Our Dream-Keeper Allies
What animals bring our lives, transcends even the differences between artists and people who have never considered themselves artists. There’s an emotional, familial, and psychic experience waiting to be had with animals that perhaps is the very bridge between all humans in all walks and works of life. Our family rescued so many animals when I was little, there were always dogs and cats and puppies and kittens in the house, that I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be born amidst so many furry and feathered beings.
I have gratitude for the early impressions on me of the baby squirrels we rescued, and the hawk with the broken wing that we found in our backyard and nursed long enough for the wildlife department to come pick it up for proper rehabilitation. So many furry and feathered creatures have been part of my life, that it’s strange to reflect back and see how many years until I articulated their effect upon me, especially as an artist. It makes so much sense now how that walk through the park, or through the woods, hearing the intensity of birds singing talking and carrying about, cracks open something with our creativity that was once believed to be blocked.
I always felt a kinship with the animals in my life, they each felt like a presence very much like humans feel like a presence.
A recent dearest Animal Friend I got to share some amazing years with was Poppy, this little Black Labrador mix that the landlady had rescued, years before I was to be a tenant. Poppy was originally a street dog who wandered the sun bleached streets of a desolate Texas town with her best friend, a little red Chihuahua, every day in search of food thrown away in trash cans, empty cartons, and random trash piles. Big fat maggotty catfish heads were her favorite, back in her street-days, as the story goes. One summer, a decade earlier, the landlady had first seen this pair in action.
One of the games they would play, those two little dogs, was Tip the Trash, where both would take turns barreling into choice trashcans, apparently chosen because of their wonderful stench, until the stash tipped over and offered up its bounty. For hours while hanging out with her family, the landlady would sit and watch these two little homeless dogs run around the desolate town all day long, and she wanted and decided to give them a better life.
She thought the time was perfect to lure them in, when Poppy and the Red Chihuahua were drinking out of a neighbors’ bird feeder, taking a break from the midday romp through Texas trashcans and alleys. But when she tried to call them over, both Poppy and the Red Chihuahua scrammed away faster than anyone could run. She would repeat this, every day while getting closer to her departure, offering little bits of food and treats, but Poppy and the Red Chihuahua were too sly, too slick, too keen to her plan to let some human take them away from their hometown. Their lives continued to be hard but free, in that long unforgiving Texas summer.
The day she was leaving town, eerily and without her friend, Poppy was alone and wandered up to the landlady and her van, and, instead of scurrying away, jumped in, almost as if she planned it all along. The landlady drove around looking and looking for Poppy’s little friend, because they needed rescuing too, and all day she asked neighbors and looked behind restaurant and Taqueria alleys for a little long lapdog, but The Red Chihuahua was nowhere in sight. That day Poppy left her hometown and moved to the land of Enchantment.
Over the years Poppy visited me almost every day in the studio or in the kitchen, hanging out while I painted, scratching at the door early in the morning for walks and snacks, and nuzzling alongside the chair while I read a book, played guitar or sketched. Some morning she just came in and gave a big fat grin, as if to set my gears in motion for having an absolutely splendid day, without saying a word, just smiling. At times she would stare and just stick her tongue out at me if I was in a somber mood, snapping me out of it almost immediately.
Poppy was so incredibly smart, she would track my movement through the outside of the house where I would peek into a window to see if she had eaten a treat I left for her, all while still sitting on the kitchen floor looking at the plate of food I had just set down near her paws. She would not in the slightest way give an indication of begging, no, she was far too dignified for that. She would stare near you, not at you, if you were cooking or preparing food, and especially, if you were eating.
She would even let you know that she preferred salt on her hamburger by gently laying the morsel down on the plate again for you to add some salt, or simply substitute it with bacon, (her preference). Even though her childhood was questionably tough, the love that her rescuer gave rebounded a thousand fold, as I was not the only human that she visited and who’s days she brightened almost every single morning of her life.
Another amazing bond between human and animal I got to see, is Odin and his human. His human found Odin one night while walking home down an alley behind the University. A strange sound was heard coming from a dumpster, and when his rescuer got closer to find out what the sound was, he heard the tiny whimperings of a puppy. After sifting delicately and digging past the disgraced clothes, boxes, stale beer cans, and countless mounds of trash, he found and lifted gently out of the dumpster, this beautiful little white pink and grey Pitbull puppy. Someone had not only abandoned him, but truly, threw him and his gentle little life, away.
The night we met I was at Dunkin’ Donuts organizing some drawings, and I looked over to the the table next to me and saw a man feeding a lemon raspberry ice-cream cone to this lovely little pup, and then noticed he himself had a full cone as well! “That’s one lucky puppy!” I exclaimed, and he replied, “Not luckier than me!” He told me that Odin had brought so much joy into his life, that they come out on a weekly basis for an icecream, just to celebrate.
I didn’t know who Carl Jung was, or what Aboriginal or Native people were when I was little, ironically, even though I share a bloodline with the Native People of South America. But the truth of connectedness between animals and humans, the immediacy in which that bond is felt, sometimes even telepathically or pre-cognitively, is indisputable.
There have been instances in my life where insects have appeared at my feet while on a walk, or right in front of me while opening doors, or birds flying into art studios, at times that dovetailed with the precise symbolism to which those animals have been attributed, in many lore and legacies.
Once while cleaning a new studio, a hummingbird flew in and exhausted itself trying to find a way out through the topmost window of the loft. Once its frail body spent the last of its energy, I mixed honey and warm water and held it to the little creature, so delicate that I almost feared my heartbeat through my fingers and thumb would injure it. A minute later, like a ferocious little Italian racing engine, the hummingbird sprang to life in my hand. Almost as if teleporting, it buzzed several feet high in an instant, paused almost if to say thanks!, and flew off over the setting sun’s tree line. That studio helped me create hundreds of very sweet artworks afterward, and the memory of that little creature and its energy lives on every morning that I awake to the symphony of morning birds.
The way animals respond in such the pure moment without a sense of lingering resentment or future worry, is a quality of friendship that I feel incredibly grateful to have been given by them all my life.
I wouldn’t know the term “Animal Rescuer” until later in adulthood, and when I heard it at first, I didn’t realize that my mom and sister had been animal rescuers, and that I had been, too. I was unfamiliar with how vast the system of veterinary clinics are, how many different kind of pet food there are, and how many networks of dedicated fosters exist of people taking-in and caring for dogs cats and other creatures who otherwise would be ‘put to sleep,’ ‘euthanized,’ or more plainly said, killed.
My gratitude goes out to all the friends who have shared with me their relationships with their Animals. Friends with Salamanders, with Iguanas, with Ferrets, with Rats, Mice, Tarantulas, and so many other breeds and lineages of dream-allies. Like the totem poles of Native Americans and the Animal Spirits of every culture in the world, the realm of human emotion to be experienced with our kindred allies while on Planet Earth is truly magnificent! So much heartfelt thanks every day to the people who are offering their homes to new animals so their lives will be spared from death at the City Animal Shelter, so their lives move a little closer to the forever homes they're destined for.
In the face of every new animal that appears in my life, I get to revisit the memories of all the ones in my past who have made my days so much happier than they otherwise would have been. Awesome is seeing all the people at the dog park with their foster and forever-friends, awesome is knowing that right now, there are people here, in this world, loving and being loved, and creating every day a little more light and happiness in a world that deserves it.