Animal Magnetism

–The healing power of pets.

This is the time of year when, for so many of us, longing usurps joy. We deeply miss and long for those people and four-legged companions who have passed from our lives and wish they were here with us, once again. But that said, there is the joy of knowing they live on in our memories and in our hearts. They warm us when we are cold. They ward off the monsters in the wee hours. And they watch over us— always. In keeping with this thought, I am honored to share the following with you:

_________________________

Blizzard-like conditions slowed our progress during the long, slow ride home from the hospital, where I’d just undergone a lumpectomy to remove a malignancy in my right breast. It was February of 2016. Friday the thirteenth, if recollection serves.

Alternately freezing from the blustery winds seeping into the car and sweating from the cranked heater, my stomach roiled from the after-effects of the anesthesia, along with the tranquilizers that aided in keeping my extreme panic at bay prior to the surgery. I was drugged to the eye teeth and every fiber in my being fought against getting sick in the car.

I’d never felt so ill, or so scared, in my life. As the snow swirled around us, my husband put a comforting arm around my shoulders as he carefully navigated the car with one hand.

I was very lucky. The cancer was caught early. It hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes and, as I found out later from the oncologist who proved to be an anchor during this surreal time, I would not need chemotherapy and my daily radiation treatments were to span over four weeks, instead of the usual six. Daily, with weekends off.

But I digress. When we finally made it home, my husband helped me totter inside and carefully helped me change into a nightgown and robe. I was limp and barely aware of my surroundings. The surreal-ness of it all!

Our four cats were so happy to see us. It had been a long day for them, too, and they wanted their dinner.

I made two stops that night. To the bathroom, where I saw that my complexion had taken on a strong blue tinge due to the injections of dye to check my lymph nodes. As I peered at my cerulean face in the mirror, I had to struggle to keep from sinking to the floor.

The second stop was the recliner in front of the TV in the family room. Gently, my husband helped ease me into it and I didn’t move — except for bathroom breaks — for what seemed like days. I had to sleep there, you see, so as not to roll over onto my stitches.

As soon as I settled into that chair, two of our cats never left my side, except, like me, to eat and hit their own “potty.” The other two visited, off and on, so as to reassure me that they, too, were concerned for my well-being.

For those of you who share your lives with a cat or dog or both, you’ll know how comforting that was. Andy, Pokey, Jolie and Dooley instinctively knew that something had happened to “Mommy.” Something not so good. I’m telling you their names because… well, because I think they deserve to be “heard.” And remembered.

During the long days and nights following, Pokey and Jolie, especially, burrowed into me as if their lives depended upon our shared body heat. My husband and I had adopted them together, many years ago, and they had a special connection.

Psychology Today makes a point that, as our social networks continue to dwindle, and one-on-one interaction with our fellow humans is increasingly limited, it is, more often than not, animals who are “healing the wounds of loneliness in our society.”

Studies have shown that just gazing into your pet’s eyes can lower your blood pressure.

Cats, in fact, have a special “blink” that they use when greeting other cats, as well as with their humans, to communicate affection. My husband and I practice that slow blink with our kitties all the time, and when they blink back, it’s such a kick, and such an expression of true, unconditional love.

As a lifelong animal lover and advocate, I have always been disturbed at the propensity for people to liken the criminal and/or psychotic element amongst us to “animals.” This is common, especially in movies. And you can bet, that when you watch a “family in peril” thriller, where said family has a pet — that pet will be the first to be dispatched by whatever menace the (lazy) screenwriter dreamed up. That’s my cue to change the channel. As a screenwriter myself, I would never incorporate such a scene into my scripts.

How can anyone hurt an animal? Can someone explain this to me? Lest you are thinking, “Well, children are abused all the time,” I want to stress that I understand this and it’s abhorrent, but the focus of this story is animals.

As I am a member of the ASPCA, PETA, The North Shore Animal League, and a contributor to other animal rights efforts, every day, a new atrocity crosses my inbox and I’ve come to the point where I simply cannot look at them anymore. Animals that are tortured, abandoned, left out in the cold to starve to death. Monsters do this. Not animals. Sick twists who I could cheerfully dispatch (in a horrible fashion) and then have a hearty meal, after.

If that makes me sound crazy, so be it. But animal abuse brings out the militant in me. Years ago, there was an underground animal rights group called the Animal Liberation Front. I read about them in the Chicago Reader. The members of the ALF would risk everything to free dogs, rabbits, monkeys — anything with fur or feathers — from ghastly medical experiments and other horrors. I thought they were wonderful and wonderfully brave. I wanted to be them. Maybe, in another life.

Although I talk a lot about cats, as my husband and I have shared our lives with them for over thirty years, I love all animals: Dogs, cats, squirrels — you name it. In fact, I feed “our” squirrels. They especially love honey-roasted peanuts. I think the neighbor across the fence hates us for this. He has a bird-feeder in his yard that he never fills and is obsessive about his lawn. He walks around with a bucket and a stick, staring at the ground. God only knows what he’s looking to poke.

Pokey and Jolie. They’re gone now. As is Andy. And I miss them every day. The loss of a beloved pet, who has steadfastly showered you with pure, unadulterated love for a good part of your life, is like a knife to the heart, that never fully heals. Certainly, many of you understand this. But, continuing that legacy of love by sharing it with another deserving animal is what sustains us.

Dooley is still here. And he loves to mix it up with our other two rescues, Conor and Lorna. Which brings me to this: People, if you are considering bringing a pet into your home and heart, please visit your local shelter and adopt— don’t shop. There are so many animals in need and the returns will be greater than you ever imagined.

Our cats helped me heal. They continue to do that, every day, as I struggle with job loss, an up and down screenwriting career and well, life, in general. And, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t love them anymore if I gave birth to them. And that’s the God’s truth.

As always, thank you for reading.

Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinnhttps://medium.com/@sherrymcguinn
Sherry McGuinn is a long-time, Chicago area, advertising/marketing writer, blogger and, for the last fifteen years, screenwriter. A big-time dreamer and proud of it, Sherry has had two short films produced, one in L.A., the other in New York. Both won several awards and screened at festivals but she is still "fighting the good fight," in order to become a full-time, working screenwriter. A passionate straight-shooter who never rests on her laurels, Sherry writes about damn near everything because how do you encapsulate…life? Unflinching in her determination to “just tell the truth,” Sherry strives to educate, engage and inspire others to follow their dreams. A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Sherry resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and their three fabulous felines.

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Susan Rooks
Susan Rooks

Well, first of all, great to know that your cancer was contained, Sherry, and had not spread! I can imagine the huge relief at that awesome news!

Second, animals. Third, their abusers. Fourth, your thoughts are my thoughts. Crazy, you’re not. Or, crazy I am. Either way works.

I have had, as far as I can recall, 12 dogs so far, with the 13th coming this Friday. Since I was always highly allergic to cats and dogs, the first two dogs were purebred schnauzers because their fur is actually hair; they don’t shed so I could live with them. We bought them as most did back before the current era of adopting became so widespread.

After that? All adopted. All rescued — although as we know, they rescued us as much as we did them. At one point I had 7 small dogs — I also had a huge fenced yard and a big house, so it wasn’t as extreme as it might sound.

Now, due to my gorgeous Italian greyhound’s untimely death three weeks ago, Gibbs (my Minpin/Chihuahua mix — best guess) and I are awaiting the arrival of Duke, a rescued Chihuahua. We met him a few days ago, and Friday he’ll be here with us for good. As with your two (Pokey and Jolie), Gibbs and Abby came together. It’s easy to see how confused he is right now; I don’t think he’s ever been an only dog. He’s alone in the crate at night, and it’s obvious how much he doesn’t like that.

So, yes. Let’s remember to take care of those who need us, Sherry! I’m in your corner, for sure!

Aaron Towle
Aaron Towle

Touching story Sherry. I’ve never been much of a pet person, but I do believe they have that sixth sense about them. And a good pet’s loyalty is never wavering. My mom has always had a soft spot for her pets and sometimes it seems they share their own language. She’s always had cats and dogs and at times I think they are just little people trapped inside their pet bodies… Seems they just want to be like their human masters who show them love. I’ll try to remember this as we consider getting my son a cat for his birthday…

Mary Schaefer
Mary Schaefer

Sherry, I’m so glad to hear that incidence of cancer is behind you. I’m not surprised to hear your pets comforted you so profoundly as you navigated your recovery. I regularly take the time to look into the eyes of my old boy cat, Wallace. I don’t know what he is communicating, but on the other hand, I do. I feel nothing but pure love and affection. We hold each other’s gaze for several seconds. A few years ago after some minor surgery, while I was resting at home I woke up to find my 20-pound kitty, E, sleeping on top of my head. It was almost like he was placing himself on me like a paperweight, so I wouldn’t go anywhere. They have their ways. I wouldn’t trade the relationships I have with my pets for the world. Thank you for offering your experience and reminding us of feeling of deep connection and comfort pets can bring.

Larry Tyler
Larry Tyler

Sherry. I am glad that you have contained the cancer. Great news.. I so love love this story. Dogs and cats love us without expectations and gift us with healing and kindness. This is a very inspiring post. Strong Ink

Laura Staley
Laura Staley

I appreciate this essay very much, Sherry! I’m so grateful you’re on the other side of that cancer experience-and, importantly, how your cats supported your healing process. I love all animals with a deep passion. I even make a point to capture spiders in a glass to relocate them to the outdoors or note their presence in my home. Living on the side of a mountain I’ve encountered a mother black bear and her cub, the papa, and I’m thinking one of their cousins. Great blue herons, geese, hummingbirds, all kinds of birds, butterflies delight me beyond! And I’m blessed to have a wire-haired dachshund, Layla, and a cat, Miss Hailey. All this passion for animals reminds me of a great quote by Albert Einstein, who I admire greatly, “Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”

As someone who was abused in multiple ways as a child, teen, young adult, I promise you that my passion for animals runs deep. I learned about unconditional love from my first dog, Liesel, who graced my life (and my two children’s lives and then husband) in my forties. She’s my forever dog who did not ever leave my side until she passed in 2012. I learned that I had the ability to respond to her with unwavering kindness, patience, compassion, especially when she had two different surgeries and eye troubles. Her unrelenting love & affection taught me to show this towards myself and other people-some from a distance as I hold much forgiveness and compassion in my heart towards the struggling/perfectly imperfect human beings we all are.

And I still am challenged to understand fully the cruelty towards animals and humans even as we’ve invented laptops, Fax machines, rocket ships to the moon. I know some of this has to do with perpetuated, ancestral cycles of unresolved traumas, the fight/flight/freeze in overdrive, and some people’s inability or unwillingness to heal, to break free. We have much to learn about the brain, nervous system, healing, self-discovery, vulnerability, shame, courage, resilience, and transformations of human beings.

May we find our way to healing the mental and emotional illnesses that create tortured human souls. May we continue to learn from nature, from animals that connection and belonging are really why we are here. We cannot exist without one another in the expanded circle of life.

Thank you so much for this wonderful essay, your passion, for your courage/resilience in your healing, and your willingness to speak your truth so eloquently.

Laura Mikolaitis
Laura Mikolaitis

Sherry, thank you for sharing a part of your story with us. As a dog mom, I understand the warmth, compassion, and comfort that comes from pets. Currently, I am a mom to a Golden Retriever, Henley, who is nine. Before that, we had two other canine children, Banshee and Brewster. All of them have filled our hearts and our home with unconditional love and laughter.

They have a keen sense when it comes to their humans, that is for sure. I remember about six years ago at Christmastime, and my mom was ill. We were there visiting for Christmas, and of course, had Henley with us. He knew something was up because he went into her room and he laid down on the floor next to her – and wouldn’t leave. She had some challenging health issues, and that Christmas would be her last. She passed away the following month. And when we went home for her funeral, Henley sat in her room. They know.

He’s our sweet boy for sure, and he knows when something is amiss with either or both of us. But one look at his soulful eyes and cuddling those velvety soft ears makes any day better.

Like you, I am horrified at some of what I see and hear about animal abuse. You are not crazy. I am right there with you. Thanks for sharing this story, Sherry. Here’s to our fur babies and all the love they bring into our lives!

Maureen Y. Nowicki
Maureen Y. Nowicki

Sherry, I have thought about you often and wondered how you were doing. So grateful for the update and grateful for you and this touching story. You amaze me at your involvement and advocacy for animals. I am with you, they are the most non-judgemental and therapeutic living creatures around. I send you and your loved ones furry and not my kindest wishes over the holidays and your writing is a joy to my heart. Hugs, Sherry!

Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.

I love this piece, Sherry, and your timing is spooky. One of my fur babies was just diagnosed with feline diabetes and has been very sick. He spent a few nights at the vet who was trying to get his sugar levels to even out. I have to say, I think I was more upset about him being in a strange place than he was. He’s back home now, but the experience reminded me of how much these guys comfort us.

There is a lot of research on the physical and emotional benefits of animals. Studies show that playing (or even just petting) a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax. Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets and heart attack patients who own pets recover faster and survive longer than those without.

I’m so glad you are on the winning end of the cancer battle! Thank you for sharing your story!

Sarah Elkins
Sarah Elkins

Our fur babies are pretty amazing when it comes to their sense of our health and well-being, Sherry. Thank you for sharing your story of love and resilience, I’m so glad the cancer was caught earlier, and just as glad you had the support from your husband and furry family members you needed.

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