily realization that I’ll never get to live this month in this year again.  Kiss September, 2012 goodbye.  Perhaps this is what the exercise is really about.  That and recognizing how much living I’ve actually done.

Achievement stands out, or lack thereof.  More recurring than any other thought was whether I’d do something substantive with my days, something worth writing about and sharing.  My inclination is to share my thoughts, to turn this adventure into a writing exercise as a way to engage creatively.  So many people I know have creative outlets like painting, music, dance, jewelry making, sewing, cooking.  None of those things turn me on.  Though I may want to feel inspired by such activities, I’m not.  I used to be juiced by making television shows about those subjects and others but not so much anymore.

What is achievement about, anyway?  Does it require payment for time spent and efforts recognized?  More on that in my next “September, lived” post.

Any thoughts?

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childhood memory

Image by AlicePopkorn via Flickr

Recently I find myself revisiting memories of my childhood that laid the foundation for who I am today and the direction life is taking me.  Back then is when I discovered a love for animals and a palpable need to commune with them.  That bond occupies a large part of my life today and can trigger flashbacks to earlier days.

Take morning walks with my dog Pogo for example.  He dances for joy each time we leave the house as though this tour of my wooded neighborhood is the first in his life.  Actually, he knows every square inch of it because during his month as a stray he foraged for food among our trees until the day he decided that I’d be his mom.  Though I’ve always longed for a dog, he’s my first one and the love of my life.  Believe me, it’s mutual and he loves our daily excursions where we visit with neighbors and fellow canines.

As Pogo and I reach the crest of a hill, I catch my first glimpse of Marley who’s already thumping her tail in anticipation of our visit.  She’s a beautiful Lab mix that belongs to a neighbor but she’s adopted us as family members too.  She can barely wait for me to sit down before plopping herself on my lap for hugs and kisses. Together we enjoy the beautiful view of the Tennessee River and the Smokey Mountains beyond. And I’m transported back to that nine-year old child who used to visit the collie around the corner.  Together Bow and I would crawl into our fort in the bushes and snuggle.  She helped me through some tough times back then, laying her head on my lap and cooing soft sounds as I cried out my troubles and accepted her soothing licks on my face.  We loved each other and it broke my heart when she died.  While I silently reminisce Marley looks up and smiles.  I think she knows.

There’s also a real familiarity at the barn where I spend Tuesday mornings with rescue horses.  They’re very sensitive creatures and have always tugged at my heart.  Maybe the seed was planted when we kids went with my father to his business and visited Murphy, a gorgeous Palomino gelding.  He’d jump on that horse’s back and take off as though the two were born as one.  My father was happiest on a horse and we went riding many Sunday mornings along the Wissahickon River into Valley Green, outside of Philadelphia.  We’d walk and talk while my father oozed vitality and a freedom of spirit that was contagious.  I fell in love with horses too and now when I’m at the barn feeding, grooming, turning out and mucking – I think of those days and smile.  And they look at me with those soulful, knowing eyes as if to acknowledge an understanding of our bond.

Over the years so much has changed while so much of me has stayed the child I used to be.  I guess that’s what it means to realize your essence.

What events trigger memories for you – and what are those memories and how have they defined who you are today?

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Contribution to society always meant paycheck to me.  I fell into a profession that had the power to influence people:  their activities and their impressions.  And that always felt like my noble calling.  The shows I created and produced touched people’s lives, not always in a good way (I’m not proud to admit), but usually so.  We had the privilege of being public advocates for current affairs, offering up ideas for consideration and inspiration, creating community activities and entertaining people in their spare time.  I loved playing to a mass audience; it felt like an important public service and provided me years of meaningful work and an increasingly healthy livelihood.

Then I stopped working.  No more public platform to exercise my creative juices and throw hours and hours into devising concepts.  Every morning offered a blank canvas with a glaringly empty “to-do” list.  Nobody relied on me, no deadlines existed, no emergencies reared their heads, no more constantly ringing phone…  Now what?

Now… began to mean living each day its own way and reflecting on the kinds of things that offered me meaning, joy, independence, and stimulation.  So far, today is a life that includes playing with my pets, some travel, reading, yoga, meditation, exercise, yard work, cooking, friends, writing and volunteering.

Volunteering?  I never offered my services for free during my “job” years.  First, where would the time come from?  The few hours of weekend I had to myself were devoted to errands and stuff like laundry and bill paying.  Volunteering was what homemakers did.  (Sorry if that offends anyone, no offense intended – just some truth telling.)  It didn’t feel big to me or influential or important.  And then I saw some listings in the local paper that started to resonate.

Tennessee’s largest horse rescue was holding an open house, a chance to visit their rehabilitated horses now available for adoption.  I’ve always loved horses, use to ride them and have even yearned for my own.  When I went for a visit I was overwhelmed with admiration for the volunteers’ selfless devotion to helping such magnificent creatures.  I’d only experienced healthy, loved horses that were well taken care of.  I had no idea that people starved their animals or left them to die on mountains.  So now I’m among those who nurse these horses back to health.  It’s hard to articulate how these animals make me feel and how their recoveries, both physically and emotionally, offer such satisfaction and meaning.  They need us.  For them, it’s a question of life or death.  What’s more important than that?  And the fact that this organization can’t subsist without our unpaid help makes my contribution all that more necessary.  It’s a feeling I never had when I got my paychecks.

Passion for me has always included animals.  I find their vulnerability encourages the same from me.  There are no facades when communicating with animals, only genuine interaction that teases my heart wide open.  Authentic relationships are the only kinds that matter to me.  Anything else is a waste of time and energy in this short life span we’re offered.

It’s that kind of genuine relationship that also attracted me to hospice work.  If there’s ever a time when a human being needs an attentive presence, it’s during one’s countdown to the end of life.  And so I’m also, now, a hospice companion volunteer.  My patients meet me when they’ve chosen to stop medical intervention for their diseases and, instead, to face death with palliative care.  Hospice is a gift to the human species; their nurses and aides are among the most compassionate people I’ve ever met.  I consider them heroes.  My role is as the patient’s friend, an empathetic ear with no familial baggage or preconceived assumptions.  We talk … we cry… we tell stories…  I listen.

With an elderly woman whose passion for reading was pre-empted by deteriorating eyes, I read aloud.  With an intellectually disabled man, my age – we assembled children’s puzzles, I read him picture books and offered encouragement for the days when he’d “be better;” he didn’t understand the extent of his disease.  With a senior gentleman who would not live to mentor his young grandson into manhood, I listened to his sorrow that went unexpressed with his family.  Does that sound like time meaningfully spent?  I find it incredibly humbling and an un-paralleled learning experience.

Volunteering is a mundane phrase for a mammoth job.  It’s influential, inspiring, meaningful and vital.  And the fact that I don’t get paid makes it that much richer.

What offers meaning to your life?  And how have impressions about satisfying that charge changed over the years?  I’d love to hear about it.

And if Tennessee’s horse rescue intrigues you, please visit their website at horsehaventn.org.    And you can see their video story on You Tube athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-DLMKETHFY

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