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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Animal Magnetism?

I love animals. To those who know me, this is an unnecessary statement. But I am going to tell you something most of them do not know. I used to be afraid of dogs. When I was a little girl in Chicago, we didn't have any pets. We could barely put enough food on the table to feed the family, so there would never have been enough to feed a pet. I don't remember anyone we knew having pets, either. Since I wasn't exposed to dogs, I was truly frightened of them. We fear what we don't know or understand, right?

When I moved to the Denver area at almost eight years of age, I met my first canine friend, my Aunt A's collie mix, Sam. Sam was a very sweet dog, and a good first dog-friend. One of my worst memories is also a tender one. Sam was tied up in the back yard (A, as I have mentioned, had several cats) at a time when A got very angry with me. As I was being whipped with a switch from one of the trees in the yard, Sam could see and hear my fear and pain. He barked and strained at his leash, trying to get in and rescue this child in distress. At a moment when I felt unloved and unsafe, I knew that Sam wanted to defend me, even if it meant attacking his own mistress.

When I lived with Gram, we had a parade of dogs through our lives, most of whom were "rescued" (dog-napped?) by A. Even though I often resented the fact that there were so many of them, I recognized that they all had their own distinctive personalities. I could tell numerous stories about them, but those are for another day. After Gram was gone and I was out on my own, and then with Trent, I noticed something interesting. It seems that critters just know that I love them and will not hurt them. Cats will crawl all over me and even walk back and forth under my hand if I don't start petting them fast enough.

And the dogs! I like to joke that the reason dogs love me is that they know I am almost as smart as they are. There was a dog at our last apartment complex who didn't like anyone but his mommy and her roommate. When I saw them one day as I was walking to the mailbox, his mommy told me his name and that he hated everybody. So what happens? The dog came over to visit with me and chose me as his new best friend. If I went outside and J saw me before the dog did, she would say, "Hey! Katrina's here!" The dog would start making huffing-puffing sounds and run to find me. Go figure. Before this time, our next-door neighbor had gotten an adorable English Bull puppy. The very first time I saw him, he threw himself down on his back in the grass so that I could rub his tummy. And every time after that, he did the same thing. One day, his daddy said to me, "This is pretty amazing. He never does that for anyone else, not even me!" Hey, I didn't do anything special.

We have a friend who had several Jack Russell terriers and a lovely brown mare living at her home in a rural area. On a lovely summery afternoon, we had gone to her place for a get-together along with a mutual friend. We were eating outdoors on the back patio, and enjoying each other's company. After a while, I heard some movement behind me. The mare had come up to the porch rail and started to nibble on my hair. After a few minutes, her head was on my shoulder. It wasn't long before she was laying her head on my chest and lap and soaking up all of the attention I was willing to give. Diana, her owner, said, "I have never seen her do anything like this before. She's never even done that to me!" Trent wasn't really surprised, though. When we were dating we had gone on a mountain drive with another couple. On our way up the hill, we had to stop the car to let some mountain goats finish crossing the road. While some had fun pushing the rear bumper of the car, some others came over to the side of the car where I had my arm resting on the open window. A few of them came close enough that before I knew it, I had mountain goats licking my hand. Trent likes to lovingly call me Mother Nature.

When my sister and I went on a trip to South Dakota, we went to Custer National Park and saw Mount Rushmore. On the way out of the park, we saw a sign for a wolf rescue and education operation. Of course I had to go there! Liz and I were the only people there at that moment, which was pretty cool. One of the wolf experts let herself into an enclosure with tall chain-link fencing walls. She told us that wolves, unlike dogs, do not care if they please humans or not. They do not do tricks. They don't get completely tame, but they will tolerate humans that feed them and raised them from pups. There were two wolves in the enclosure, a male and female sibling, who were eighteen months old, which is almost full adulthood. As wolves do, they were pacing around the enclosure (a very large one, incidentally) and keeping an eye on her, as well as my sister and me. Suddenly the wolf expert pointed to me and said, "Come over here." She pointed to the entrance to the wolf run, which was like a fence gate at the end of a short entryway. I did as I was asked. "You're okay," she said. "Come closer and put your hand out." When I put my hand up to the gap between the gate and the fence, both wolves sniffed my hand, and then licked it. I can't begin to describe my thoughts and emotions at this brief but beautiful moment. These two wild creatures had chosen to show me their trust and give me a greeting. All I can say is that I was so thrilled that my brain short-circuited for a few minutes!

I am not trying to say that I am anyone special, or that I deserve the title of Mother Nature that my husband has bestowed upon me, but I often wonder, "Why me?" Why, when I was in Europe with three other women, did the dogs (who did not understand any English) politely greet all three of them and try to kiss me? Why was our friend's cockatiel so in love with me that he would sit on my shoulder and threaten to bite Trent if he tried to touch me? I will never know. I hope it is just that these amazing creatures can feel my love for them, and that they give it back to me in return. Or maybe it is animal magnetism? Hahaha!