I’ve loved animals since I was a kid. I didn’t have siblings around growing up, so I spent my spare time with the animals on our farm, domestic and wild.
My first dog Duke was a troublemaker, always up for a game of ball or chase. He’d let me poke and prod and tease, and hug him so tight he couldn’t breathe. Running around barefoot and dirty, we were fearless together.
The cows in our field would stampede to the fence line, even when a five-year old called for no reason. I’d stare into their big eyes and babble about random things. When I was brave enough to jump the fence, I’d climb trees and call from up high. They were part of my tribe. When I was old enough to understand, I’d cry when they had to go.
One time I accidentally imprinted on a gosling that followed me everywhere, thinking I was his mom. Baby geese take their Mama-bonding seriously. As he got bigger I had to draw the line at the bus stop—because he was determined to go to school. Not cool.
Catching and releasing painted turtles from our pond was the best adventure. Mom had to explain I wasn’t doing them any favours by keeping them at the house in pails of water. Dear turtles, please forgive my idea to write your name on your belly with liquid paper before I released you. Oh God.
Animals are listeners, communicators, thinkers, and feelers. They’re intuitive, instinctual, and wise in ways we can’t understand. Every goose, dog, cow, skunk, raccoon, whale, vulture, and deer has a unique personality and purpose. They are more than the sum of the herd, pack, or litter.
Every animal has a soul.
Perhaps some of these souls come to earth to work for us, or to nourish us and become food—I don’t know. I’m not here to judge. All I know is the winged and furry ones have intelligence, divinity, and a life purpose, just like you and I.
First Nations honoured the souls of the animals they hunted. We have lost that teaching, and lost heart in the process.
Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to be loved by an animal, whose been traumatized by an encounter, or had to distance themselves for other reasons (to raise, eat, or serve meat, etc), I hear you. I also feel for the millions of people in countries where there isn’t enough food to feed the children, let alone the animals.
Before I share Jaiya’s story—
I refuse to apologize for my love of animals, and for choosing the path of a fur-mama.
I’m aware of the judgment toward women who bond with animals (e.g. crazy cat lady). It’s not welcome here.
One expression of love isn’t superior to another.
Whether you teach, farm, supervise, labour, write code, manage, raise kids or animals—you are serving the world your way. I’ve dedicated almost 30 years of my life to counseling children and families and serving our beautiful humanity. Having children is not my destiny—mothering animals is.
Jai and I
Four years ago when my second marriage ended, I was gluing my life and my heart back together. It must have been crazy-glue, because I was punishing myself for falling hard, being impulsive, and for the adrenaline of the past two years. My spirit was cracked, making me want to do nothing but work and hermit.
I’d lost my sparkle and wasn’t even sure I wanted it back—it got me in trouble.
We were teaching in Costa Rica when this little blue-eyed canine trotted up and leaned in for snuggles. Over the week, my friends and I kept meeting up with her bouncy spirit, at outdoor cafes, on the beach, and around the yoga pavilion. She looked too healthy for a street dog; we all thought she had a family.
I dropped to my knees every time we met—I was a goner.
One afternoon while the rest of the house napped, my 8-year old friend Anabel and I saw Jai’s photo pop up on my media feed. It was an alert from a friend’s rescue organization, flagging us she needed a home. She’d had two failed adoptions and was back on the street.
“We know that dog! She needs a home!” Anabel and I did cartwheels on the bed. My old sparkle was awakening and it felt good.
I needed a solid second opinion before acting, so I did what any reasonable person would do—I consulted Anabel. When adopting puppies, always ask an 8-year old for advice.
After a reunion with Jai at the shelter, animal-angel Sara quickly made arrangements. Over the next weeks, Jai and I got to know each other. The vet told me she’d been hospitalized for a month from a snakebite that almost cost her a leg. He called her a “spaz,” something I’d later come to adore. I called her Jaiya, which means victory.
She was wild, silly, vocal and true—kinda like all those disowned parts of myself.
The vet confirmed she had ehrlichia, a South American tick disease (kind of like lyme) that wears these poor pups down. I tried to treat her, but the medications made her violently ill. When the meds wore off, she was back to her bouncy self, ready for Canadian citizenship.
We booked her flight, and she landed to the shock of a snowy Toronto. She tried to make a run for it at the airport—we assumed it was the snow. But I’d learn that no matter where she was, she’d try to Houdini her way out.
Nevertheless, we built a life together. She loved us up, playing, snuggling, swinging her leg open for belly rubs, and annoying her big sister Luna.
We called her Birdie because she flew all over the place.
It was a tough adjustment at first, but Jai brought freedom, flight, and joy back into my days. She needed to be loved, touched, and babied at times, which fulfilled something in me I didn’t know was missing.
She was always chasing something. Once I blinked my eyes and she’d killed a squirrel on a snowy downtown street—while on leash. Bloody nightmare for me, victory for her.
She was a runner, hunter, lover, fighter, spaz, and charmer. She was terrified of brooms, but one day she decided to trust that demon-wand. That day was a victory for us all.
Jai loved everyone. She loved being part of a family. When I was packing up to travel, her little eyes followed my every move.
“I’m not going to leave you, little birdie.”
After a two-week fight for her life, Jaiya left us on September 11th.
She died of severe kidney failure, combined with a number of other problems. In the end, all her organs were shutting down. It was painfully hard, but she gave us so many signs she was ready to transition.
I’m still grieving and some days are tough. We lost so much when she left.
But life and death situations breed miracles.
On a moment’s notice, my niece Cindy got on a plane and flew across the country to help look after Jaiya. She helped make decisions when I hadn’t slept, cleaned up dog-messes, and interpreted vet recommendations. We cried and laughed, and she did tons of energy work with Jai. In her last hours, Jai used all her strength to reach her head into Cindy’s hands and thank her for everything.
Carolyn, one of Jai’s other Mamas, helped arrange Cindy’s emergency visit and supported us through every decision. She cried and hoped and cared from afar, even though she and her kids were grieving too. Near the end, Jai’s tired little body could barely move, but when Carolyn talked to her on speakerphone, Jai swung her little leg open for one last virtual belly rub. She loved all her Mamas.
Step-in Mama Jen looked after Jai during our meditation retreat, allowing me little breaks from care giving. Getting out to teach on the ocean, and meditate on the pinnacle of Mount Maxwell kept me sane. For a few moments I forgot my bedroom was a hospital and my little girl might not make it. My retreat guests showed Jaiya so much kindness and understanding during their time on Salt Spring. I’ll never forget the beautiful experience we all shared.
Love is the Safety Net
We animal lovers are hyper-aware we’ll likely outlive our babies; we take nothing for granted. They give us the gift of not attaching to forever. So, we love them like mad while they’re here.
After I adopted Jai, a friend asked if I was getting a second, younger dog in case something happened to Luna. My answer was yes. It was hard to reveal that clutching inside, but it was true. I thought we had many more years together.
Death is the ultimate reminder that no matter who or what we love, there are no guarantees. All our carefully built safety nets are flawed, because anything can happen.
The first night we came home without Jai, the pain was unbelievable. Cindy and I cried and talked and cried more, nothing separating us except heaps of Kleenex.
In the morning I had a gnawing, dead feeling inside. I tried to push away the daylight, hoping it was a bad dream and she was still alive.
But when I opened my eyes, my first friend in the world, Cindy (who came into my life when I was one year old) was lying across from me.
She was lightly holding my arm, just like when we were little kids.
It was going to be okay.
Love had built a safety net.
Thank you for holding our story,
Gratitude: Thank you to everyone at McKenzie Vet Services in Victoria, especially Dr. Helen Rae and Kamala. Jai couldn’t have picked bigger hearts to guide her last day. Ananda and Brenda—I felt you every day. Kristi Corlett—thank you for rolling up your sleeves and journeying—I love your shamanized soul. Coryelle Kramer, animal communicator, you’re a wild treasure. Jonnelle, Wade, Merek and Comrade, Jai loved you so, her second family. Ron D’Amico, thank you for being a lighthouse in the dark. Huge love to friends and family who reached out—I know you’ve had your share of loss. I’m so glad we’re on this earth ride together. xx