Caring for all of our heroes enriches us
As a college student, Frances fell in love with Abyssinian cats. She even bred them for a while, in growing appreciation for the special qualities of this oriental breed.
A few decades later, Frances developed diabetes, which, with severe asthma and a liver condition, put her in a wheelchair and subjected her to life-threatening lapses of consciousness. The clinical social worker and cat lover knew just what she needed: a service cat, to alert her when her blood sugar dropped and to keep her spirits up as her health declined.
She set out to get an Abyssinian kitten to train — and ended up with three. She named them Brogan, Seamus and Maeve (Muffy for short) — an entire litter. Brogan proved the most apt at learning to alert her when she needed to eat something. He did this by nipping until he roused her to consciousness. He was the smartest one, she says, recalling how he would study mechanical things and try to operate them himself. Once, after watching a repairman remove a face plate from an appliance, Brogan had it off again as soon as the repairman left, and was beside himself with pride.
Frances got Brogan for free because he had a disability, luxating kneecaps, that limited his mobility, but not his capacity to love and serve. Seamus’s service specialty is opening doors. In Oklahoma, where they were certified as service animals, the cats had to show that they had been trained to perform tasks necessary to assist their disabled owner, and opening doors so that emergency help could get in was Seamus’ bailiwick. Of course, he kept his skills sharp by opening cupboard and cabinet doors whenever he felt the urge to show off.
Muffy is the love-bug, though she shared this role with Brogan. Seamus, the most independent, preferred a slight distance. The three filled the tiny apartment with whimsy and love.
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For 14 years, the cats supported Frances through increasing disability and many losses, including the death of a son last summer. This month, after a long illness, Frances had to say goodbye to Brogan. He had inoperable nasal cancer. She and his siblings are grieving, but it’s Frances who must also face the fear of how she will manage the medical care the two aging cats will inevitably need. The Dundee Fund and others have helped, and will help again. But for a disabled professional woman who has lost her financial cushion, the prospect is grim.
You read Nikita’s story this week: the hero dog who, after saving her family, now needs help to pay for essential surgery. What Nikita did was extraordinary, and it’s calling up support from many readers who think she deserves all the help she can get. But Brogan was a hero, too. And Seamus, Muffy and Frances, as they struggle to pay Brogan’s vet bills, they deserve help, too. I don’t know what the solution is. Local vets step up, time after time, with discounts and pro bono service. They have to make a living, and the medicines and equipment in their clinics are costly.
I guess what I want to suggest is that we all think seriously about how we might weave a better, tighter safety net for all our heroes. When I first heard the communist credo “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I recognized it as the golden rule applied to the economic realm. Because what do any of us have to give, really, but what is in us to do or to make?
Every mortal being has needs that can’t be denied. Our companion animals never hold back their gifts, or ask if we deserve them. Maybe that’s why digging deep to meet their needs is so soul-satisfying. Their stories move us to let go, with relief, of the need to compare and judge. We can simply respond, honoring the actions of love. When we do, opening our hearts and checkbooks, something in each of us is saved by the heroism of those for whom we become heroes, and we are all enriched.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.
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