Sunday, July 24, 2016


Losing Shakespeare

On Friday morning, I lost a dear friend.  His name was Shakespeare, and he passed away at the ripe old age of 17.  Shakespeare of course was a dog, a Yorkie, and he was raised as a third child by my dear friends, Vicki and Joe.  Although he was not my dog, he and I had a very long and special relationship.  Shakespeare had a very small circle of friends and an even smaller circle of people he would "tolerate", and I was honored to be included in both circles.  He knew me by name.  When I was expected for a visit, Vicki would tell him ahead of time that I was coming.  Shakespeare would get very excited when he heard, and would eventually settle down to sit by the glass front door to watch for me.  As I walked up to the house, the first thing I would see was his little face in the door.  The closer I got to the door, the more excited he got.  As you can imagine, when I finally got in the door it was sheer bedlam!  Then I would scream, "Give me kisses!",  and Shakespeare would run up their center staircase just high enough to be at face level with me.  I would put my head against the spindles on the staircase and Shakespeare would proceed to lick any part of my face that he could reach.  It was our thing.  If it was his thing with anyone else, I will never admit to it.  It was OUR thing.  We had a "we", and our we was special.

All of this got me to thinking about what we all go through when we lose pets, those of us that actually care anyhow.  As we know, there are some that don't.  Last night I went to Vicki and Joe's house to grieve with them and share our memories of the little one.  One of the things that Vicki repeated over and over was that the day Shakespeare died was "the worst day of her life".  I totally understand that.  My heart of hearts was a dog named Tiffany, who passed away in 1995 after fourteen years.  I've never gotten over her loss, can still cry over her and look forward to the day when I see her again.  Eighteen years later when I finally brought another dog home (although there were many cats in between) it was with Tiffany in mind.  Clancy and she look extremely alike, right down to a little pink spot on the tips of their respective noses.  Since Tiffany passed in 1995 I've lost basically every family member; Father, Mother, Brother and a dear Uncle.  But I will still say that the day I lost Tiffany was the worst day of my life.  Not to take anything away from the loss of my family members, but it's different when you lose someone that you were responsible for.  It's a different sort of bond and it leaves a different sort of hole in your life.  And for me, I'm just one of those people who is better with animals than I am with other people.  I always feel more connected to animals than to humans, so when I lose one I am inconsolable.  When Tiffany died in 1995, I phoned the person whom I called my best friend at the time.  After a very brief conversation she said, "Well I don't want to bother you, so call me if you need anything".  You don't want to BOTHER me?  I just lost the dog who had been my life for 14 years (I don't have children), and you're saying you WON'T CALL ME because you don't want to BOTHER me?  I sat up with this woman a whole night when her dog had run out the door and disappeared, only to be found in the morning having been run over and killed by a car.  She had only had that dog for about a year but was taking Valium to handle the pain.  But she wasn't even going to call me?  I never heard from her again and I never called her either.  Years later, in 2007, my mother passed away.  I received a card in the mail from this person.  There was a long note explaining that she had moved to another state but by coincidence happen to see the newspaper with my mother's obituary.  She went on to tell me how she thinks of me often, and then all the news about her family (I guess I was supposed to care).  There were the obligatory expressions of sympathy and on and on, yadda yadda yadda.  My response to her was merely to sign my first-name-only to one of the standard funeral home thank you cards.  I had nothing to say to her, and I wanted her to know that, but I also wanted to be sure she knew that yes, I HAD indeed received her letter.  I just didn't care.  In retrospect, what I really felt and should have said was, "It would have meant more to me if you had called me when my dog died". Because it would have.  Don't get me wrong; I loved my mother, but my dog was my dog.  It's different.

So now there is the healing and the aftermath.  My friends say they will never bring home another dog, which is sad because they are the kind of people that we all want to see have dogs.  They are the good people, the counter-balance to all the bad people that have pets, the ones we thank God for when we see how their pets are taken care of and loved.  Dogs deserve them.  Maybe someday their hearts will heal enough to allow them to change their minds.  Just like when a relationship ends, we often learn to love again, even when we thought it would be impossible.  For my friends' sake, and for the sake of all the dogs out there that deserve their love, I hope so. 

But my friends are also in a gray area now that I believe to be imposed by society.  There is a somewhat Victorian notion which seems to preach that there is a certain window of time which must be endured before we consider getting another pet, or even getting into another relationship.  They talk about "respect", and it being "disrespectful" to the one who has passed if we don't wait a certain, arbitrarily decided upon period of time to bring another pet home or as humans, to love again or just stop crying.  Like we are bad people if we accept death as a part of life, or choose to love again and, heaven forbid, be HAPPY!  But I really have to question the whole philosophy.  First of all, WHO DECIDED?!  Who made up those rules?  Who decided what the proper period of time is, for EVERYONE?!  Who says that by choosing to love again we are diminishing the character or the memory of the one who has passed?  I don't see it that way at all.  The way I see it, we are HONORING the one who has passed.  What we are saying in effect is that the hole, the void left behind by their loss is so great as to be unbearable.  That it aches to be filled.  As the saying goes, "Nature abhors a vacuum", so why would it not be natural for our HUMAN nature to want to fill the void, especially where love is concerned, the best and most natural quality of our humanness?  Why would we not want to spread as much love as possible, as often as possible?  How is that an insult to the one who has passed?

I don't love Tiffany any less today than I did when she died 21 years ago.  Since she died I've had nine cats at various times (there are six now) and my two present dogs.  I don't love Tiffany any less because of any of any of the others.  Tiffany taught me more about love than any other being I've ever met.  Isn't it a good thing that I've gone on to use what I learned from her to care for other animals?  Every one of my pets, and a lot of people, have benefited from the lessons in love I learned from Tiffany.  Not long after Tiffany passed, a cat wandered into my yard and my life.  His name was Chessie. Rumor had it that the people whose home he used to live in got a dog and put Chessie out onto the streets.  Maybe Chessie just left. Either way, I vowed that I would never get a dog as long as Chessie was with me because I never wanted him to fear being abandoned or feel that there was no longer a place for him with me.  Chessie passed in 2012, after fighting feline leukemia for two years.  At that point, there were four other cats coming into my yard to be fed, one of which kept trying to come into the house but wasn't allowed because of Chessie's age and illness.  The day Chessie passed I opened the door for Bandit and told him to "Come on in".  About a week later, I brought Bandit to a relatively new vet, but the one who had put Chessie to sleep when the time came.  When I walked in with Bandit she said, "Miss Fitzgerald, you did not even give yourself a chance to grieve?"  Excuse me?  Are you implying that I'm NOT grieving?  That just because I have another patient for you, that I didn't/don't love the one I lost?  That it was inappropriate for me to have taken in another cat at this point, a cat that was hungry and homeless?  I never said any of that to her, but I never went back to her either.  Bandit is still here.

People feel like they aren't entitled, or have to feel guilty, if they want to feel better again.  I say, SPREAD THE LOVE!  Your loved ones that have passed understand now that it was all about the love.  I think they would want us to use what we have learned from them to benefit another.  My belief is that they are happy now, whether human or animal.  I think they are happier now than they ever were in life, and that our grief weighs them down like a balloon tied to a rock.  I believe that they will never be completely free until we let go of them, that love isn't about holding on to them because love is not selfish.  Like I told my friend, "Losing a pet is like when you raise children.  You raise them knowing that someday you're going to have to let them go, but knowing that they will take all your love with them".  It's all we've got to go on.

So last night my friends and I cried about Shakespeare, and we laughed about Shakespeare.  There was no little face in the door for me anymore, no one running up the stairs to slather me with kisses.  His little bed under the end of the coffee table was noticeably gone.  The house was quiet and the emptiness was palpable.  This is what my poor friends are having to endure right now.  But they are also the most loving and fun seeking people that I know, so I'm sure they will come through and continue to love and laugh.  We already started; We laughed last night about Shakespeare and some of his antics.  We laughed about the fact that no matter how many blotches I had on my face, or how much I was sneezing because I was in fact allergic to Shakespeare's saliva, I still would let him kiss me until the cows came home!  We laughed at how selective he was about people and who he allowed to be a friend. We laughed at how his attitude toward me changed the time I brought a boyfriend to their house and he let me know he was NOT happy about it! The boyfriend didn't last, and Vicki says that Shakespeare eventually forgave me, but I'm not really sure he did.

When I told another friend of mine today that Shakespeare had passed, and that I was in the middle of writing a blog piece about him, she wished me well and said, "I hope it comes to you easily".  I texted back that it actually was coming easily because, after all, Shakespeare was my muse!

Rest in peace my little friend.  Thank you for brightening all of our lives.  Thank you for the love.  Give Tiffany a kiss for me and know that we will all be together again some day.  Much love, now and always.

Sunday, April 3, 2016


I often wonder how, when and why it became so easy for humans to kill things, often automatically and without even a thought.  Is it a primal instinct or is it learned?  Even worse; Is it taught?  And I'm not just talking about killing other humans or animals.  Do you kill bugs?  Do you do it without thinking, like it's just a normal action?  Do you give a second of thought to the fact that you are snuffing out a tiny, little life?  Everything is relative.  The bug doesn't know it is small.  In fact, it's only small in OUR eyes.  Did you ever see the old t.v. show, where a woman is invaded by tiny little spacemen?  They land on her roof in a tiny little space ship and invade her in her home.  She is terrified, and does everything she can to kill them by swatting at them with brooms and such.  It isn't until the very end (I think the space men were all killed by her) that the camera pans to an area on the tiny space ship which shows its credentials and place of origin, "United States of America".  You see, one of our space ships visited a planet where the inhabitants were apparently giants (as compared to us).  All along we're led to believe that this woman is a "normal" sized human being invaded by abnormally tiny creatures, but in reality it was us just living our lives, just like the bugs are doing.  The astronauts sort of got what was coming to them though because, of course, the first thing THEY tried to do when they broke into the "giant's" house was to try to kill her with their little ray-guns!  Didn't even think about it.  And while we're on the topic of epic role-reversals that should make us think, let's not forget the movie, "Planet of the Apes".  If you've never seen it you should, and if you haven't seen it in a long time you should watch it again.  It's possibly more poignant today than when it was made!
Have you ever seen a child intentionally stepping on ants?  Do you encourage or discourage the behavior?  Do you even think about it?
The owner of a place where I work brings his dog in every day.  The dog is a sweet boy but barks fairly often, as some dogs do.  One of the male employees finds this rather intolerable and very sternly reprimands the dog (ironically he sort of barks at the dog).  When this happened the other day, I said to the guy that it must be difficult to have such acute hearing as dogs do, and have to live in such a noisy world, hearing every little sound and not knowing if it is something to be alarmed about.  Then I asked him if he ever thought about the notion that we constantly insist that our pets be quiet and not use their voices, but they have to listen to us yap all day.  Not only do they hear us in person but also through the constant yammering of the tv's and radios that are going on around them all day.  His response was, "That's true.  But they're animals".  I'm pretty sure he would have said "only" animals if he had thought of it.  So, I guess he was implying that they are undeserving of the same respect we demand for ourselves?  Sadly, an all too typical response from humans.  I had to remind him then that we too are animals!
TV and the internet are full of stories of people who kill nonchalantly.  I'm not talking about your odd "serial killer"; I'm talking about the guy up the street whose idea of fun is going into the woods and killing a deer or a bear; the fisherman whose idea of a good day is sinking a hook into the flesh of a sea creature, the bigger and more majestic the better; and I'm talking about the proliferation of persons on the news who so easily pull a trigger and end someone forever.  Where does it come from, this mindlessness?  How do people become so detached from emotion, empathy and compassion?  Years ago, I was a Driving Instructor.  One day I sat in my car outside a lower income housing development, waiting for my next student to emerge.  Two woman were out front talking to each other, and a (just learning how to walk) toddler was inside a grass covered, fenced area.  The poor little thing fell and started crying pathetically.  Not only did the mother not attempt to comfort the child, she never even acknowledged her!  She just kept talking to her friend like the kid wasn't even there.  It broke my heart and I remember thinking that this poor little girl didn't stand a chance in life, that she was already doomed to an emotionally detached future.  Does the ability to kill perhaps start in situations like this one?
Here's another story from my past that caused me to respect life, no matter what the size:  I guess I was a teenager and stayed up later than everyone one night, just watching t.v.  The only light in the room was from the t.v., and it cast a path across the wood floor.  I suddenly noticed a spider (I don't know the proper name, but we called them "Daddy Long Legs") cross the path of light in front of the t.v.  Without even thinking about it, I got up and stepped on the spider, crushing it under my shoe.  I cleaned its remains up off the floor with a tissue, but not perfectly I guess, because a few moments later a second Daddy Long Legs began moving across the same path.  When it reached the spot where the other spider had been crushed, it went absolutely crazy.  It started spinning around and around at top speed, circling the area, then spinning around and around again.  I remember being stunned at its reaction, thinking that I must have killed his mate and he knew it... and he CARED!  He was aware, and seemingly distraught.  I felt horrible about what I had done.  That moment changed me forever.  It was the moment when I understood that all lives are important, that perhaps there is more awareness in each animal than we ever give them credit for, that we have no right to assume we know how, or what, or if they think, that I have no right to take ANY creature's life, and that a small life is still a life and not small to the creature who is living it.
There are still the times when I have to kill things; I kill mosquitos because they can hurt my pets; I killed ants when they invaded my home in droves.  Thank heaven I don't have roaches, but if I did, I surely would be killing them.  Sometimes it really does come down to self defense.  But I don't do it mindlessly.  I actually do agonize over it.  I actually do say a prayer to ask forgiveness.  Maybe you think I'm crazy, but is it really such a bad thing to be a person who agonizes over the death of a living creature?  Isn't it preferable to being a person who doesn't even think about it, or thinks about it but doesn't care?  There are people who actually laugh at the death of a helpless creature and consider it entertainment.  I guess they go through life more easily, but is that who we want to be?
Who are the people that have the capacity to spend their life killing the animals that we then eat for food?  They not only kill them but often abuse them repeatedly.  Who are THOSE people?!  Does it frighten you as much as it does me, that there are people so removed from feeling that they are able to spend day after day killing?  Do you know that in China they REALLY DO EAT DOGS?!  They have entire festivals based on eating dog meat?  That they gather them up and pile them on top of one another, waiting to be killed and eaten?  The dogs know!  We know the dogs know what's going on!  Can you imagine what they must go through as they await their fate?  Ask anyone who has ever worked in a kill shelter; the dogs know when their time has come, when they are being walked to their death.  They struggle.  They try to get away.  The terror shows in their eyes.  They often must be dragged to their place of death.  So if the Chinese can do that to animals that we know have an emotional life, who's to say that we are not just ignoring cows, pigs, chickens and other animals in the same way because then it's easier to justify killing them?
I've always believed that one of the most important things to teach children is empathy.  In fact, I think it should be mandatory teaching in every school from the youngest age possible.  The ability to put one's self in another's place; to imagine how they would feel if, to imagine what it must look like to that bug when the big shoe is about to come down on it, to feel the fear, to wonder if those left behind might now painfully starve because there will be no one to bring food back to them, to imagine the pain an animal must feel when a metal trap clamps down on its leg or a bullet rips through its flesh, the fear it might feel when it sees the gun pointing at it,  to think about what it means to end another human's life forever, that they will no longer exist on this planet, to think about what it will do to that person's family - these are the things our children must be taught.  Sadly though, some of the teachers and parents have to learn it first.

Why Am I Here?

I’ve been around animals all of my life.  It’s really the only thing I’ve ever felt passionate about.  As I got older I began to get involved in animal rescue and adoption and became more and more aware of the plight of animals in our country, and our world.  Volunteering for a couple of animal rescue shelters, I watched the endless supply of inhabitants. The crates and cages were never empty; if anything, the shelters often had to turn animals away (or euthanize them) because there just wasn’t enough space to hold them all.  My job was to help “socialize” the animals and to give them some individual attention while they were there.  So many of them were so traumatized from the entire experience.  Just imagine being put into your car and just left somewhere without warning, never again to see the family you had come to love and think you were a part of, never again to see the place you had come to think of as your home.  Just an hour before you had felt safe and content, without much of a care in the world; an hour later you are suddenly terrified and confused, surrounded by strangers in a strange place, with strange smells and a lot of noise, nothing at all familiar, and with you are dozens of others who seem to be just as confused and scared.  Where once you had a comfortable bed with a familiar scent, now you are placed into a cage, not knowing what is going to happen next, or if it will hurt.  Where once you could walk about relatively freely, or maybe enjoy the pleasures of a yard of your own, now you were only taken out of the cage a couple of times a day for a few moments just so you can relieve yourself and then be returned, and that’s if you’re lucky.  Some shelters are so overwhelmed that the animals rarely get out of their crates or pens to relieve themselves; they just have to find a spot where they won’t end up stepping in it before someone has the time to clean up the mess.  I’ve read that most dogs have cognitive ability at the level of a two year old child. Imagine if this was all happening to your child, who was still too young to speak, or make sense of things, or ask questions. Imagine if you were suddenly gone from your child's life, and they were suddenly dumped off with strangers in a strange place.  Wouldn’t that child be terrified?  Well it’s absolutely no different for all of the more than SIX MILLION animals who are sitting in shelters every day!  They are just as terrified.  They are just as confused.  They are just as unable to speak for themselves or understand.  And they often become just as depressed as you, or your child would, in the same situation.  Every day as I tried to give these love-starved dogs (in this case) some time and attention, I just couldn’t understand how any human could abandon their pet like this.  Could they really be so lacking in empathy?  Can people really be so far removed from their own emotions that they don’t even think of what they are doing to these beautiful creatures that they once called THEIR pets?  Do they ever think of it from the animal’s point of view?
In the years that followed, I have seen more and more of this lack of empathy and compassion, and lack of thought given for the animals.  Respect for animals is, to a large degree, nonexistent in our society.  My Inbox is filled every day with petitions and calls to action, each asking for help for a particular animal or group of animals, or to prosecute an abuser or stop some legalized slaughter of animals.  Cecil the lion was only one small example of the thousands of atrocities that are perpetrated upon animals every day, every minute.  Did it occur to you that the Dentist’s only defense was that he “thought it was a legal hunt” ?  The fact that this was a needless, horrific act, whether legal or not, never even crossed his mind.  For years I’ve wondered if it could be proven that there must be something wrong with a person whose idea of  FUN is to kill something.   It’s an acceptable concept in the human world, so why not for animals?  Is it because they don’t speak a language we  understand?  It’s really all that separates us.  If your dog (or cat, or bird, or guinea pig, or rabbit) could ask you where you were going when you put him in the car to dump him at the shelter, if he could scream your name, if he could beg you not to leave him and sob loudly as you hand his leash over to someone and make your way out the door, could you still do it?  Would you?  Because I’m sure all of the feelings are there inside the animals.  Every day, scientists discover more and more that animals are capable of feeling emotion.  Anyone who has ever loved a pet knew that a long time ago.  To the rest I can only say, we know at the very least that animals feel fear.  It’s one of their greatest defenses for survival.  So if there is one emotion, doesn’t it follow that there must be other emotions – perhaps even a full range of emotion?
So why am I here?  Why have I started this blog?  Because I believe that one of the reasons why I am here on this earth (maybe the only one) is to speak for the animals, and to be one of the many who helps to make many others more aware, and more animal conscious.  (Self appointed, yes, but emanating from within.)  Every petition hurts.  Every call to action hurts.  It hurt when I went to Albany to lobby for Bills to end certain animal abuses.  It hurt when I was adopting my dog and at least three more were dropped off while I was signing the papers to bring him home.  It hurts every time I see another homeless cat wandering the streets, trying to survive the cold winters and the lack of food, water and love.  It hurts every time my dog still reacts with terror when he enters a room lined with tiles and stainless steel, just like the shelter was (and more than two years later).  To quote the character John Coffey in the movie, “The Green Mile”:  “There’s too much of it — it’s like pieces of glass in my head,all the time.”  Even so, I can’t be one of those people who closes their eyes and covers their ears whenever the ASPCA commercials come on.  It hurts me just as much as it hurts the next person, but closing my eyes and allowing myself to remain ignorant just means more animals will suffer.  So which is easier to live with; Watching the heartbreaking commercials or knowing that if I don’t, if I don’t keep it fresh in my mind’s eye, more animals will suffer?  It’s the watching that creates the motivation to then create a change, because IT IS so horrific and unbearable!  I (we) have to watch the commercials because otherwise the animals will just keep having to go through it, and alone!
And finally, admittedly, I am here in this blog because I can be somewhat of a zealot on this topic.  My hope is that perhaps a blog will allow me to channel the passion more constructively.  At least in a blog you can shut me down if you want to.  Not always the case in real life.  If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for listening.
“Some people talk to animals.  Not many listen though.  That’s the problem.”  (A.A.Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh)