Animals are part of the interdependent web of all existence of which we humans are also a part. Humans and animals have lived on our planet together for millennia, and they preceded us by hundreds of millions of years. We are grateful for their companionship, as well as the many other rolls they play in our lives. On this day we will bless our pets and the animals we love.
What My Animals Have Taught Me
by Rowan Fixemer
Content Note: Some of this reading includes mentions of animal loss and abuse, but nothing graphic.
For most people, having animals around them improves their lives. Besides lowering blood pressure—when said animals aren’t raising it—and the fullness of unconditional love, we love to say that animals have a lot to teach. This has always felt like a generic statement until I took time to think about the many animals I’ve been around in my life. Some lessons have been good, and some difficult. This is a story of highs and lows, and some is not easy to tell.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Dandy was our collie when I was born. He was the outdoors farm dog on the property my parents rented. From him, I learned that the loving thing to do when our beloved friends grow too ill to have quality of life is to let them go.
On that farm, we had several horses. Star Girl taught me that love can be bigger than ourselves, literally. Star Girl would keep watch when my sister and I would sneak into their pasture, and she kept the other two mares in check around us. When we had to move without them, a hole opened in my heart when I learned that horses aren’t forever.
Our first indoor dog was Tinkerbell, or Tinker for short. She was a toy poodle with an attitude. She taught me loyalty, because she decided she was my dog. Or maybe I was her person. Even so, she had boundaries that I learned to respect. Later, after we’d moved to a trailer park, Tinker had a surgery. The vet, my godfather, called my mom at work to say that Tinker was full of cancer, and mom agreed to have her put to sleep. I was eleven at the time, and it took a long time to forgive Mom for not letting me say goodbye. I learned it was far kinder than keeping her alive a few more hours for me to say goodbye.
Dillon was six months old when he came to us. I left for college, and then my own life, little knowing the cruelty he endured at the hands of my brother. This same brother also abused our youngest sister. From this, I learned that it’s not possible to protect everyone I love. I also learned that family does not have to be bound by blood, because my brother is no longer family.
The Horses from Equine Studies
I went to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College for my Equine Studies degree. From Pilgrim, I learned how to connect, and after graduation, how to let go. Broadway taught me that the seemingly laziest of us can run in the wind. Jamaica taught everyone you can sit through life’s bucks and still come out looking pretty. When Scorch went lame and was sent to auction, I learned that life was expendable. A former dressage horse taught us that not all minds can be healed, especially with harsh treatment. In contrast, I’ll always remember JB because he’s the one who taught me that some broken minds can heal, especially with gentle, but firm treatment. The last horse I learned from was the three-year-old gelding we bought on credit at graduation. When I had to sell him a year later, I learned that there are lots of ways a heart can break.
In the first year of my marriage, around the time I sold Toby, I started with birds. Back then, I was much more likely to impulse buy, even with good intentions. I lost two parakeets, one to accident, and one to sickness. Then a Jenday conure moved to Illinois with us. Kyp was a sweetheart, but she was so loud that my ears hurt more than I could handle. I found her a home with a kind breeder. The birds taught me not to buy animals just because they are pretty.
Some experiences with animals teach you things you’d rather not know about yourself.
Schmitty, Chip, & Alice
I have always loved dogs, and I thought I’d be a great dog owner. Only, I wasn’t. Schmitty was an impulse buy, Chip came from a sketchy breeder, Alice the rescue bit my child while I was pregnant with another, and Dandy (named after the collie) was a purebred who was not a good fit for our family. I was diligent about getting the three into good homes. Alice went to a place where trainers would work with her so she could hopefully be adopted out to another family. From all of this, I learned that I need to know and understand my limits. Impulsive decisions harm others, even if they end up okay. I also learned to accept that some things aren’t meant to be.
Moss & Mila
When my oldest was about five years old, I brought home a pair of cats, one of which had just lost her leg after a dog attack. Moss was the tri-pawed, and Mila (pronounced “Meela”, unlike “Mi-lah”) was the calico. I loved those cats, but we went into a bad time. For a number of reasons, including the belief that I was allergic to the cats, I was convinced they needed to be rehomed. Mila is with a wonderful person who works at a bookstore. She’s happier to not be around noisy children. Moss… It’s been hard to forgive myself for giving her to a friend. He died, his wife moved, and she told me, after the fact, that Moss kept getting sick, so she had Moss put down. That was another level of heartbreak. I felt worse when I later learned that I never was allergic to the cats. It was the natural litters that I tried. Yes, each of them. Clay litters bothered my lungs. Allergy testing later showed I wasn’t allergic at the time after all. I’ll add a cat update below, since many of you know we currently have three who are well loved.
The situation with the purebred dog happened in 2016, which was not long before my bipolar diagnosis. I wanted another Dillon. I thought taking care of a dog like him would soothe the pain left by his abuse and death. Unfortunately, Dandy was too large and energetic, and even though I went to classes and tried working with him, it ultimately wasn’t enough. In that situation, I did my best and ended up returning him to the breeder. From this, I learned that as much as I love dogs, it never seems to work out.
Diglett, Evee, & Harriet
In 2017, a month or two after I took this dog back to his breeder, we went to the Animal House Shelter in Huntley. The kids and I chose two adorable kittens and named them Diglett and Eevee. I see Moss in Eevee all the time, and even now, I sometimes start to call her “Moss.” In 2018, we brought home a third cat, Harriet, who is his own creature. One lesson I’ve learned from this bunch is that I won’t have three cats at once, again! But that’s not the important part.
The important things I’ve learned so far from this trio of cats are:
- They mean everything to the kids, and seeing those bonds develop has reminded me of how deeply they impact us. It’s a bond I protect and treasure.
- That it’s difficult to make the call of whether to spend a lot of money to save a six-month-old cat who is at death’s door. The answer in this case was that I would do it again in a flash. I can’t imagine Diglett not being here to snuggle in bed with DJ or flopping down next to Autumn.
- The right animals can be soothing to people with special needs, like Harriet is to Zoe. He’s not my favorite cat in the world, but I will make damn sure he gets to stay with his Person.
- Litterboxes are nasty, and children are the perfect minions to do the scooping.
- Food must be delivered in a timely manner. Violations will be rewarded with stares from orange cats and yowling from a tabby-and-white jerk who has us trained.
Lessons Lived are Lessons Learned
As a whole, I’ve learned the things you’re supposed to learn from animals, and I’ve also learned hard lessons about my capabilities when it comes to having them in the family. Most of my mistakes were made before they could make big impressions on the kids, and for that, I’m grateful.
Today, I understand that mental health issues led to some poor choices on my part. As angry as I’ve gotten at myself, I have had to forgive myself, especially with Moss’s outcome. Things are different now, and I’m able to make better choices, but with those poor choices came some lessons of their own.
The most important lesson I have learned is that you can find the right animal friends, but you need to be ready. Different types of people are suited for different types of animals. Some people, like me, make a lot of mistakes before getting it right, but when you do get it right, your world changes. All of these lessons have taught me far greater respect and reverence for our animal friends. They’re blessings not just for what they can teach you, but also for the good of your soul.
Blessing of the Animals
by Susan Goldberg
Meow, woof, cheep, neigh, moo, hssss, bzzzz, baah, squeak and howl! That is my personal greeting to any Animals who are likely to be hovering nearby in anticipation of our blessing. We are a little late by the calendar, but it has become a tradition to recognize and thank the Animals of the Earth on the occasion of St. Francis’s day, St. Francis being the beloved patron Saint of Animals.
I think we UUs are unique within the realm of mainstream religions, if we even qualify as mainstream, as revering animals as much as we actually do. Not to say that we are all animal lovers. In fact, I know a few Unitarians who aren’t fond of animals one bit. But we still respect them as part of the interconnectedness of, well, everything.
Interconnected Web of Life
Like it or not, animals have been used by humans throughout history for food, labor, clothing, sport, sacrifice to the gods, research, and companionship. Today we bless the Animals who have given their lives to become food for us. Shoes for us. Medicine for us. We bless the horses who plough for us. The donkeys who carry for us. The lab rats who bleed for us. The dogs who see for us. The cats who purr for us. The birds who awaken us. The bees who pollinate for us. The monkeys who entertain us. The butterflies who enchant us.
All the animals enrich our lives. We ask for their forgiveness, and we thank them, and we love them. We bless them all today. We bless them all today. But especially the animals who show us love and let us love on them, our beloved pets. I don’t know what my life would be without the cats I’ve been owned by, the cherished birds in my garden, the Clergy with Cats group I belong to, the sweet neighbor dogs who have befriended me, the little yellow canary called Cheerio that sang sweetly from his cage when I was a young child. The trips to the zoos, the coyotes and foxes I’ve seen on nature walks, the hawks and redwing blackbirds along country roads … they’ve all lifted my spirits, expanded my horizons, given me hope. Day after day.
As we look at the pictures of our pets that you’ve all sent in, let’s ask for their blessings, too.