All three of my cats think they're human. Maybe it's because we've had them since they were itty-bitty kittens found clinging to life in a drain pipe. Maybe it's because we've spoiled them absolutely rotten. Maybe it's because they're cats and they simply think they own the place anyway. Regardless, all three of my cats (Piper, Zoey and Lucy) see no issue with climbing into bed with us, attempting to sit next to us on a dining room chair as we eat as a family, or plant themselves firmly on the couch with us as we watch TV.
Obviously I love my little furbabies. I'm a die-hard animal lover who has fostered more than 70 of them since moving to Jersey in 2007. I've spent sleepless nights nursing them back from the brink of death, I've cried over heartbreaking medical prognoses, and I even carried Zoey around in a sling - directly next to me or sitting on my work desk - for more than a month as her legs healed from a terrible accident.
That all being said, I still do not place these three cuddle-balls into the same arena as Vincent or Myla. I love my cats - to the point of stupid - but I don't place human dignity on their shoulders.
Should a fire break out and I'm forced to save Vince or Lucy, I'm going to save Vince. When someone asks me how many children I have, I don't list Vince, Myla and then my three cats.
Yet the Pope's recent message to married couples about having children (and not pets) apparently ruffled more than a few feathers. Even in the comments of the linked article, people who supposedly "loved" the Pope turned their nose up in disgust at this particular message.
Given the amount of couples opting for pets vs. children these days, it's no surprise some would walk away from his remarks feeling called out.
Now, before I continue, no one (I repeat - NO ONE) is calling out infertile couples, couples struggling with serious chromosomal issues, or even couples who are truly not called to be parents (and I do believe there is a very small population of people who are simply not meant to be parents).
The pope is, however, calling out folks who are seeking to continue a life of self-centered irresponsibility.
Adults don't make children; children make adults. This is so incredibly true. After all, nothing says "responsibility" like taking on the care of someone wholly dependent on you for everything (every moment, of every day).
This sort of responsibility shapes a person and forces him/her to see the world from another's perspective. It demands sacrifice. It demands COMPLETE sacrifice.
In our culture, this level of self-sacrifice is avoided like the Plague. Having a baby will ruin weekend plans for, like... ever, right? And who wants to deal with sleepless nights, potty training and vomit in your hair?
I know you guys have seen me write about this a billion times, so I'm going to try really hard not to beat the dead horse, but I'm just so incredibly sick of children being seen as roadblocks to happiness.
They're not. They are happiness and love personified (in the truest sense of the word).
No amount of pet-responsibility comes close to that which a human child presents. I should know. I've had more than my share of pets, and not one (not even Zoey) compares to a child. That being said, not one of the 70+ animals that have come through my doors have helped me to grow as a person the way that Vincent has. Not one has given me fulfillment in the way that Vincent has. Not one animal has given me joy, happiness and love in the way that Vincent has. And not one has deepened my relationship with God in the way that Vincent has.
So no - for all those folks out there who want to run around claiming Fido is your child, just stop. The only people who think its cute are those who, themselves, are terrified of taking on responsibility for future generations.
As you can see, I talk to my cats (I'll have full-on conversations with them), I love my cats, and I consider them "furbabies" because they have me wrapped around their adorable little paws, but again... they're no substitute for children. Yet so many couples use them as the "next step" in their marriage... as if keeping a goldfish alive is somehow proving grounds for their ability (and desire) to parent.
It's just... ay.
It's incredible to me that society has created this sort of mindset regarding children. I really am baffled by it.
I know not all people are as desirous of children as I am, but to substitute pets as a realistic replacement???
The pope is right on this. Married couples who want to solidify their sacramental marriage would do best to allow their love to create a tangible symbol of that love - truly personified - that not only grows and changes with them through the years, but HELPS them grow, change and love more deeply than they ever thought possible.
After all, that's what marriage is all about. White dresses, cake, toasts and favors are temporary. Creating a person (and with that person, a soul) is forever. That child will FOREVER be a lasting testament to your love. Forever.
Fido, Sparky or Chuckles will never be able to claim that.
Before we'd left for the Bahamas, I'd convinced John to go horseback riding with me. It's been something on my bucket list since I was a little girl, and riding on the gorgeous beaches of Nassau is the best way to do it.
He agreed and I booked us the excursion. Surprisingly, this ended up being one of John's favorite parts of our trip. Definitely mine, too!
Anyway, we ended up getting a private ride. The other two riders who were supposed to come with us ended up turning back. We had the guide to ourselves, and since we were riding int he early morning, we had the beaches to ourselves, too. It was amazing!
I hopped on and rode around like a pro. The trainer asked if I had any riding experience. I said that I had not, and he clucked his tongue in approval. He said I should look into getting a horse "at home" to practice my posture on since I shouldn't let equestrian talent go to waste.
Maybe he says that to all the ladies. I don't know. I beamed with pride regardless, because I feel like I've imagined myself doing it for so long, it really WAS natural to me getting into that saddle!
The guide gave us a few brief instructions and we were on our way. I was last in line, so most of my photos look like this:
The trail to get to the beach was beautiful. We took this narrow, worn path through blooming foliage. There were berries and fruits you could pick right off the trees and bushes. Our guide would point things out while John's horse, Buggs, stopped to chomp on some grass.
As we made our way through the trail, we trotted across a miltary complex where Bahemian marines were training. We saw them running down the street with their gear on their backs. I was surprised to see that! I just barely snagged this photo as we made our way across the complex.
When we rounded the corner and began to see beach, I was almost sad to leave the trail through the forest because it was so nice. John voiced the same thing, but we were still excited to ride along the waves.
We passed by fishermen as they prepared their lobster cages for the day. They all waved and greeted us as we passed. Again, all of the people we came across in Nassau were incredibly gracious and welcoming - even the busy fishermen who took a moment to stop and wave to us as we trotted by.
All the while, our wonderful guide, Wayne, entertained us with stories of previous riders he took out. Since his was the only ranch in the Bahamas, they got a lot of traffic from celebrities who vacationed there. It was fun to hear some of the stories he shared!
Soon, though, we were at the beach. The weather was PERFECT and we had a clear view of a few tiny islands dotting the horizon. It was magnificent.
Wayne was nice enough to steal my camera and take a few shots for John and I which was great.
I took my chance, here, to scoot off for a bit and "test drive" Sunny, my horse, without the guide. While he was busy taking shots of John, I trotted Sunny away from the group. I then led her back and actually had her completely encircle John and Buggs. Wayne laughed and told John, "Yeah, you see? You're lady's got control over her horse. She's a real rider!"
Again, I beamed with pride! I felt comfortable and confident in the saddle. They obviously trained these horses really well, but I was still proud of myself for controlling her when I could feel her trying to go off her own way.
Finally, we had to go back. Again, I was in the back. I still had one more thing I wanted to do since it was unlikely I'd ever get the chance again. I wanted to run her. At least get a small gallop going.
So since I was in the back, I sort of pulled back the reigns to slow her down. I allowed a fairly good stretch of distance to pile up between John and myself. John was directly behind the guide, so Wayne didn't realize I was falling back that way. John was so focused on Wayne's story that he didn't notice, either. When I felt like I'd given myself a good distance, I gave Sunny a quick "Giddy-up" heel and boom - we took off galloping towards the boys.
It. Was. AWESOME.
My butt hurt like a sonofagun, but it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. :)
Wayne just looked back to make sure I was there, and I was. No one noticed a thing. Well, maybe John did, but he didn't rat me out. It was so much fun!
We finally rode our way back to the stables. We took the same trail back and hit the streets for the rest of the way.
It was such an unforgettable experience. I highly recommend this place for anyone planning a trip to Nassau. The stables are called "Happy Trails Stables" and is run by a wonderful woman named Sue. Wayne is her adopted son (REALLY!). They have such a sweet relationship. A man named Duke also works there and is phenomenal with the horses. They just know so much and really love their animals. It's great.
So to top off the trip, we tipped Wayne and asked him to take a photo with us. Here was our last impression of this wonderful, incredible experience:
Meet Itty and Bitty, an adorable pair of furbabies who need to find a new home ASAP. Their momma was an unfortunate victim of the economy and got laid off. Luckily, she was blessed with a new job, but that new job takes her over an hour away and forces her into a situation in which she must choose between working or keeping the kitties.
Her new living arrangements will not allow for animals of any sort. Try not to judge her for being unable to find a place that accepts cats. Her new arrangements could very well include working on an ocean liner for 6 - 8 months at a time!
Anyway, she's unable to take them with her, but she's doing everything she can to ensure they find a good, loving home together. I was tasked with helping her reach those ends. Help me help these beautiful babies find a forever home.
Some background info on these little ones (from Momma):
Bitty: She loves to cuddle. She is my lap cat. She loves laying in the sun, playing with her toys, and cuddling with her sister. She waits at the door for when I come home. She loves to purr. Shewill make you laugh when she runs and does her tricks. She's very friendly with people and not shy.
Itty: She is a little sweetheart. She loves to watch people and will also wait for you at the door. She is more laid back and will lounge all day. She loves to cuddle with Bitty. She arches her back and people think she is going to attack them but it's her way of saying she wants to be pet. She would never hurt a fly! She loves water for some reason. She's got the most precious face and will rub up against you to show affection. She loves to get kisses and if you make a clicking noise she will roll over on her back and want you to scratch her belly.
They are both fixed and up-to-date on their shots. They are not declawed (because Momma understands how horrible that practice is - so potential adopters much be aware of this as I don't adopt out to folks who declaw).
They do come free with the following items:
A special litter box
A carrier (they both go in the same one)
Their favorite blanket
A copy of their vet records
If you have any questions / comments, feel free to contact me. In the meantime, please share this via e-mail or the Twitter / FB buttons below. Getting this out to as many people as possible is the best way to find the family that's been hoping for a pair like this!
In light of the last "But What About," a friend asked:
Why DID God constantly demand animal sacrifices in the OT? He's always asking for burnt offerings around the clock. That never sat well with me. It doesn't make sense. I don't see God wanting me to go out back and kill a bunch of His creatures. Why did He demand it back then?
What a great question!!! It has a logical answer, as well, I promise.
For one, let me start by saying that God loves His Creation. He loves the creepy crawly spider, the gross and slimy eel, and yes, He even loves the sheep, goats and bulls that He demanded Israel hand over day after day, night after night.
Why, then, would He wish them to be slaughtered in such droves in a seemingly barbaric fashion? You don't thoughtlessly slaughter cute, cuddly creatures simply to make yummy-smelling smoke that somehow glorifies God, right?
Right. Sort of.
You see, God never demanded animal slaughter from the Israelites as a people until they got sucked into the social constructs of Egypt. While they were slaving away under Pharoah for 400 years, they picked up some nasty habits from their overlords - chief among them the worship of cattle as gods.
God, having made a covenant with the Israelites that He would be their God and they would be His people, didn't take too kindly to His family suddenly forgetting about Him in lieu of thoughtless beasts. Thus, in order to remind them that these animals were not, in fact, worthy of adoration, God demanded that the Jews prove their loyalty (not to Him, but to themselves) by burning the objects of their idolatry.
Did God WANT to hurt the cattle? Of course not. Did He want to see them slaughtered and burned? No. However, God understood that in order for His wayward family to make a clean break with the unholy practices of the Egyptians, they'd need to rebel against the ingrained customs that had caused them to turn from His Love.
Basically, God was asking a drug addict to flush his stash down the toilet to prove he was really through with meth.
And at first, the Israelites said, "Sure, God, we'll totally do this! No problem!"
They offered the requested sacrifices (which were, unsurprisingly, the same animals most revered by the Egyptians) amidst joy and celebration. Why? Because God had just rescued them from Pharoah. In their joy and feelings of euphoria, they probably thought they could do anything God requested of them at that point.
Unfortunately, their break from Egyptian tradition was short-lived.
While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments from God, the restless Israelites decided they wanted to throw a party. With 400 years of Egyptian partying under their belts, they knew they couldn't have a proper party without erecting a ginormous golden statue of Apis (yes, that's an Egyptian god). So what did these Israelites do? They collected as much gold as they could and crafted it into a big old idol.
And to make matters worse, the Israelites attempted to cover up their sin of idolatry by proclaiming that the Calf of Apis was really just a representation of the God of Israel. Any and all resemblance of this idol to the idol they just swore never to worship again was PURELY coincidental.
And just like you don't buy that, God didn't, either.
So in order to ensure they broke up with idolatry for good, He commanded them to burn (day AND night) the objects of their folly. This sacrifice was not to promote animal cruelty, but to remind the Israelites that animal worship was a rupture to their covenant with God.
And none of the animal was wasted through sacrifice. After the Levites offered the sacrifice in accordance with the Law (which is the slaughter of these animals in as painless a way as possible), the carcass was distributed back for the purpose of utilizing it practically (meat for food, hide for clothing / tents, etc).
So yes, animal sacrifice was demanded by God in the Old Testament. However, it wasn't demanded because God enjoys inflicting pain upon animals. It was demanded because God needed to correct the erroneous idolatry of His children.
Little Auggie is doing much better! After his course of antibiotics and eye drops, he's a perfectly normal, lovable kitten!!!
At nine weeks old, he's making up for lost time by pouncing on toys, climbing and jumping on the various kitty trees we have, and stretching himself out for copious belly rubs. Both eyes have completely cleared and he's able to see perfectly fine! He didn't even need the white blood cell infusion the vet was sure about!
Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your prayers for this little guy. I have no doubt his speedy recovery is courtesy of all those who sent their messages of warm fuzzies his way. I've read all the e-mails and Facebook commentary, and all of your messages warmed my heart. Thank you so much!!!
Now comes the hard part. We need to find Auggie his forever home. After living in filth and suffering starvation, dehydration, debilitating sickness, and malicious intent from some of our factory workers (grumble, grumble, grumble), Auggie deserves a long, full life filled with love and affection.
So if you or anyone you know may be interested in adopting this little furbaby, please contact me. He will be fully up to date on all shots, and he will be fixed by the end of next week. He is litter box trained, super affectionate, and gets along with Vincent (my son) splendidly.
I honestly think he knows we gave him a second shot at life, and he's the most grateful kitty ever. He will shower you with such love and cuddly softness that you will melt with joy each time you snuggle with him.
Again, thanks for your continued prayers. Instead of his health, let's pray for his forever family now. Blessings to you all!
Oh - and a new video I took last night as he romped around chasing my hand as it crept under his blanket. Enjoy. :)
Apparently God's got an incredibly messed up sense of humor. I found this in my mail:
Apparently spending a few days last week being humiliated repeatedly for naught wasn't enough. Thus, another round I can offer up for whatever expiation I need accomplished.
That's how I'm looking at it, anyway. I've always asked Him to make sure I accomplish my Purgatory on Earth so I can greet Him right away upon death. Things like this just let me know my prayer was heard. Ha ha!
In brighter news, Auggie's still making incredible progress! Here's the newest comparison pictures. The day-by-day is fabulous!
He's still lethargic for much of the day, but his energy level is definitely improving. He is finally eating and drinking on his own (I've had to hold his can or plate under his mouth because he couldn't stand long enough to eat properly). He's also using the litter box like a pro. Best news of all is that he's beginning to act like a normal kitten! He swatted for my camera cord a few times while I snapped his photo today, and he narrowly escaped diving off the edge of my desk (I caught him as he tumbled over the side).
That's right, Auggie! I'm glad to see him with the strength to play. :)
Again, thanks to everyone for the notes and messages of love and prayers for him. They've done wonders in helping him heal. Thank you!!!
Ajax after his first bath around 2pm yesterday. You can see his right eye is oozing with puss. His left eye is completely swollen shut. Even removing the crusted puss didn't help. He's super boney and very lethargic.
Here's Ajax this morning (after 4 rounds of drops and 3 rounds of oral antibiotics). He's much more alert, his eyes are able to focus, and though he's still super skinny, he's gonna get fat soon enough with all the yumminess at his disposal.
With all the rescues I've nursed back to health, it never ceases to amaze me how much progress can be made in so short a time (with such minimal effort!!!). It's a wonderful reminder that God doesn't ask us for huge, amazing feats of faith. He asks us for little things, because it's the little things that count.
The guy who contacted John about the kitten made the decision to care about a stray kitten. He didn't have to. He could've easily let nature take it's course. Instead, he called for help.
John, who really doesn't want to deal with any more fosters, made the decision to call me. He had pushed off the guy for a few days, but in the end, he made the right decision by calling me and allowing me to check the kitten out myself. Had he gone with Plan A (dropping it off at the shelter), this kitten would have been euthanized.
Then me... when I first saw Ajax, I was honestly horrified by his condition. His eye had actually bubbled over, and I thought for sure he had been born with a genetic defect which claimed it. He was infested with fleas, and I worried about bringing them home. However, the least I could do was give this kitten a proper cleaning.
Then the vet tech who gave me a pass at the clinic because of my past experience there. She didn't have to "break the rules" but she did. She understood a serious need was present, and she silently added my name to the top of the list.
Also the vet, herself. She went out of her way to ensure Ajax had fluids and food to spare. She didn't have to pack on the extras, but again... she made the decision to pay attention to the little things.
And all these little things... they add up to something incredible. Each "little action" is what helped Ajax along the road of Divine Providence. Each of us played a part in the miracle of Ajax's recovery. And though his story is not complete, at least it's taken a dramatic turn in the right direction.
So thanks to all of you, too, who have made the "small" decision to share Ajax's pictures and stories with others. I've gotten so many e-mails about him. Please keep sharing. Eventually, one of you who makes the "small" decision to share his story will share it with the family who needs him to complete their portrait.
In the end, it's all about the small things. No masterpiece was ever created with one brushstroke, no quilt with one thread, and no feat of architecture in one day. The same is true of our lives and of our faith.
Blessings, and again - thank you so much for spreading the word about Ajax. My appreciation is immeasurable.
Some of you readers are aware of this, but for those of you who aren't, I'm an animal lover.
Some claim I'm a crazy cat lady, but in all honesty, they're just the ones who find me most often. I've been known to help stray birds, stray possums, stray puppies, and yes... even a stray raccoon once (that was scary - make sure you've got long, super tough gloves, plenty of blankets, a large box, and a litany to St. Francis -ha!).
Anyway, my newest little one was delivered to my desk this afternoon. My husband called while I was at lunch and informed me that there was a badly injured, blind and deaf kitten in need of help. When I got back to work, I found this little face starting back at me:
Oh, but he was dirty! I immediately went to work scrubbing his poor little body free from fleas, ticks, and grime. His eyes had sealed shut from the overflow of puss, making it appear that he'd been born without his left eye. His nose was also caked in pus and grime.
The above picture was actually taken AFTER his bath. Now that he's dry, warm and clean, he's calmly sleeping on my desk awaiting a trip to the vet after work.
My old standby vet is no longer practicing in Jersey and the place I would take all my old rescues in Philly is no longer in service. This means I have no option but to find a new vet who is willing to take all my charity cases.
And being that this little one will make the 68th animal I've rescued, this vet would have to be pretty amazing to want to take me on.
This little guy may or may not lose his left eye. It depends on how bad the infection is. I've honestly seen worse that have healed, but I can't say for sure that this little guy will be as lucky. On the plus side, he's not deaf, and he's not blind, either. He's slightly dehydrated and extremely undernourished.
I checked his teeth and he's about 8 weeks old. I doubt he's been fully weaned (though that typically happens around the 6th week mark) because of his health condition. He wouldn't take food from me and also wouldn't have water. Hopefully he'll come around in a couple hours after he's settled in a bit.
Anyway, after I take my rescues to get checked, I foster them until they're back to full health. I also litter-box train them, get them up-to-date on all shots, make sure they're spayed / neutered, and socialize them with my own cats (and technically Vince). I want to make sure each of my fosters has the greatest chance of being adopted by a wonderful family as possible. Ensuring each kitty is house-trained, plays nicely with others, and loves children typically does the trick.
Each of my fosters also go home with a litter box, litter, and food. All of this is free to the family who adopts them as my special "Thank you for opening your hearts and home to this furbaby."
For now, I'll be calling this one Ajax. I'm hoping to give him all the strength of ten Greek heroes considering the battle he's now facing. Please offer some prayers up to St. Francis for him. He's such a sweet, gentle little thing.
If interested in adoption, let me know. I'll be sure to send out special updates regarding health and all to you. Otherwise - SHARE, SHARE, SHARE! Thanks!!!
Great Blog if you click the pic!
So I was watching a documentary the other night about a woman and her no-kill cat sanctuary. Being a bit of a "crazy cat lady" myself, I thoroughly understood much of what was revealed during the hour-long special.
I've been an avid animal lover my entire life. I must've drove my mother up the wall with the amount of animals I'd try to sneak into the house. I succeeded with a few she still doesn't know about to this day! Ha ha.
(Mom, if you end up reading this, sorry... blame Grandpop. His blood pumps through me, too, and inevitably ends up using my heartstrings as a makeshift accordian. I'm powerless, really!)
Anyway, it wasn't until I moved out and started a life with John that I kicked into "foster-mom" gear. In the last few years, John and I have fostered and found homes for more than 50 cats / kittens. Now obviously 50 isn't nearly as fantastic a number as 700, but those 50 that we saved enabled 50 others to find room at the shelters. Our work also opened the hearts of others to the plight of unwanted animals, and now several of our friends have either fostered or adopted their own furbabies. Be the change you want to see, right?
In my travels as foster-animal advocate, I've come to see a lot of heartbreaking things. My own foster-turned-adopted cat, Zoey (read her story as featured on Animal Planet) taught me an incredible amount about the overburdened shelter system, the carelessness and cruelty of humans, and the power of faith.
Knowing this, one thing from the documentary really struck me. A tiny, malnourished kitten was brought in, barely clinging to life. A team of volunteers rallied around him, bottle feeding, warming, and caressing this impossibly small, hungry and dehydrated kitten. Sadly, they were too late in their efforts and the kitten succumbed to its tryst with neglect. This situation is all too common all over the world. However, Lynea Lattanzio (the "crazy cat lady") said something I've found myself saying when faced with the crippling emotions that come from being "too late."
She said "At least this animal died surrounded by love. At least, for a few moments, he understood what it was to be cared for, to be held, to know dignity."
I was crushed, then, because I've known that feeling. I've felt my heart break over the loss (and even potential loss) of these little lives. People would always look at me cock-eyed, asking me how I got attached so quickly to these animals. Much like the kitten documented above, the volunteers had only known him a total of 15-30 minutes before his life slipped away, yet all felt that sharp pang of loss.
Lynea said something else that echoed my own voice to friends: It never gets easier. It's always painful when you lose one. In all the years I've done this, it's never not hurt.
And as I was thinking more on it, a little light went off over my head. Why DO we feel such an incredible sense of loss? Why does that pain linger? Why do we catch ourselves mourning - years later - those little lives that were lost on our watch?
I realized it was because we felt, briefly, Divinity. As I explained in a previous post, all animals have souls. Not only do they have souls, they have pure, unblemished souls that can do nothing but infinitely please their Creator.
As we hold those little furry angels, we delight in that purity. We recognize the hidden gem of God's breath that animates their beating hearts. As that life force returns to its Creator, it inevitably leaves us behind, and we sense that we lost something of infinite value. We lost something pure and innocent - a reflection of the One our souls unconsciously seek. I really do think that is why we immediately sense that connection and subsequent loss.
All life comes from God - and as such, all life returns to Him.
May those folks over at the Cat House be immensely blessed for everything they do. May all fosters, volunteers, and rescue staff be blessed. They do incredible, heart-breaking work... and they DO make a difference. Even if the world is incapable or unwilling to see it.
As promised, here's the entry I alluded to yesterday. All I can say is - thank God for Google.
Sorry again for the fuzziness, but the detail to your right is from a painting I posted yesterday by an artist known as "Master of Wilten." The painting depicts the Presentation of the young Blessed Mother.
Curiously, these two animals seem to be a secondary focus of the painting in the central foreground. This struck me as odd, so I did a cursory search thinking I'd find a quick explanation of their significance. No dice.
I located the artist of the original painting and, of course, he's anonymous, himself. He is presently known only as "Master of Wilten" and lived in the 15th century. Nothing more is known about him other than the paintings he left behind in his workshop detailing scenes from Our Lady's life. Go figure.
So back to the painting I went. At first, I thought the two animals were a dog and a lamb (especially considering the latter's elongated muzzle and white coloring). However, the tail of the supposed "lamb" extends much longer than any lamb I've seen. That tossed "lamb" out the window. So I looked up the possible symbolism of dogs at the Presentation of Our Lady. The only recurring reference was that these two animals were "Barocci's cat" and "Bassano's dog."
That didn't sit comfortably with me since neither looked like a cat. Dutifully, however, I researched both Barocci and Bassano in the hopes that I could glean what their chosen symbols represented.
Federico Barocci, it turns out, just really loved cats. No symbolism there. He'd sneak one into most of his paintings, which is why any cat cropping up in random works of art became known as "Barocci's cat." This reminds me of Trigun's cat, but hey... that's a whole different story.
Jacopo Bassano was similarly inclined towards dogs, but upon further research, I learned that dogs were associated with fidelity and contemplation. What's more, two dogs quarreling sometimes signified dueling theologians (kinda like Plato and Aristotle pointing up vs. down).
Ah ha! Another piece of the puzzle falls into place.
Just to be on the safe side, however, I tried to find out if these two artists had any sort of feud. No such luck. I also did a quick search to see if either had been tutored by the same guy. Also no luck, though I did note that, while Bassano studied under an artist by the name of Titian (who also enjoyed painting dogs), Barocci trained a pupil who had the same name as one of Bassano's sons. I couldn't locate proof that the two men were, in fact, the same person (since Giovanni's last name, Battista, was ridiculously common at the time), but it was still interesting enough for me to note.
However, since I was burning rubber through search engines quicker than the ever-balding tires of the General Lee, I shifted gears and did a Bible search for the word "dog." I wanted to find biblical references to the animal in the hopes of gaining some insight into its literary value.
Apparently dogs are mentioned in several places throughout the Bible! Go figure.
These Old Testament dogs were called "pariahs." Guess who went and googled "pariah dog" with impressive results? *Grin*
That's right! Pariah dogs look EXACTLY like the one portrayed in the above painting! This wasn't just ANY dog... this was a pariah!!! So I went and did some research on pariah dogs. It turns out pariahs were associated with evil in the Old Testament because of their savage and wild behavior.
So with half the puzzle making sense, I decided to figure out if the other dog's breed held symbolism. I started with what I thought the dog looked like - a toy poodle. I cycled through the history of how poodles came to be bred into their "teacup" sizes so wealthy Englishwomen would be able to carry them around as personal hand-warmers (I wish I were kidding). This article mentioned, however, that these pups didn't really begin to be "bred smaller" until the 1600s. That's a good 150 or so years after the puppy in question was painted. That ruled out poodles.
So I went back to the drawing board and did an image search for "toy dogs." One of the first pooches to grace my screen once again looked like the subject of my confusion - a bichon frise! Immediately, I began delving into this breed and learned they are, in fact, descendants of poodles and are valued for their natural loving temperament and keen intelligence.
Armed with this new information, I once again cycled back to the painting. The bichon is engaged with the pariah, but from their stance, the bichon clearly has the upper hand. Thus, I concluded that these two animals were symbolic of the fight between good and evil, with the "good" clearly outmatching the "bad."
I was still slightly confused as to the prominence of these bickering animals. Instead of focusing on Our Lady, everyone (even St. Anne!) seems to be paying attention to the quarreling dogs. The Blessed Mother, for her part, also is casting an eye back to them!
I admit to being puzzled, but then I realized my error. Little Mary is at the center of the painting. Though she is caught between the Temple and her people, she is ever-moving towards the Holy of Holies. She does not turn a blind eye to the struggles we on Earth endure. Instead, she acts as our mediary (Mary, Mediatrix!), always calling us to follow her lead and walk towards God. In the end, good will triumph, and Mary's entrance into the Temple... Mary's acceptance of God's Divine Proposal... Mary's perfection which already embodies God before His willing Incarnation... all of that brings to pass the promises made by God to Adam and Eve upon their expulsion from Eden. A woman would come who would, indeed, bear forth a child that would forever strike at the head of sin. Through her, all Life would spring forth, and all Life would return back into the Hands of its Creator.
Ah, the mysteries of Mary!
On the heels of this post, I thought it best to reaffirm something that might have become a little confused due to my handling of Midnight's euthanasia.
I must point out that I (as a Catholic) do not, under any circumstances, believe in the practice of human euthanasia. As a testament to my reverence for human life in all its forms (conception through natural death), I trust in Divine Providence that all stages of life (including bodily decay through age, illness, etc) are meant for a higher purpose.
Animal euthanasia, however, is an entirely different ballgame.
Mary, concerned that Midnight might be trapped inside some sort of "kitty-Purgatory" asked me why it was OK to euthanize animals but not humans, especially when it's considered "humane" to end the suffering of a terminally ill pet.
This is an extremely valid question, and one that shows logic and compassion. I've been posed this question in the past, but never really took the time to explain as I did to Mary yesterday. I'm posting an edited version of my response here in the hopes that it answers that question for others who are grappling with the same fear, worry or confusion.
The short answer to the question, "Do all dogs (or animals in general) REALLY go to Heaven?" is YES. No collecting of $200 as you pass Go, and no jail-time through Purgatory. Animals do have souls, and they do go straight to Heaven.
Now for the more involved answer...
In Judiac tradition (keeping in mind that Catholicism is the fulfillment - the full expression - of the promises made by God to the Jewish people), there are a few words to describe the life and soul of both people and animals. The same words are used in an effort to paint an increasingly detailed description of how the physical world becomes animated through the invisible (or Divine) world.
For example, in Genesis, the word "neshama" means "breath" or "wind." It translations roughly into "breath like my own" In other words, when God animated Adam and Eve, He very concretely breathed Life into them, in His own Image. This breath of life... this "neshama" is the soul... the immortal animation of our mortal bodies.
In Leviticus 17:11, the word "nefesh" is utilized in stating that "the life [nefesh] of the flesh is in the blood." As a result of the close connection between blood as life-sustaining and God's breath as a fluid, living function, Judaic tradition revered blood and soul to be inseparable. In other words, blood was the physical manifestation of the soul, which is why it wasn't considered impure until it left the body (thus no longer serving a life-sustaining purpose). It is also why blood was used in worship. Blood, being so closely united to the spirit- to the breath of God- was revered and precious.
Finally, we have "ruah" in Ecclesiastes. Much like "neshama" from Genesis, "ruah," too, means "breath of God." The beautiful sentiment found in Ecclesiastes 12:7 states that a person dies when "the dust returns to the ground where it had been and the [ruah]returns to the God who had given it."
In other words, death happens when our bodies exhale that final life-sustaining breath which returns upwards to the God who originally deigned to forge that breath in a mother's womb at conception. The physical body, now separated from the soul, decays rapidly into the dust it was created from.
To break it down:
Ruah is the invisible breath of God that animates physical bodies
Nefesh is the result of this ruah (the physical motion of the invisible animation)
Neshama, to cycle back to the story of Genesis, is specifically granted to man through Adam because this breath of God was "like unto Ours." In other words, Neshama is the unique part of God's Ruah that enlightens humanity and gives us the capability for free will.
So yes, God gave the gift of Life to all His creation, but He reserved a special, more enlightened life for Man. That is "neshama" and it is because of this "neshama" that Purgatory exists for humanity, but not for our beloved pets.
Since animals have no free will (or neshama) to utilize, they can never really "sin." Sure, they can pee on the carpet, chew your favorite boots or claw apart your newly upholstered sofa, but sin? Not so much. As a result, once their mortal life ends, their life force is returned to God, free of the stain of sin, and thus not in need of the cleansing of Purgatory.
Humans, on the other hand, who have been given the grace of Free Will, also have the responsibility of using that gift wisely. Since humanity is pretty much incapable of always utilizing Free Will to do good, Purgatory was created as a mercy to help us one day unite ourselves back to the God who first gave us life.
It is important to note, at this point, that while we are still alive, God offers us, through Divine Providence, countless opportunities to rectify the wrongs we created by misusing the gift of Free Will. This counts as a "Purgatory on Earth."
I'll be dedicating tomorrow's blog to this. Stay tuned!
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