This Reflection Has Gone to the Dogs… and Cats… and Birds!
Part II: Wheaton Franciscan Cats and Birds
We continue our journey into lessons learned by Wheaton Franciscans living intimately with God’s creatures.
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Sister Pat Norton has lived with many animal companions: “Since moving to Wheaton in 1972, I have had the privilege to share life with 6 animals–4 dogs and 2 cats. While living with Sister Rosie I told her one day that I was sure that having a dog would improve my spiritual life. How could she argue with that? So, we got a golden retriever puppy, Fripp. Fripp used to find branches to carry while we walked–the bigger the better. I met dozens of people who said that made their day. It brought me so much delight too. A year or so later, we decided that Fripp needed a companion and so our community grew when we added a little bichon, we named Rocky. Several years and many moves passed and Fripp and Rocky died within a few months of each other. Then came Sweet William (Will for short) and Sam. I lost both of them during Covid. I was so grateful to have had them in my life. I was certain that was the end of sharing my life with 4-legged companions.
Then last year I moved to a small condo and I adopted two kittens from a nearby shelter: Maisie and Oliver now share my life. Living with cats is so different from sharing life with dogs. There’s a lot of truth in saying that the cats live here and they allow me to live with them so I can feed them and keep them happy! So back to my original reason for wanting a pet to share my home–to improve my inner life. These beautiful creatures have indeed deepened my life; they’ve brought so much joy to life. Their simplest ways spark gratitude–noticing something in our walks that I would have missed without them pointing it out. Just being outside, breathing in the fresh air raises my spirit. My current companions, young cats, are curious, independent and grounded. I learn from them daily–not to mention joy in life! Animals can sense when you need comfort and will snuggle in close. Every single one of my pets has enjoyed a sunny spot to nap and enjoy life. I thank God not only for the beloved animals but for the sunshine and the life we had and have together. It’s the small everyday joys that make me grateful for God’s Presence.”
Covenant Companion Vickie Wojciechowski shared a story about an unexpected encounter between two pets: “From the beginning of our marriage, my husband Paul and I had pets in our home. It was a way of life for our children to grow up with a variety of pets. Our children are married now with families and pets of their own. And so, we have not only become grandparents but we have also been blessed with ‘grandimals’ too. Throughout our many years with pets, our last were three sister kittens we found on our doorstep 22 years ago and welcomed into our home. With great joy we also dog-sit for our grandimals every now and again. The dogs would always run to find the cats the minute they entered the house. Upon discovery, they’d bark until the cats would hiss and then the dogs would run so scared that their paws couldn’t catch up with them! Quite the sight to behold: Watching a Great Dane and a Labrador running from such little creatures.
Two of our beloved cats passed on more than a year ago and Blondie became the only pet in our home. She was the fluffiest of the three and was so beautiful with the softest fur you can imagine. When family and friends came to visit, they would search her out to hold her. It was clear that she loved being held and petted as much as they loved caressing her. Last year 21-year-old Blondie was preparing to die. On this particular weekend it happened that we were dog-sitting for Roxie, the Great Dane, and Junior, the Labrador. We had provided a resting place where Blondie would be most comfortable at this most fragile time. Very quickly the dogs realized that something was different. While Junior paced back and forth keeping watch at a distance, Roxie kept close to Blondie who quietly welcomed this closeness. Roxie, with her head as big as our beloved cat’s body, was as near as could be to Blondie and he kept close to her throughout the day. Blondie seemingly understood and invited the gentle expression of care. We were in awe of this amazing experience, discovering the innate intimacy of animals caring for one another in their most vulnerable moments. When evening came, Blondie breathed her last breath. Although it was a very sad time for us to say goodbye, the memory of the tenderness and love expressed by Roxie to our much-loved Blondie will stay with us forever.
Sister Theresa Langfield has had a long-term relationship with a winged companion: “Juniper, my 21-year-old cherished cockatiel friend, joined Sister Maggie and me when he was about 6 weeks old. A friendly, playful and gentle little buddy, he has been close to Sister Maggie, Sister Pauline and me and has become a constant reminder of the Divine in the present moment. We trained him (talking, singing, relating to others, coming when called…) and he trained us to respond to his wants, needs and preferences! He is very tame and likes to welcome visitors to our home. He is our little ‘Chamber of Commerce.’ He likes to ‘groom’ my hair and enjoyed ‘grooming’ a friend’s beard! Juniper insists on being out of his cage when I am home. We echo each other’s various whistles and he cuddles while I massage around his neck. The vet tells me that, at over 80 in people years, he is a few years past his life expectancy but doing well. Like me, he is slowing down a bit but hanging in there.”
Sister Fran Glowinski relates the blessings of sharing her life with 2 cockatiels: “Come cuddle! There you go…Very good, very good.” “For the most part those were the only phrases my first cockatiel companion, Smokey Little Grey Cloud, used to communicate. (Just once he said, ‘Smokey, NO!’ after walking across my breakfast oatmeal.) Though capable of a much larger vocabulary, that’s all he said. This handsome, opinionated, quirky native of Australia and I enjoyed each other’s company for more than 14 years. I had the delight of hand- raising him. As best I could tell, Smokey had no clue that he was a bird. He followed me around the house saying ‘Come cuddle’ until I offered him a finger to mount on his way to my shoulder. He was sure that anyone who came into my home wanted him on his or her shoulder and would be so pleased to remove an earring or two for you. When a friend would leave the room, he would say, ‘There you go.’ His usual comment to almost anything anyone would say to him was, ‘very good, very good.’ He loved to be petted but not with your hand…. only with plastic lids from yogurt containers! As I said, quirky. He loved to create little tunes that he would sing to me, to the bird in the mirror and to neighborhood birds. Mostly his tunes were just a bit off-key…as are my own. But he sang with gusto, to my great delight. When he died in August of 2009, I gave no thought to another bird.
However, in early June, 2019, through an incredible series of events, my friends Tom and Jane moved a 12-year-old pied pearl cockatiel into my home. His name was Birdie. I renamed him Bertie (from Downton Abby) Francis (from Assisi). It wasn’t long before he was Smokey Bertie Francis. I am Smokey’s fifth human and Tom warned me that my new companion was a very picky eater and hated being touched or having hands in his cage…so different from his predecessor. He does love to sing, though. He and Tom did duets. He still looks around for Tom when I whistle my version of Bridge Over the River Kwai. I am happy to say that he relates well to us humans from the confines of his cage, and even from on top of his home. His few words are ‘pretty boy’ and ‘oik’ that I am pretty sure makes sense to him. He loves to imitate household sounds that he hears like zippers zipping and lights clicking on. If I knock on a surface, he will often tap a surface in his cage in reply. He and I often breakfast together. That’s what birds who flock together do; you know. They eat together. It’s in his DNA.
Almost three years in, we continue to learn each other’s ways. I love his little songs, each so dear to me, and that he is endlessly curious about his environment, seeming to check all out each morning to make sure nothing has changed. He loves spray bottle showers and to hear the outside birds. Because he does sense that he is part of a flock, he has often had to be exiled to other rooms during Zoom sessions. He does not understand at all why his contributions are not welcome. He has actually turned his back on me at times when I have gone to get him back! I don’t know that I will ever completely stop wishing that he would let me pet him, even if only with a lid…or hold him on my finger or shoulder. I do know that I couldn’t be more pleased to have his company and whatever time we have to share what we can with each other. Thank you for teaching me, Smokey dear, how richly rewarding mutual patience and presence can be.”
We are so grateful to the Sisters and Covenant Companions who have shared their intimate journeys with pet companions.
We want to give a special thanks to Sr. Pat Norton who provided the inspiration for these reflections for they have helped to show our connectedness with God’s creatures.