My four year old grandson is slowly discovering the world of dogs. Living in Mexico for his first three years he was very much afraid of them, but here in the UK where animal lovers abound he’s been learning that dogs are not naturally vicious. He’ll even dare to pet the big ones now (after checking with their owners).
I loved animals as a child and always had a special link with them, especially dogs and horses. It is a great wonder to me, these relationships, often closer and more loyal than human bonds, giving love and affection to some who might otherwise lack. Our special companions on this planet – they have much to teach us!
It was the early 50’s. London was slowly recovering from the war, but like many other mums mine needed to work. If there were nurseries and childcare centers we didn’t seem to know of them. Instead my mother made hundreds of gathered swimsuits at home on her Singer sewing machine. My nursemaid? Not a movie ploy. It was a fluffy mongrel called Dusty, loosely resembling an old English sheep dog.
He would watch over me wherever I went, ready to lick my bumps and scratches or run barking for my mum if he felt I was in danger. Later were added a cat and a rabbit ( see “How a rabbit saved my life”). We all played and got on well together. In fact I was so well integrated into my animal society of friends that as a small child I still remember my dismay on hearing that I would grow up to be a woman not a horse as I’d hoped. (Sounds crazy but true).
I seemed to have an affinity with animals, even the most standoffish would come for an ear rub or tummy tickle. As I grew older and went to school my interests varied, I made new human friends,but my liking for animal company has never changed. Though I cannot have pets where I live my visits to my daughter’s houses never fail to find their dogs noses perminantly positioned on my lap, a process of mutual enjoyment.
“Love, love, love!” As the song goes, well it would be nice if we could all be in love (and that can sure lift depression pretty fast!) but since that is rarely in our control it’s humble cousin affection is a lot more easily available.
Here in the land of the “stiff upper lip” etc. we tend to be less affectionate than our southern European cousins. Perhaps that’s why we are such avid animal lovers. If no one human is on hand when you need that affection boost pets are always happy to stand in and stroking and petting a dog or cat is hugely therapeutic!
Again science has produced studies on the mood enhancing benefits of hugs and affection. I had my own unique experience many years ago while working as a teacher and counselor in a summer camp for teenagers. I was under intense pressure at the time due to a personnel shortage, when a sweet lady, new to the post, came to ask if I could switch roles and stand in for a difficult class as someone had come down sick. She was startled to see my facade (which I could already barely hold together) crack. (As I recall I mumbled something about “feeling more like jumping off the balcony”. lol!)
She looked totally confused (being a complete newbie to counseling etc.) In desperation she just grabbed me into an enormous bear hug and just held me mumbling some platitude that it would “be alright”. The platitude did nothing but somehow that long, long, hug (must have been about 10 minutes) did the trick. When the coordinator got time to ask with a concerned face what was wrong I was able to answer with a sunny smile that it was all fine now (He gave me a much needed day off anyway.)
I learned from that incident and found when “talking someone through something” it helped enormously to lightly touch their arm or shoulder. Since then I’ve tried hard to overcome my post war British upbringing and be more affectionate. I’m happy my children and grand children all grew up that way. I’m concerned that there are so many laws and regulations about teachers and policemen etc. not touching people. I know it’s supposedly to avoid sexual harassment, but we all know what crosses the line and sometimes kids or folks going through trauma could benefit greatly from a simple arm around the shoulder to show we care. I think we should all dish out lots and lots of affection it might help mental health!
A superb collection of Norwegian cats from “Nature the Best Creator” (Via my friend’s face book page). I’ve never seen anything quite so fluffy!
The Burmese doctor looked hesitant. They all knew, despite medication, she was slowly slipping away.
“She sees the spirit world and wants to go.” He whispered. “You need to rekindle her interest in this world somehow.” He glanced at the mother for reassurance. This was not something he usually told his English patients, but she understood. They looked down at the pale five year old, her lungs ravaged by double pneumonia, breathing barely audible as she slipped peacefully back into sleep.
“We could hospitalize her…” the doctor ventured. They knew it wouldn’t help any more than the medicine had.
“No!” the father exclaimed fiercely, “she stays here with us…”
The voices sounded distant to childlike ears, like the whisper of a dream. Around her the light glowed as she drew closer to the music that called her, soothing and peaceful. She felt at home here in this place. She was drifting home…
Angry tears welled up in the father’s eyes. He’d waited so long for this child, lost four already in pregnancies that ended in despair. He would not give up. He would fight.
He remembered her joy on her birthday when they’d bought her a kitten, a fluffy ball of ginger delight and her sadness when it died a few weeks later. An idea formed in his head. He’d get another cat, a pretty one, surely that would rouse her.
Cycling home from work he stopped off at the pet shop, not a cat of any description to be found…
She was aware of someone coming into the room, her dad’s jolly chuckle. Half opening her eyes she looked in amazement at the thick leather bag he carried. The purple and brown triangles were wriggling. Eyes popped wide in curiosity.
“What is it daddy?” the little voice piped with sudden interest.
“It’s a monkey,” Dad said.
It wasn’t a monkey, (dad was always a tease). Opening the bag onto the bed he let loose its occupant, a small, frightened, black and white rabbit. Running in circles about the bedding it flung one leg in the air, spraying the room with its jubilant freedom.
The little mouth puckered and laughed. A laugh echoed with tears by both parents.
“I don’t care about the mess, that rabbit stays.” Mother said stubbornly.
Stay it did for a whole blissful week as child and rabbit became friends. Laughter rang often through the room and more pillows were fetched so she could sit up and watch it. She even ate again sharing carrots with the rabbit.
Father was busy every night after work on his special project, a home for Bibi as he was now called.
One day father sat on the bed watching the child, eyes now clearer, sitting unsupported, rabbit in arms.
“He needs to move out to the shed,” he explained. “It’s too much work for your mother with all this mess he makes. I made him a nice hutch. When you’re well enough I’ll carry you down and you can go see him.”
Recovery went fast after that and soon she was rewarded. Carrot in hand, dressed in her dressing gown and smothered with a blanket, she went to look over her friend’s domain. All was perfect, a “bedroom” he could snuggle away in, a meshed area she could see him through and lots of fresh straw. Snuggling in her father’s arms she thrust the carrot through the mesh delighted as sharp, white teeth munched away.
Soon they were playing together in the garden, the old dog who’d played nursemaid in her infancy strangely accepting Bibi’s coming, as if also thankful for the service the little rabbit had performed. Later a cat was added again, the three often to be found snuggled together enjoying the sun.
And the child? She lived of course.
How do I know this is true? The child was me.