Trust … A Fragile and Beautiful Thing

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I have been blessed with many four-legged furry children in my life time, but the current brood are a special bunch. They’ve seen me through the best of times, and the worst of times, and generally continue to do their job keeping me grounded.

Bear, of course, takes up a significant portion of my life being my equine therapist. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, horses are wonderful for teaching us to be in the moment. When I am with him my worldly cares tend to melt away so I can simply “be” with him. All he wants is that I should be fully present when we’re together. On some level I am his therapist too — it’s my responsibility to earn his trust so that he can relax in my presence and release the prey animal within knowing I’ll be there for him.

This leads me to a personal little story about trust which features a couple of my other critters.

Horse people tend to collect dogs and cats as well. In my brood are two beautiful Rough Collies — Sass and Abbey (mother and daughter respectively) — and a black cat called Princess (so named because she came home the weekend of Princess Diana’s funeral.) My other old and amazing cat, Oskar (a white and ginger tom) succumbed to old age and cancer last summer after being ill for several months.

In his prime, Oskar was a big 16 lb boy with a huge, in-your-face character. He commanded the room with his presence and was the “alpha” among our four critters, reinforcing his status with the dogs with the occasional swat on the long snout.

When company came Oskar was inevitably the centre of attention. In the garden he helped me pull weeds and dig holes. He tended to Princess as if she were a princess, washing her ears and face every day and then cuddling and wrestling with her as the mood dictated. He would howl from the far reaches of the house when he couldn’t find me and then park himself on my lap once I’d sat down. He detested my futile attempts at learning the harmonica, batting at the instrument with an impatient paw until I put it down. He was afraid of nothing. He ruled the roost. And he loved Abbey.

Abbey is a tremendous source of joy. Her effervescent personality can be a bit over the top sometimes, but she has a wonderful spirit and is extremely mothering. She mothers her mother, she mothers her toys and she mothered Oskar.

When Abbey first came home almost four years ago as a 10-week-old pup I was a little concerned about how old Oskar would accept her. I needn’t have worried … he took to her immediately. They took to each other. It was incredible to watch them interact. On some crazy level them seemed to be soul mates. It was such a pleasure to witness their relationship develop.

So, when Oskar became ill last year it was not surprising when Abbey took on the role of nurse. She could not be dissuaded. With a litter of pups to her credit she had proven her worth as a mother and had, in some mysterious force of nature, opted to transfer her strong mothering tendencies to her dear friend. Sometimes her attentiveness was so obsessive I’d have to shoo her away just to give the old boy some space.

As it became evident that Oskar’s days among us were numbered, I let Abbey have a little freer rein, and he, in his weakened state, simply lapped it up.

One warm day last July we finally had to make the decision to let Oskar go. The tumour on his neck was growing daily; he was continuing to lose weight and his roaring purr that I loved so much and had once meant contentment had changed, it seemed, becoming more of a distraction from his pain.

So, on a Friday afternoon before taking that final trip to the vet’s, I carried my old boy out to the sunny porch and laid him gently on the cushioned wicker sofa where we could enjoy a final communion together under the warmth of the sun. His purr grew to a roar. He looked at me distantly with sad eyes as if he knew his time had come, and I just sat there with him, in that moment, enjoying his treasured company one last time.

Within moments Abbey had found us and began to tend to him as only she knew how. She licked and cleaned and nuzzled him in the tenderest of mothering ways that brought me close to tears. Her energy was a bit frantic sensing, I can imagine, that our Oskar was not long for this world. And yet he abandoned himself to her, completely trusting her ministrations. It was one of the most beautiful moments with my animals I’ve ever had the good fortune to witness.

Later at the veterinary hospital, Oskar died quietly and painlessly in my arms.

For her part, Abbey was disoriented for a few days, looking for her old buddy and wondering why she couldn’t find him. Since then she has made a habit of curling up in Oskar’s small cat bed. Every time I see her there I think of the beautiful, trusting relationship they shared.

Trust between cat and dog; trust between human and horse; trust between humans, for that matter — a fragile and beautiful thing to be cultivated, honoured and nurtured.

Nurture what you love …

“Horse Mom”