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Since we lost our cat Bella two weeks ago, the house seems empty. The irony is, we still have three cats. They are elderly, quiet, less active than they used to be. They are also the last three of a “pride” that once numbered eleven. Going from 11 to three is a dramatic decline. We feel like empty nesters.

Two feelings have arisen in me simultaneously: A desire to adopt more cats plus an equal desire to never adopt again. It is difficult for me to not want to help every stray and needy animal that’s out there. On the other hand, every time we lose one, it hurts dreadfully. I don’t want to hurt again, even though I know I will as three becomes two becomes one becomes zero. Each of our adoptees filled a special space in my heart. They taught me about patience, nurturing, joy and love. As they leave the earth, they take that piece of me with them.

I’ve had to analyze why it is I want to reopen what’s left of my heart to another animal. I think it’s because it’s easier to love animals than to love people. Cats appreciate the smallest luxuries, especially after a life on the streets: a warm bed, plentiful food, a clean box. But people? They’re complicated. Jealous. They come with baggage. It’s harder to please them. It’s harder to show them love. There’s no guarantee that they’ll purr in response to your efforts.

I clearly have a lot of love to give or I wouldn’t have adopted so many animals in my lifetime. What makes it so difficult to transfer that loving from animals to people? Maybe it’s because I understand cats. I can communicate with them. People, not so much, even though we do share a species, language and culture. You’d think it would be the other way round.

And it brings up the following question: Why can’t we accept the simplest acts of love from one another? Why do we look into every gesture, every word, for subtext, motive, hidden agendas? Probably because we’ve been hurt by those things before. If we could give and receive love as easily and freely as animals do, we’d probably be a lot better off. If all it took to restore someone’s good mood was a scratch behind the ears, I’d be doing a lot more scratching. And those good moods would be creating a mountain of good will.

So don’t be put off if some lonely looking woman comes up to you and offers you a sardine or rub under the chin. It’s just me, looking for connections in a simpler, stranger language. Take it as a compliment. Or hand me a kitten. Either way, I’m good.

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Suddenly in the middle of the kitchen, there was a speedbump. I hadn’t put it there, mind you; it was in the shape of a perfectly life-like feline, sitting serenely as I prepared my coffee. It was my cat, looking at me, waiting for some scrap of sustenance in a dog-eat-dog world!

I hadn’t expected KitKat to be there, and was really startled.

“Oh!” I said. KitKat’s mouth formed an “O” as well.

My eyes got wide. KitKat’s eyes opened to maximum capacity. Like two big moon pies.

I pulled my head back in reflex. KitKat’s ears went all flat. Like Napoleon’s hat.

Then it occurred to me. He was reacting to my energy.

“Oh, it’s only you,” I said, nodding reassuringly, and went back to preparing my coffee. KitKat went back to his normal, Trying to Give a Heck facial setting, and moseyed over to his bowl to scout the offerings. Later, he’d stretch across the couch by the window, scoping out upstart squirrels and tracking the flight patterns of rogue birds. You know, his day job.

So much of life is about energy, isn’t it?

Last month, I tried to put a bell on KitKat so I wouldn’t be surprised by his sudden cameo appearances, but the ringing drove him crazy. Not just his ears, but his whole energy flattened. He ran around the house low to the ground, tail tucked, trying to escape the infernal noise.

You can see – and feel – energy interactions everywhere you go.

Once at a drug store, the pharmacist had apparently gotten into a heated argument with a customer. My son and I were joking around as we walked down the aisle, into this moment of friction. The customer turned his head abruptly and glared, thinking that we were laughing at him. He realized that we were just talking to each other and turned back to shoot daggers with his eyes at the pharmacist.

Energy is also malleable. At times, even fluid.

Last week, I got a package in the mail. KitKat sat nearby, on his default setting: bored/nothing-to-see-here-keep-it-moving. I tossed the box aside and in a flash, KitKat had climbed in and curled up contentedly, forming a furry ball. This is the life! his energy said, as he settled in, purring, for a nice afternoon nap. To some, it might seem like a standard-issue box. But if you read the energy meter right, you’ll see it’s really a cat-condo filled with creature comforts. Not bad for a former street-cat!

2015-02-09 16.02.32My formerly-stray cat has gotten a lot more comfortable being a member of our household, but no matter how many times I say to KitKat, “Fetch the ball!” he’s just going to look at me, both bemused and bored.

It’s like his face is saying, I’m not a dog. Cats don’t “do” fetch

We sit. We stretch. We curl. We mew. We groom.  We purr.

But no. We do not. Fetch.

No matter how many times you tell a cat to be a dog, he’s still going to be your furry feline friend.

KitKat does things his own way – for example, he doesn’t like to be picked up, and since I have neuropathy in my hands and tend to drop him, have only tried a few times. It…um… didn’t go well. I’m glad that shining moment wasn’t posted on YouTube!

And, no matter how many times you say to my hands, “Feel things! Don’t be numb anymore!” Yeah, I’m still going to drop the kitty.

So many things affect the way you receive the world.

As someone with MS, I can tell you, it affects the way I process information (slowly, and often not for long), the way sensory input is absorbed (if there’s too much going on, I can’t take any of it in), and the way I interact with others (if I’m really feeling the pain that day, I’m much more subdued.)

There are also the odd physical sensations that can be frustrating. Once, it felt as if I had a piece of tape stuck to the bottom of my foot (I didn’t.). Yesterday, it felt as if there was a rock in my shoe (there wasn’t).

You can say, “Don’t feel that way! There’s not a rock in your shoe. It’s all mind over matter!” But still, this is how I feel.

So imagine how other conditions might affect the way a person receives the world. Asperger’s, social anxiety, depression, etc. Or even someone with an introverted personality. There doesn’t have to be an official label for someone to be dealing with things you might not understand.

No matter how many times you tell a person, “Don’t be affected by this stress! Just grit your teeth and power through!” It doesn’t help them. “Be like everybody else,” is what you’re really saying. But the fact of the matter is, these are individuals, created by God to be exactly who they are.

So even if you can’t see it on the surface, rest assured, everybody’s dealing with something. If you assume they deserve compassion for what they’re going through, it might give someone hope during a hard time. A little comfort and encouragement can go a long way. And it doesn’t cost a thing.

Now, do you think KitKat might want to go out and catch a Frisbie? 🙂

Our cat, Lula Mae, is dying. Always small, she is down to a mere four pounds. Cancer is ravaging her from the inside out. You’d never know it from her attitude, though, which is just as sassy and upbeat as always. She will not let her recent exploratory surgery keep her from her usual leaping, bounding and urgent forays into every room in the house.

The prospect of losing her feels like a knife to the gut. You might as well take the sunshine away, because gray days loom ahead. And while many folks talk about “the rainbow bridge” (a heavenly waiting place for pets), many others (particularly in the Catholic Church) do not believe animals have souls or that they will be anything, post-mortem, but fodder for worms. This cannot be.

A heaven without animals would not be paradise. A heaven without animals would lack an ineffable hominess — it would be less cuddly. It would be less warm. It would be a lesser place than Earth, and that is antithetical to the entire notion of heaven as a place of ultimate happiness.

Some would say that animals are not necessary in heaven. After all, we will be consumed by the vision of God. To this I say: God made animals for a reason. God obviously saw some need for them, some goodness in them. Heck, if you believe the book of Genesis, God made them before God made us. That says something. Even if we don’t need animals in heaven, God does. Sure, we humans would like to think we’re God’s favorites. But who are we to say? It takes an awful lot of love to make something as ugly as a warthog or as weird as a platypus. But God did both.

Moreover, God made people to love animals. Sure, not all of us are dog people or cat people or even panda bear people. But most of us love some type of animal, often to distraction. There is nothing extraneous about love. Love is always intimately concerned with, and a part of, God. And so are the animals we love.

I won’t be able to make it through the following weeks without keeping foremost in mind that I will see Lula Mae again — and Elsa, Bianca, Kali, Princess, Frances, Dusty, Mandy, Frosty, Snoony, Boots, Ashley, Micky and every other animal I’ve had the privilege to know and love. After all, Earth will be empty enough without her. God would never allow heaven to suffer the same fate.

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