Many of us have pets who are or have been Beloved…but my experience is there is usually this one who works his or her way deep into our soul, our memory, and our “inner child”.
I love animals…most all of ’em. I had a favorite dog and a wonderful snake and as a kid, even a pair of rats, one black and one white. I used to smuggle those rats to elementary school inside my shirt! I have even had BUGS…Giant Australian Leaf Bugs that I care deeply about. My very first pet was a DUCK, that at 7 years old, I house-broke, because I didn’t know you couldn’t. (read about Fluffy here)
and those bugs, just go to my blog (and search for Bugs. I post about them more than most anything…https://chosenperspectives.com/
Though I am fairly allergic to them, I’ve almost always had cats…maybe 15 of them over the years.
But there is this one rascal, Zorro, that is my Beloved heart animal, above all the others, my inseparable companion of 17 years now. Named for the “Z” he slashed in the back of my hand the day I got him (at 5 or 6 weeks old). I’d show you a photo of my hand now but the original “Z” has been embellished with countless slashes over these years together…some from anger but mostly from play. It’s more like an abstract pencil drawing these days.
I know everyone has a favorite pet even if we don’t want to admit playing favorites. I have three cats right now and I wouldn’t want Phineas the Terrorist or Lucy, the Wonder Cat to be jealous of my Zorro, the Grey Blade.
His story is unfortunately, not unheard of. He was left in a box with 5 littermates at the back door of a county animal “pound” at the beginning of a three day weekend. By the time the box was discovered, all had died but my Zorro. Tiny “Z” was put in the cages in the lobby of this Animal Shelter where all the “last chance” animals were displayed…last chance before death!!
Apparently, he did not stop yowling for the three days they had him and the folks at the front desk were driven to distraction by his inconceivable volume.
We arrived literally in the nick of time. They were so relieved, they all cheered.
The short version of the back story here is that about 2 years before, I had lost all three of my long-time pets (an 11 year old cat, a wonderful 16 year old purebred German Shepherd, and an amazing, impossible 23 year old cat) all within two months of each other.
Boom, boom, boom…all gone!
Oh and in this same 2 years, my then husband had blown up our marriage as well as my therapy practice, AND there had been 11 deaths in and close to my family…all culminating in the 9/11 tragedy our country suffered. I was a hot, depressed mess!!!
My two very best friends did a Love Intervention with me for which I will be eternally grateful.
They sat me down and said “OK, that’s long enough. We like you better when you have pets.” And then they drove me to the pound for a cat and said “Pick one…NOW.”
I knew immediately it was that screaming gray and white kitten hanging by all fours on the screened in kennel.
I have already confessed many times in previous animal posts that I am the Queen of Anthropomorphism, but that kitten knew me instantly. In our 17 years together, he has never screamed like that again. Oh, we have our regular conversations. He’s very talkative. But only with me. I’m the only one he has ever trusted. If you are not me, you must tread very lightly in his presence. No reaching out your friendly hand for a sniff or a pet. Nope. You’ll be branded, just like me.
Though he will tolerate almost any handling from me, he has never been a lap cat, no snuggling except on my feet at night…oh, and if I say “Zorro, wanna take a nap with me?”, he will come running and assume his position in out napping spoon, his back pushed into my curled-up tummy. And a wonderful, weird addition to our relationship is I have NEVER been even slightly allergic to him. No itching, no asthma, nothing. I tell people he is my first intimate relationship with a cat.
He will look straight into my eyes for long moments and we will “talk”.
He is protective of the other cats we have, both joining our family as tiny kittens. If Zorro thinks you are hurting them, he will lunge at you like a tiger, growling, teeth bared, and claws out. He’ll draw your blood without batting an eye.
And if Phineas, who is our escape artist, finds a way out of our house, Zorro will run to me just like Lassie, (Timmy has fallen down the well!!) proclaiming danger, and will lead me right to the open door or window. (Our cats are always indoor cats as we have packs of coyotes running through our streets!)
Zorro has a much longer story than this, but I want to get this post done. Just think of him as the Sean Connery of cats…a real warrior in his day and still gorgeous to the end.
Zorro has advanced kidney disease and will most likely be moving on soon. We spend a lot of time together these days. I know we are getting close to the end because he wants to be on my lap whenever I sit down. He is awkward at it, having never practiced this kind of connection before now, but I love it.
I love him. My beloved best pal for so many years….
Anyway, my last two bugs, having lived way longer than any of their female-only ancestors, passed away last summer and I was way sadder than I would have expected. It was probably much more existential grief than I want to admit…end of an era…passing of time…my own mortality, etc.
Or maybe I had simply bonded to these mild, extravagant creatures. I confess, I LOVED my bugs!!
For the seven or eight years I have raised Giant Spiny Australian Leaf bugs (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extatosoma_tiaratum) I saved every single one of the hundreds of eggs they laid, hoping for later hatchings. (It takes over a year when *parthenogenesis is the method.) I kept the eggs safe and in the medium suggested by my research on Google (warm, moist soil).
With the last batch born (39 of them) I knew I was getting tired…but not of my bugs. They are so easy to care for. Feed them and put fresh paper towels at the bottom of their terrarium every 10 days or so. No big deal. (Well, I am leaving out the part that James does for me…scrounging around for uncontaminated Blackberry bushes, cutting off several branches, and then “dethorning” them for the safety of the bigger bugs who can accidentally impale themselves on these thorns. Poor James comes home bleeding every time!)
It had become quite an extravagant hobby.
After so many generations, I was up to a whole “colony”. With each new generation, I would happily give away as many bugs as I could to good homes (schools, parents, friends, independent Pet Stores… boy, are those hard to find now…) but it was requiring a lot more of the kind of energy I no longer have due to my age or an exhausting autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s? I don’t know which.
Also, at that number of bugs, there were just too many for me to “socialize”…meaning, getting the bugs used to being handled by humans. I wanted the occasional brave guest to be able to have the experience of one of these mild monsters sitting peacefully in the palm of their hand. This last batch had basically no direct human contact.
When I could feel the end nearing for my two oldest Queens, I did not do anything to protect or preserve their hundreds of eggs in the way their gestation requires. That was a much more difficult decision than I would have thought.
When they both died, I gave them what I considered a loving and respectful send off by placing them on blossoms outside in the sun. My keeping them safe in captivity may have given them a much longer life but had prevented their outdoor experience.
I put away the terrariums, and the jars that acted as vases for Blackberry vines. I gathered books and tchotchkes to fill up the empty shelves, dresser tops and counters that used to hold giant Bug Homes for all to see. I had all those interesting-looking eggs in a bowl and just set them off somewhere on a shelf.
I have missed my bugs. I know they are not pets in the way most of us think of a pet…like a companion. I didn’t talk to them or anything, at least not nearly as much as I talk to my cats (wish I had a winking emoji for right here…)
I did try to provide entertainment for them though…exposure to different settings, and playing loud music for them. They love Comfortably Numb and actually sway in time with music, but I guess I needed copyright permission for a video I made with Pink Floyd playing in the background, because WordPress would not include it in that post long ago.
But for all those years they were such a mild, peaceful presence in my life.
Having that amazing bug activity, straight from a David Attenborough-type nature show, happening right in my living room, was a constant and graphic reminder of the miracles in Nature. The molting process alone would blow the most uninterested of minds.
I think I have missed seeing daily the natural flow of the bugs’ stages, the proof that though one life comes to an end, another is always starting…
And those gentle bugs actually made me miss my life’s work a little less. In my practice, I was a regular witness to the amazing cycle of human life……coaching childbirths, end of life counselling, with all of life’s challenges, traumas and gifts in between.
Retirement! Heck, what was I thinking???
Now this will seem like an abrupt change of subject, but we have this cat named Lucy. She was born in the wild (well, in the woodpile in front of our mountain home). She is by far the most mildcat either of us have ever had. We think she is expressing gratitude for allowing her to adopt us as her humans, and rescuing her from a treacherous life in the mountains filled with cougars, coyotes and bears….to say nothing of the below zero temps we sometimes have in the winter. She is gentle and careful and sweet and affectionate (this last, at her own whim of course…she IS a CAT after all).
And she is also amazing in that she learns after just one or two corrections. I post about her a lot. You can read her story here:
Her most vicious trait is that she hunts, chases, kills and eats spiders. I have mixed feelings about that but so far have not prevented her Spider Patrols. What can I say, I’m a hypocrite.
Last week, I had a shocking experience. I lifted a pile of papers off the table I was working on and found a dead (squashed?) BABY BUG!!! Absolutely no idea how it got there. Or from how long ago? And did Sweet Lucy do this or did I crush a new baby bug and not even know it?
I Confess, I actually cried.
And then, I had an even more surprising realization. It seemed unrelated but in my tears I discovered how much I HATE being even semi-retired. (I see maybe 4 clients a month on average.) I miss working so much. I loved my well over 40 years of being a Group Psychotherapist with a booming practice. I never got tired of it. I never experienced “burn out”. I worked hard to live the principals I taught so I never really experienced the conflict and dissonance possible in that line of work. I was really, REALLY happy being able to do the work I was doing.
AND I missed my post-retirement hobby, my BUGS!
I want BUGS and I want to WORK!
You’ve heard the old Chinese proverb “Be careful what you wish for”?
In the last 5 days, SIX live, baby bugs have appeared out of nowhere in my office. I don’t have any eggs stashed in here. No adult bugs were ever loose in this room to drop unknown eggs. I have no idea where these hatch-lings are coming from, but I do know that after the very first one, which Lucy spotted up on the ceiling, I had a talk with her to remind her the difference between spiders and our bugs. Since then, five more have hatched and been unmolested by our Gentle Hunter Lucy. She just sits and watches them until I can capture and contain them. (I cannot however, confirm what she does behind my back of course.)
But anyway, apparently, I am on my way again, with a whole new generation of Extatosoma_tiaratum.
Gosh, maybe my phone will start ringing soon and I’ll have some new clients to work with too!?!