Love and Pain – How Animals Enrich Our Lives

Sienna

I know they are not, but in my opinion these two words, love and pain, should be synonymous.  One doesn’t exist without the other and they are the evil twins of vocabulary.  The good twin gives the love and the evil twin delivers the pain.

Love is our oxygen.  We breathe it in and we feel our spirits lift to the point of being light-headed and giddy. Just when we are drunk on love, it gets snatched away and we suffer with the pain like a hangover.  I much prefer love.

When I reflect on love and pain I first think of the happiness and anguish of human relationships, although the same applies to the bond we have with our pets.  We have come to rely on them for companionship and of course love, but more and more, we depend on them as service dogs or service animals to help us both physically and emotionally.  They are an important part of our lives and as a result deep bonds are formed.  I began to think about all the animals that came in and out of my life and what they meant to me.

I must say of every pet I have owned, whether cats, dogs, tortoises, fish, small birds, exotic big birds and horses, they all presented me with a personality that was suited to mine at that time in my life.  I fondly remember some of the antics of my menagerie of pets over the years and the unconditional love they gave me.

My first cat as a child became my best friend who endured hours of torture being dressed in baby clothes and wheeled around in a stroller. He was so much more fun than a doll. As I would lay on the floor doing my homework, and usually fretting over it, he would climb onto my back and park there, purring, for the duration.  He was the best buddy an 8 year-old girl could have.

One time I came home from work to find my young Golden Retriever had chewed every possible thing he could reach, from hairbrush to can opener to gnawing right through the drywall until he reached the stud.  He was actually sitting triumphantly on top of the dining room table when I came into the house.  What could you do?

Then there was the duckling that waddled out from under the couch one evening as I watched TV.  Where he came from I’ll never know and the cat just sat there washing himself nonchalantly as if it had absolutely nothing to do with him.

I still wonder how, and which one of the three cats I owned, managed to get the live pigeon through the cat door and let him live until I came home from work.  I’ll never forget unlocking the door and all three black cats were lined up in the hallway staring at me as I entered.  I remember thinking that didn’t look right.  I turned around to close the front door and there sat the terrified pigeon. Who knows how long he had been sitting there.  Poor thing.  He could have had a heart attack as they probably taunted him for hours.

Then there was my sweet Mastiff who, while carrying a headless squirrel in her mouth, tried to bring it into the house for me. This beautiful docile dog was so excited to share it!  Have you ever tried blocking a determined 150 lb. dog from coming through a door? It wasn’t easy. I still refuse to believe she decapitated it, but it still haunts me.

Every one of these wonderful, funny creatures, and others I have not mentioned, brought such pleasure to my life, and for the small price of a good home and some food, they gave me so much love and some pretty unusual gifts!  If I was sad, a head would plop onto my lap or a paw would be laid on my knee. Or that purring in my ear and a kitty cat shoulder massage would bring a smile to my face and make my troubles disappear.  I remember sitting in my horse’s stall and crying over something that would bring an end to the world, and he would nicker just to let me know it was OK.  Happy days for them would be a car ride, always guaranteed to excite, maybe picking out a new toy at the pet store, or a gallop across the fields.  Their needs were so simple and all they wanted was to be with me.  Unfortunately our pet’s time with us is not long but the pleasure they bring lasts a lifetime.  Although I never will understand how man’s best friend, can live such a short life and a parrot or tortoise can live until they are 75!

When the dreadful day comes and the Evil Twin pays a visit, some difficult decisions have to be made.  This is hard on all of us and facing the inevitable can be heart wrenching.  It hasn’t been too long since we said goodbye to our Chocolate Lab.  We were not given the opportunity to even make that difficult decision as she was taken from us so suddenly by a freakish, large dog condition and could not be saved.  It was a devastating loss and we still have moments of such sorrow when she pops into our minds or we see another Lab.  I wrote the following poem shortly after losing her and I read it whenever I am feeling sad or I’m reminded of her.  It always helps and brings a smile to my face as I remember her sweetness.

I hope it reminds you of a four-legged friend or dear pet that might have lost.

Thank you for reading this.

Christine

Sienna

Your restless feet in the morning, anxious to communicate
Always thoughtful and considerate, but you could barely wait
Even when you needed our attention, you wanted to please
But we loved you so dearly we would drop to our knees

Sienna, your sweet look, always a happy puppy-doodle-doo
Your daily ritual meant we had so much love for you
You had your order of how things should be
And we followed you through the motions because your joy was ours, you see

Our world revolved around you and your happiness was important
Whatever it took and no matter the cost, we would never be complacent
We were blessed with your warmth and goodness every day
But what a cruel world it was that took you away

Our sadness and grief are beyond unbearable
And the loss of you completely unacceptable
Our memories are fresh in our hearts and will not fade soon
Our thoughts of you warm and loving and should be placed in a balloon

We would then send it up, way into the sky
Off into the wild blue yonder where dogs might fly
With a wish that it would find you somewhere, happy, healthy and content
And you would read our words to know that for us, it was as if you never went

You will never be forgotten and hope you are not alone
Our love for you is deep, as if carved in stone
We miss you so much our sweet chocolate dog
If we spell dog backwards then there is a God

Christine Bolton

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Grace Under Pressure

Grace under pressure
Remember the rule
Keep your temper in check
And stay cool
Remain calm
Don’t blow your stack
Be cognizant of others
Even when no one has your back
Stay kind and thoughtful
Though you could scream right now
They are poking the embers
Of a fiery disposition, and how!
This is not a good place to be
And you know it too well
You are the rational one
But you will never tell
Let them crumble under the pressure
As they continue to stoke your fire
If only they knew
The agony of your ire
You are the better person
As you can walk away
They will be eaten by their anger
Because they will never call it a day

Christine Bolton

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The Dark Mind

The Dark Mind

Why is it possible for someone, who appears to have everything, to be depressed?  Why does this happen to people who, to those looking in, seem so happy and content with their lives?

At times in our lives we have all experienced a form of depression and for the most part we understand what has been the cause.  Severe emotional distress can send us spiraling downwards.  While some of us manage to bounce back from isolated incidents with rational thinking and processing, many cannot do so. Depression can manifest itself in many different ways and is easily mistaken for tiredness, laziness and even rudeness.  Finding any one thing to pinpoint the cause of depression can also be confusing for the sufferer.  Like many other disorders, clinical depression falls on a continuum, from mild to moderate to severe. A mildly depressed person might feel badly a lot of the time but manage to keep up appearances, whereas a severely depressed person often can’t drag himself or herself out of bed.

I too have had moments of deep sadness, loneliness and confusion but I was fortunate in that I found my way out of the tunnel by writing. I do know someone who suffers from inexplicable depression at times.  They find it difficult to explain to non-sufferers and would like nothing more than to be free of those dark feelings.

Below is a poem that I wrote some years ago to describe how I was feeling.  It was a confusing and difficult time for me.  The writing helped and I encourage anyone struggling with feelings of sadness to do the same.  It does not have to take the poetic form; it can be a journal entry where you just let the pain or confusion you are feeling to spill on to a page.  I always find it beneficial to keep writing and not stop until I have exorcised all my thoughts.  Depression however is a very serious condition and I do not want to make light of it.  If you know of someone who is suffering with depression or anxiety please urge him or her to get professional help.

I hope in some small way that you will find this helpful.

Thank you for reading.

Christine

The Dark Mind

I wake with the cloud over my head
I think perhaps it is fear
Which sucks me into the abyss
Where it is impossible to navigate
The way back to sanity

I do not understand
I’m not sure what to do
I must leave this place
And exorcise these feelings
Of impending disaster and failure

My gloomy thoughts need obscurity
The desire for solitude calls me outside
To the soothing blackness of the night
A chill is in the air
And the rain falls in silence

Darkness comes quickly, consuming me
Casting a shadow on the beauty
That is my life
I walk quickly bracing against
The unexpected sudden chill

Collecting the somber thoughts in my head
I ask why does this happen
When everything is so perfect?
There is no reason for my complicated state
So why do I have to carry this albatross on my back?

With a resentful tolerance and
Comprehension of my shortfalls
I accept what is not perfect in me
Knowing there is no explanation
So I will send this unwanted burden on its way

Christine Bolton

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Biting The Hand That Feeds Us

Biting the hand that feeds us 

I heard a news story just the other day that the owner of a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa had been severely mauled by a lion, that he hand-reared from a cub, in a ghastly attack witnessed and filmed by staff and his tourist/clients.The graphic video showed the owner entering the lion’s enclosure and suddenly the lion started running towards him in a threatening manner.  The owner tried to get back to the gate but the lion reached him before he could escape and dragged him towards the bushes. The lion began to maul its owner to the horrifying screams of the witnesses.

The good news is the owner is alive and recuperating in hospital with a broken jaw and neck injuries. The sad news is the lion was killed.  It appears that the owner was investigating a strange smell in the enclosure that had been upsetting the lion for several days. If only the animal could have communicated what the problem was, right?  Well, of course he couldn’t, he was a wild animal.  Reared in captivity but still wild by nature.

This story made me realize how tenuous any relationship can be regardless of the species and the love that is shown.  Whether a long term partnership or a brief one, there is the possibility of irreparable damage to the relationship for one or the other involved. It can be as simple as drifting away from each other through indifference or as severe as an abusive situation.  What is it about us, as a species, that we allow this to happen?  In the case of the lion and its owner there was love and respect between them, but there was a language barrier.   Between humans there is no excuse.  We have the ability to speak.  When something disgruntles us or makes us unhappy, as with the lion and the bad smell, we at least, can communicate that verbally.  The lion did not have that opportunity.  As a result he lost his life and his loving owner ended up in the hospital.  In my humble opinion talking to our spouses and partners about everything, good or bad, is the life-blood of a relationship.  Communication leads to love, respect and the understanding of each other’s feelings and enables us to grow together.  If only the lion and the man had that ability.

Biting The Hand That Feeds Us

Mysterious and wild
Beautiful and brave
The king of the jungle
Went to his grave

He was just a cub
When he was bottle-fed
Raised lovingly in captivity
Until he ended up dead

He loved his owner
And that feeling was shared
Until the fateful day
When his owner got scared

Their eyes locked for a moment
But the message was not understood
One started to advance
The other ran as fast as he could

The hand that fed him
Was about to be bitten
The wild in the animal
Showed he was no longer a kitten

The king was the hunter
The man became the prey
No good would come of this
There were no debts to repay

The man is a mere mortal
An the lion is a beast
So a lesson to be learned
Is that man was almost the feast

Christine Bolton

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Can you grieve the loss of something you never had?

Can you grieve the loss of something you never had?

The answer, simply, is yes.

A young friend of mine has just shared some sad news.  She was pregnant for the first time but had a miscarriage a few days ago. She and her husband looked forward to this special event with a guarded optimism.  They had kept their special secret until the first trimester had passed and for all intents and purposes my friend should have moved into the dreamy second trimester.

My heart goes out to her at such a difficult time, as I personally know the devastation she is feeling, not just from the physical pain, but the emotional pain that will unfortunately stay with her for a very long time. Unless you have gone through such a traumatic experience it can be incomprehensible.

In my case I realized something was terribly wrong. I knew what was happening and there was nothing I could do about it.  I prayed it was just a scare and not a miscarriage but it was too late.  I will never forget how I felt and what a severe sense of loss I experienced.  It was so profound and it stayed with me for a long time.  I managed to be rational, and realized I would recover eventually, but the miscarriage was hard to accept.  Naturally there is an emotional connection between a mother and her baby in the womb, so the sense of loss was real.  There is also the loss of future.  Hopes and dreams dashed through no fault of anyone.  It’s also possible to feel guilt at this time because you think of all the other expectant mothers who experience not one but multiple miscarriages and they manage to go on, never giving up on their dream.

My young friend will experience all of these confusing thoughts.  Her physical pain will pass quickly but her emotional pain will stay with her for a long time.  She is brave and has youth on her side so I am certain she will have every opportunity to experience life’s miracle and have the family future she longs for and rightly deserves.

The following poem came to me quickly perhaps because it came from a personal experience. I hope you enjoy it.

Loss

My heart is full with news to share
We learn we will no longer be a just a pair

An addition to our family will come in June
Such excitement all around, it can’t come too soon

Things to consider and people to tell
Names thrown around like Anna and Rafael

I am so full of joy my mind is racing
Things to buy and bargains for chasing

A room to decorate and fill with love
A precious gift as if sent from above

But the black cloud came and darkened our lives
Stripped us of happiness and cut like a knife

Swift was its blow that knocked us down
The pain hurts so much I think we will drown

The loss is difficult and hard to comprehend
What did we do wrong for our joy to end?

The sunshine has disappeared and the skies are gray
Try again, we are told, it is going to be okay

It happens frequently or so it appears
But it’s hard to accept what has happened right here

We will cross the bridge that lies up ahead
Confident that our future will not hang by a thread

To lose something you never had is somehow surreal
But with love and understanding we will begin to heal

The creation we lost will stay in our hearts forever
One day soon another will come, so never say never

Christine Bolton

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Poem of the Month – May

Down by the Sea

Down By The Sea

The wind chimes awaken to the stirring of the breeze
The Mockingbird duo swoops down from the trees

A sleepy cat stretches his limbs in an arched frame
The sea laps the shore again and again

The crystals of sand are cool under my feet
A sunny day in Paradise and life is sweet

I walk along the beach as I often do
Taking in the sounds of life and thinking of you

There is beauty in nature all around
And I live in eternal gratitude for what I have found

A hard life lived with a good measure of pain
A constitution to get up and go on again and again

When rewards were out of my reach
I turned to the mighty pen for my soul to teach

Life is a lesson sometimes hard to endure
But perseverance and understanding can settle the score

You were out there struggling just as I
When we happened on each other we breathed a big sigh

Our jagged pieces did eventually fit
Each other’s grooves that had so spectacularly split

Now we are as one living in harmony
In this natural charm down by the sea

Christine Bolton

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The Death of a Cardinal

Just last week a neighbor called to ask a favor.  She was at work and received news that her 97 year old mother-in-law, who lives in an assisted living facility, was not doing well and was taken to the hospital with a suspected stroke.  Our neighbor requested that we help with her dog while she rushed to the hospital.  We listened to her instructions as to where the leash was kept, how to coax the dog down the stairs to go outside, and lastly where the reward treats were kept.  Of course we were happy to help our dear neighbor but felt sad for what could be her impending loss.  As we walked next door we stopped in our tracks because laying there on her driveway was a beautiful male cardinal, dead.  He was so beautiful.  Of course his color was striking but to see him laying there, with no outward signs of distress, was quite shocking considering the task at hand.  Was it an omen?  Was it a sign of inevitable passing? All these crazy things went through our minds.  We were worried for our neighbor, her dog and now this.

As it turned out, her mother-in-law improved later that day and there was no evidence of stroke.  She was experiencing some kind of infection so everything turned out well.  So what of the Cardinal? I picked him up and buried him in the garden with a covering of leaves.  I said a word of thanks for his life and felt a sadness come over me.  Who knows what happened to him.  Perhaps he flew into an oncoming car, or just died of old age.  It was hard to tell but it did stir something in me. I began to think about birds in general and how their behavior is so similar to humans.  They mate for life, building a nest to share with their partner.  They raise their family in that nest until the young are ready to spread their wings and fly away. The melancholy feeling stayed with me for several days and I subsequently wrote this poem.  I hope you will understand and enjoy it.

Death of a Cardinal

A flash of scarlet caught my eye
A cardinal had come down from the sky

I wondered how could that be?
He was too old to have fallen from a tree

He lay there with not a sign of breath
So beautiful but clearly this was his death

I found him alone in someone’s driveway
With no visible damage as he peacefully lay

I imagined his mate full of concern
What did she think when he did not return

Do they mourn like us when a loved one is lost?
Save face in front of the babies no matter the cost

These things always go through my mind
Is sorrow just for the likes of mankind?

Birds have partners as humans do
We all breathe and breed and need food too

We love and nurture those we love
So why did this Cardinal come down from above

It made me realize that life is to be treasured
Who dies and why is not to be measured

This beautiful bird was laid in a leafy grave
With my word of thanks for the joy he gave

Christine Bolton

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From a Dark Place

I wrote this poem at a low point in my life when I had experienced emotional pain.  I felt helpless in my situation and was sure my heart was broken irreparably and my head would certainly explode.  When I look back on poems such as this, I am always so taken aback by the darkness of my thoughts and the sheer helplessness that I felt at that time. I eventually got beyond the hurt and was able to live a happy life again, but I find it quite shocking to revisit that state of mind.  Just the act of writing down these feelings has proven to be therapeutic.  It shows me that by letting my words flow onto paper, to describe those emotions and question why, I was able to heal and move on.

I hope these words of mine will somehow resonate with you.

Despair

The darkness came so suddenly
Enveloping me and dragging me into a pit of despair
Blinded and scratching for clarity
Shocked by the swiftness of events, I call to you
You do not hear

You do not listen, you are closed
What is evident is your hurt and anger
As much as I try, you resist me
I want to help and heal your wounds
That were so carelessly inflicted in your past

Dazed and confused
I am lost without you
My love spurned and my efforts rejected
My promise to keep you safe from future pain
Falls on deaf ears

The loss of you is too much to bear
My hurt is deep
Like the slice of a knife through my heart
It will not heal
I did not know how broken you were
And now I know to my detriment

Christine Bolton

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A Painted Pony

A Unique Bond

As a former owner and lover of horses, and understanding the unique bond that is formed between human and animal, discovering this poem many years ago meant so much to me.  It was powerful and mysterious.  It reminded me of the respect which is required in order for the two to work as one.  It also made clear that one does not own the other.

The author is unknown but through a little research I found that it possibly relates to a desert horse in Africa.  However when I read it, it conjures up a vision of a Native American in full warrior dress riding bareback on a painted pony.

I am your equal

I am a wild creature that can never be like you

I have heart, courage, and the game spirit that is my heritage

And I will be respected

I will be taught, and I will please, And maybe in time I will be your intimate

But I will never be your possession

Mine is a fierce love, which knows no mercy for failure

No sympathy for weakness

I have come from the desert with its closeness to the spirit of nature

Which you do not understand

I was born of the Wind

Mine is a warrior spirit

I cannot be humiliated in

punishment or defeated even in death

For my spirit lives on in my children’s children

Unknown

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My Reality Check

Travel Is Good For The Soul

I can’t believe it has been a month since my last (first) blog!  I had the good fortune to travel to Switzerland and Italy and remember what it is like to be European.  Having lived in the USA for half of my life I am sometimes confused internally where I actually hail from.  I usually know the moment I arrive as it feels as if someone has taken my hand and said “welcome home”.  It’s like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes or running into an old friend. I feel grounded.

The cleanliness of Switzerland and the efficiency of its people reminded me of their sensibility.  A time and place for everything, courtesy is given and expected in return, attention is paid to how one dresses and subsequently perceived.   It is proper and civilized and a reminder of how things used to be.

Italy was like being welcomed home by your mother.  Warm and wonderful with no shortage of good food!  A healthy respect for family and heritage. If I feel starved of culture living in Florida, then a visit to this little country possessing more World Heritage Sites than any other, certainly took care of that for me!

So why am I sharing this with you?  This trip touched my heart and soul and in a strange way it brought me peace.  Sometimes our heads are so full of our responsibilities that we feel that we might just explode.  No matter how busy we are, how big our workload, how little time we have to just be ourselves, how hurt we can feel at low points in our lives, it is knowing that there are options to help our healing.   There is only so much we can do for others and because we are stretched we forget to take care of ourselves. Taking a walk to blow off the cobwebs, even if it’s in the rain. Visiting a museum or gallery and appreciating a piece of artwork. Observing other families and how they interact with each other. All of these suggestions work for me but one of my favorites is to pick up a journal or notebook and begin writing. It is portable and it is something that can go with you anywhere. 

Our words are our power and the written word gives us the ability to heal ourselves from within. It is an outlet for frustrations and fears and a platform for our feelings.  Just by going through the motions of laying it out on paper we are opening our minds to possible answers.

Thank you for reading my blog.  Until the next time …

Christine Bolton

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