Gifts from Pets -- Through Life and Death

a golden retriever and a black cat laying together
Photo by Theo the cat on flickr

Narrated by Marie T. Russell

Watch video version here.

There is a magnet on our refrigerator that reads,

"Until one has loved an animal,
a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
                                                          -- Anatole France.

Pets awaken our hearts in a way that nothing else can. Yes, human relationships are very important, but our pets can open our hearts in a quiet very sweet way that nothing else can. If you cannot have a pet of your own, perhaps you could bond with someone else's pet.

Barry and I have had many pets, mostly golden retriever dogs starting when we were twenty-five years old. We have also had cats, and at one time had five cats all from the local shelter. Currently we have one feral rescued cat named Gertie, who lets us pet her and loves our company as long as we do not bring her inside. And we have two golden retrievers, Honey and Gracie.

Our pets bring so much joy and peace to our lives. We always know that they will love us. Our dogs' greatest desire is just to be near us and walk with us and love us.

Whenever I feel sad about something or need to feel peaceful, I go to our older dog Gracie who is very motherly and I bend down and hug her in a very big full hug. She stands there very patiently knowing that what is happening is very important. After I am done hugging her, I always feel better and then she looks up at me with her soft brown eyes and wags her tail in love and devotion.

We've always felt completely accepted by all of the goldens we've ever had. They love us just the way we are; we do not have to be any different. We are their heroes, their object of devotion. Each and every morning they greet us with 100% enthusiasm.

The Best Companion

My parents moved to be near us seven years before my father died at the age of eighty-nine. My father became totally deaf and hearing aids did not much help. A heavy object could fall right behind him and he would not even know, his hearing was that bad.

I got the idea to get him a cat. I did not even ask my mother, as she would say no as she had said all along for their many years of marriage. Of course, I should have gone through my mother, but I just felt it was so important.

I went to the shelter and picked out this beautiful totally black cat who was about nine months old. I named him Ben. With great excitement, our whole family marched up to my parents next door apartment with Ben. My mother was all set to object until she saw how happy my father was. He was ecstatic!! I wrote down on a piece of paper that we had named him Ben. From that minute, Ben was my father's best friend.

Ben sensed that my dad could not hear his purring so he would lie on top of him when he rested on the couch and purr very loudly so that my father could feel his vibration. Ben followed my father everywhere and when others in the room were talking and my father could not hear them, he petted Ben and very softly talked to him and Ben purred very loudly so that my father could feel him.

Before Ben came into his life, my father was starting to withdraw as he could not hear anyone.  Ben changed all of that. My dad woke each morning with joy in his heart to be able to spend another day with Ben. And Ben was very funny, causing hours of laughter with my mother as well. She had grown to love Ben very much.

When my father suddenly died, my mother lived alone in the apartment next door to us. Ben took it upon himself to be her guardian. He sat next to her always. Every week, I took my mother out to lunch at her favorite restaurant. If we were gone too long for Ben, he would loudly cry out when we returned, letting us both know that we should not keep her away for such a long time.

Leave It to Ben

The night before my mother died, we had been up for over twenty-four hours with her. She was absolutely unresponsive during this time, and it was obvious that death was imminent.  Barry and I were so tired that we could hardly keep our heads up. I called Hospice and asked for advice. They had been on the scene with my mother for three months.

A night nurse came that we did not know. She was wonderful with us and helped us stay awake for another hour. Then she had to leave and she told us to go and get some sleep. My mother, she informed us, had essentially died. Her body was just taking time to completely close down.

She suggested that we leave my mother in the hands of her beloved cat. Ben rose to the occasion with such love and loyalty. He lay upon my mother's chest and purred very loudly. I got up to check on my mother in the middle of the night and as I was nearing her room, I heard very loud purring, almost like a motor, Ben was still on the job!! 

After my mother died, Ben became our cat and we enjoyed him for several more years until he peacefully passed on from this world.

Almost As Good As Your Dog?

There is an anonymous poem, also on our refrigerator, that I read almost every day. I am going to share my favorite lines:

If you can start your day without caffeine.
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles.
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it.
If you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him/her.
If you can conquer tension without medical help and sleep perfectly without the aid of drugs.
If you can overlook it when something goes wrong through no fault of yours and those you love take it out on you.
If you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, or politics.
Then, my friend, you are almost as good as your dog.

I want to be as good as our dogs. I want to give love and understanding unconditionally. I want to be ready to play and have fun at a moment's notice. Our dogs give us so much love and joy that Barry and I feel that we will never be without a dog through our dying days.

And just remember, dog spelled backwards is God.

* Subtitles by InnerSelf
Copyright 2021 by Joyce and Barry Vissell.

Book by this Author(s)

Heartfullness: 52 Ways to Open to More Love
by Joyce and Barry Vissell.

Heartfulness means so much more than sentimentality or schmaltz. The heart chakra in yoga is the spiritual center of the body, with three chakras above and three below. It is the balance point between lower body and higher body, or between body and spirit. To dwell in your heart is therefore to be in balance, to integrate the lower three chakras with the higher three.

book cover: Heartfullness: 52 Ways to Open to More Love by Joyce and Barry Vissell.This book contains 52 writings and stories that all illustrate the many facets of heartfulness. That’s one per week. Our goal is to lead you into your heart. Our goal is to give you a feeling experience of the heart in its many dimensions. We could say each piece will make you feel good. And this may be true. But each will also challenge you to grow in spiritual awareness, for there is often a certain risk that must be taken before the heart can open. Sometimes we need to leave our comfort zone to really live from the heart.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book.  Also available as a Kindle edition

About the Author(s)

photo of: Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors, near Santa Cruz CAJoyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors, near Santa Cruz CA, who are passionate about conscious relationship and personal-spiritual growth. They are the authors of 9 books and a new free audio album of sacred songs and chants. Call 831-684-2130 for further information on counseling sessions by phone, on-line, or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops.

Join Barry and Joyce Vissell in their first in-person event in 16 months: Summer Couples Retreat, June 24-27, 2021.

Visit their website at for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.

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