Attention helps us Thrive

This is an excerpt from my new book Climb that Fence, take that Leap which is a compilation of animal stories and the life insights I observed. I wrote it to encourage people to make positive changes and bring more awareness to the animals. Available on Amazon, I hope you enjoy the stories and I’d love to hear yours, so feel free to drop me a line.

Things Come Alive with Attention:
Ever since I took Keiko (my cat) to the park that day and let her out every evening, she was wired. Every morning she was under foot, walking around the kitchen and living room. I’d be upstairs getting dressed and here would come this spindly, almost wobbly cat blasting up the stairs.

At times, it was really annoying to hear the constant meowing, so I’d pick her up. “What is your problem?” I’d ask. I thought she might be in pain. As soon as I picked her up, all I heard was the familiar sound of contentment: purring.

What had changed with her? I had not given her any different medicine, and she had become skinnier by the day. But something was obviously different.

Let’s see, she went from just hanging around the house and receiving whatever “leftover” attention I had to being the first to receive attention. She received my attention first and foremost, and we spent quality time together.

Even if I had other things I “should have” been doing, I took time to make sure she went outside and had fun. The more time I spent with her, the more alive she became.

Just like a plant that requires water regularly, we all need regular, meaningful attention—validation that we are loved, that someone cares, that we make a difference. Without that knowing, we become lethargic and lost, and we lose hope.

When we think that no one cares, it often shows. It is easy to put on a tough exterior and give the appearance that we don’t care, but deep down it can be pretty lonely on our own.

The basic need to be loved is universal among people and animals. Pets fill that need and do it unconditionally. No matter the day, our relationship, or our status, our pets love us anyway. That’s why we enjoy them so much and why they’re often used in therapy. There’s something soothing about petting a happy fur ball.

Stop and think right now: Where can you show some attention that would make a difference? Where have you taken someone/a pet for granted? Write a thank you note, make a phone call, bring home dinner, turn off the TV, etc. Take a few minutes out of your day and give some love.

Just a few minutes is all it takes. You’ll be surprised how alive someone will feel. Guess what, so will you!!!

5 hours to live

My beloved cat was terminally ill and I knew that soon I’d have to make the decision to free her from her disease before the pain set in.  I didn’t want to think about that and really wasn’t looking forward to having to actually do it.

It would be much easier if I came home and she had passed over while asleep on the patio. Lying in the warm sun, with the birds singing, in the comfort of home; sounds peaceful doesn’t it? That’s how I’d like to go when it’s my time.

Well, of course it didn’t work that way. She kept getting skinnier and skinnier but remained active and very much alive. The body was giving up but the spirit was still strong.

I didn’t want her to suffer so I regularly asked her to “tell me” when it’s time.  As the days wore on, I began to have this feeling it was time to prepare.  She was ready, but I wasn’t. You see for the last 18 years of life’s ups and downs, there was one constant; her.  If she didn’t greet me at the door, I’d find her sitting on the bed like a queen waiting to be served. Some days she’d just sit on my lap and show some love.

Now it was my turn to return the favor. All she needed was some peace and love. Saturday came and I noticed she wasn’t eating as much, a definite sign that the end is near. Sunday she’d walked over to the water dish and just stared at it. You could almost hear her sigh “I’m done” as she looked into the bowl. The cancer was in her jaw so eating and drinking was very difficult.

Monday I decided it was time to make that fateful call to the vet. I swung by the office to schedule a time, but I began crying instantly and couldn’t do it.  The staff fully understood and said to call when I was ready. I came home and watched Keiko walk in circles. No matter what food I gave her, even tuna fish, she just looked at it wearily. Ice cubes in the water was a favorite treat, but even that didn’t motivate her. I could tell she was done.

So I made the call; 8:30 the next morning I’d take her in and face this. I felt relieved; okay one more night. My analytical mind kicked in and I realized that I’d be asleep at night and she’d be thirsty, hungry, and unhappy that much longer. So at 11:30am, I called the vet and got a 5:30pm appointment.

As soon as I hung up the phone, Keiko settled down and went to sleep. No more circling the water bowl, trying to eat, or aimless wandering. She just relaxed. It’s as if she knew her suffering would be over.

I looked at the clock, 12pm. Okay Keiko we have 5 ½ hours left, what will we do? I took her down to the boardwalk where she walked around near the river. After some exploring, she stretched out in a sunny spot and just closed her eyes. I sat there with her and enjoyed the peaceful, warm space. There were a million things we could’ve been doing, but this was just perfect.

Sometime later, I set out to take her to the beach and realized the trip would consume several hours. I looked at her and her at me and we both decided that being in the car running around wasn’t what we wanted.

I turned around and took her to a park that was close to home and right on the intercoastal. I wrapped her in a towel and walked her around the pier. The gentle breeze kept us cool, as we watched pelicans and osprey dot the clear blue sky, sailboats glide by, and the blue green waves lap the pier. Since it was Monday, we mostly had the place to ourselves. Another perfect setting.

I looked down at my watch 3pm. 2.5 hours left.  Every minute is one that we’ll never get back. Literally, this was it.  Keiko would not be around after tonight! Every time I looked at a clock or my watch, it was heart wrenching.

She was sleeping peacefully and it was evident the spry explorer had run out of steam for good. We went home for the final hours and just enjoyed being peaceful and together. It’d been a very long time since I cried that much.

My watch showed 4pm.  Oh no!!! Only an hour or so left!! The panic begin to set in. Did we do everything? Is there anything I left out?  The time slipped away like the sun slipped down the western sky. It was too late now to change anything. I could just be here.

The appointment came and she went very peacefully among friends and gallons of tears. I was glad she was free of that cancer and it felt good to have been there right to the end.

As I reflect, often tearfully, I remember how that day was very different. When there is only 5 hours to live, you focus only on what is important.  You learn to live each day to the fullest and remember what really matters. Because when the call comes and you have only 5 hours left, it’s too late.