As you can see from the various activities included in my website — pet sitting, animal communication, and consulting for pet care businesses — animals and almost everything about them, are central to my life. Making it possible for pets to enjoy the best possible quality of life when their people are away is what gets me up in the morning.
From earliest childhood I’ve had a deep affinity for animals and nature. I grew up in a small western Washington town and counted dogs and cats, barn mice, frogs, and even insects as my friends. I left Washington as a young adult to live in other states and countries but returned to the Pacific Northwest after twenty years.
During those years I searched for my life’s work, but it was not until the disappearance of my dog, Copper, that I caught a glimpse of it. Each day as I swept through local animal shelters looking for Copper, I saw the hopeful eyes of so many animals yearning for a home. The memory of those homeless pets continued to haunt me even after a homeless man who had been keeping Copper returned him a few months later.
In the meantime my family had grown: I had added a cat and a rare breed of dog called a Kuvasz. I soon discovered this breed was showing up in shelters with increasing frequency, so it wasn’t long before I volunteered to represent the Kuvasz breed with Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue. I spent the next 20 years rescuing Kuvasz dogs and the other livestock guarding breeds. Recently I hung up my my rescue hat to make room for other ways to help animals.
In 1998, I discovered a latent artistic talent. I began painting portraits of pets for friends and family. Through referrals, my portrait business grew. With each portrait I would find myself connecting with the animal’s energy, even though I was working only from photos. That communication resulted in wonderful portrayals of people’s pets. As time went on, I began donating animal portraits and gift certificates for portraits to non-profit fund-raisers. Although arthritis in a few fingers eventually put that talent on the shelf, many people still enjoy the portraits of their beloved animals. The mind/spirit connection I made with the animals while drawing them led me in a profound new direction — animal communication.
I had been curious about telepathic communication for a long time, but was skeptical. After the experiences I had with animals while doing their portraits, my sense of a real possibility of communicating with them grew. I finally took a class from a renowned international communicator, Jeri Ryan, Ph.d., with the Assisi International Animal Institute, in San Francisco. The training was life-changing. To get a lot of practice quickly, I offered my services free for the first six months to anyone involved with animal rescue. It was a win-win. I helped many animals and their mentors while building my skill as a communicator. Over the next ten years I made many animal friends, laughed with them, cried with them, admired and counseled them. Helping animals and their guardians through problems, prepare for changes, and just express their love for each other has been a privilege and a gift.
My own animals have brought me great fascination and joy. Facing the end of their lives has never been easy, but the memories of each one continue to expand my heart. My lost and then found Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Copper, and feisty gray cat, Pewter, became arch rivals. Of course the cat dominated, as usually happens between the species. But on Copper’s last day, Pewter held out the olive branch. She gently approached her nemesis and stretched up to stroke his side with the top of her head to say goodbye. He returned the nudge. It was the most poignant moment I’ve experienced between animals.
Kutya, the Kuvasz who led me into dog rescue, became my “heart dog”, the one with whom I was connected at the soul. I think most pet owners experience this kind of bond with at least one pet in their lifetime. Kutya died of bone cancer when she was only seven. I was bereft. Some people need to ease their grief by giving a home to another pet right away. Other people need time to heal first. I was the latter. So for awhile I had only cats in my life. The absence of dogs gave me a chance to learn for the first time how really interesting and unique cats are.
I had taken in a feral cat as a companion for Pewter during Kutya’s last year, so the cats consoled me, and taming the new orange tabby was a helpful distraction. Rico, the new boy, took his time adapting to domestic life, but gradually the wild edges softened as I sat on the porch morning and night drawing a food dish closer and closer. I gave him a name and made up a song with his name in it that I sang while he ate. He continued all his life to come running when I sang it to him. Eventually one tentative touch led to another, and six years later, Rico was sleeping with me. Meanwhile, Pewter developed pancreatic cancer and, as cats will do, hid her illness until almost the very end. For a short time, Rico was an “only child” and he clearly liked being king of the castle. Through numerous pets who came and went over the next few years, Rico never relinquished that position throughout his 13 years. He too developed cancer and left us for the great unknown in 2013.
He mentored my pretty, honey-colored mutt, Scooty, who came to us morbidly obese at 11 years old. By this time I had committed to adopting only senior pets. I found them calm, adaptable, usually well-behaved, and appreciative of getting another chance at love after losing an owner to a nursing home, death, or abandonment. Scooty enjoyed her new regimen of steamed Brussels sprout treats as she trimmed down from 68 to 43 pounds over a couple of years. We had four lovely years together before cancer took her too.
A mischievous, 10 year old beagle-pug mix named Ernie joined us a year after Scooty began her weight-loss program.
One friend claimed Ernie must have been my husband in a past life, he had so many ways of annoying me. But you know how it is, the one who gets into the most mischief is the one you just can’t resist. He was a colorful little character who has a huge place in my heart. Life sometimes seems a little dull without his shenanigans.
When Scooty passed, another senior joined the pack. Shakti Paw Love Monkey was a 14 year old 9 pound Poodle when his owner died. He and Ernie ignored each other, but Rico, the feline unifier, made sure they all remained a pack. Shakti’s mobility was limited, and at the end of Ernie’s life his was too, so they took their fresh air in a stroller. As we walked around the neighborhood people people driving by assumed I had a baby in the stroller only to do a double take and mouth, “she has dogs in the stroller!”
Ernie had no sooner crossed the Rainbow Bridge than another senior needed a family to call his own. His human had died suddenly, and soon 9 year old, 95 pound Gus, a Kuvasz mix, joined the petite Poodle and cat. Rico puffed up his 14 pounds in an authoritative greeting on Gus’s arrival, and Gus remained his obedient servant ever after.
For a time Gus had our home to himself, but he missed having a cat in his life. After a few months, I found him a new companion. I searched for a senior black cat, knowing they have the greatest difficulty being adopted. Eight year old, green-eyed Noche filled the bill. Like Scooty years before, Noche had spent a little too much time at the all-you-can-eat buffet, so she has been on a new regimen to help slim down.
The more involved I became with animals through rescue, painting, animal communication and my own companions, the more I was drawn to work with them. In 2001, I began to offer pet sitting visits, boarding, and overnight care for other peoples’ pets, breathing life into Animals Reign Pet Sitting. By 2004 I retired from my 25 year career as an environmental planner in Bermuda and Seattle and became a full time owner of a pet sitting business. I have never regretted that decision.
Spending my days with animals is my idea of heaven on earth. Sure, a lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into running a licensed business, and the animals leave gifts to clean up, emergencies to handle, scratches and nips, and an occasional chewed-up pair of shoes, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love the seniors and special needs ones, the troubled ones, the shy ones, and the amiable ones equally. Mostly they are dogs and cats, occasionally a flock of chickens, a school of fish, a rabbit, a guinea pig or a white rat. The only creatures I’ve met so far that I won’t care for are snakes. I just can’t get past feeding one live animal to another.
With all these animals crossing my path, it was inevitable that I would now and then confront a sliced paw, a torn toe-nail, an accidental poisoning, a seizure or an allergic reaction. I began to realize the importance of being prepared for medical emergencies. Since teaching is the best way of learning, I became certified as an instructor of pet first aid and CPR. I taught these classes for eight years and now require all of my pet sitters to be trained.
Many of my students over the years reported saving lives with the techniques they learned, and I too handled a couple of life-threatening incidents. While perhaps not as compelling at the heart level as animal communication or direct pet care, teaching survival techniques for animals was probably one of the most important services I’ve offered. Although I no longer teach pet first aid and CPR, I strongly urge all pet owners and caretakers to learn these vital skills.
Through each of these pursuits my life is has been enriched beyond measure, and I have been able to express my belief in the value and wisdom of all living creatures.