4/10/13 – 1/22/16
What do I mean by the words Spirit Animal? Indigenous peoples take it for granted that each animal has an Elder Spirit who watches over that particular species. Most of the time this Elder Spirit stays in the other world as a discarnate being. But there are exceptions and sometimes these Spirit Animals cross over to our world. Some come as teachers, some come to warn of impending danger, some give their lives so other can live, some come to bless a child or to act as a protector, healer or personal guide, all embody Grace and love with a capital “L”.
I first learned about Spirit Dogs from Samantha, a young black and gray Malamute who came to me as a Protector and Teacher during what was then the darkest period in my young life… I had just lost my only brother to suicide and the trauma ripped a hole in me so deep that I no longer wanted to live. Sam loved me in a way that no one else did; she gave me a reason to go on. She taught me to turn to Nature for nurturance and she stayed with me until I emerged out of the underworld. Sam has continued to act as a Guide coming to me in dreams for 35 years.
When I first met Snowy a fierce white heat seared my flesh as a flash of recognition slammed through me. Here was another Spirit Dog! Snowy was a Great Pyrenees and Malamute mix that came to a caring family with five children and a few other dogs. An urgent question flashed through my mind the moment I first saw her: Who she had come to help or heal? To say that we recognized each other was an understatement. We fell in love instantly, and our mutual devotion to one another deepened with time. Although first wed to her dedicated and loving family, she also welcomed me into her world as her next of kin. We embraced each time we met going nose to nose with each other, rather like wolves do when they meet. She would lick my face with her rasping tongue while I kissed her wet nose and ran my hands through her thick white coat telling her always how much I loved her.
Whenever I visited her family she was right there at the house woofing her greeting. As I opened the door of my car she would try to climb in all the while making joyful mewing noises part of her greeting. She was so big that the two of us would be crushed together in the driver’s seat like a couple of sardines! I was always laughing at her antics. When I finally untangled myself and got out of the car she would lie down on the ground belly up and I would have to pet and stroke her beautiful body while she stared trustingly into my eyes. Once inside the house she often lay with her head in my lap while I sat on the floor in her peoples’ kitchen. Snowy seemed eerily familiar and I was never able to shake the idea that somehow this dog was also my Malamute returning to another family in a different skin. It occurs to me now after her untimely death that perhaps all “Spirit Dogs” have similar personalities and behaviors* and that may be the other reason why I “recognized” her. What I do know is that the way she moved her, her long graceful form bounding around the house, her floppy ears, deep chestnut eyes, her black nose with it’s pink flesh, the way she held her head down as she came to greet me were all “familiar” gestures that tugged at visceral memory…
Snowy’s devotion to her family never wavered. She was the Queen of her pack along with her mother Patty! She was brilliant – not just intelligent but oh, so sensitive to others’ needs. She was well behaved, although she wandered a bit when her family was absent. She loved each one of her tribe unconditionally and couldn’t bear being separated from them. It was normal to see her dad, Patty’s husband Eric, (a king in his own right) lying on the floor with a tangle of dogs spread out around him as he played with his children. Often Snowy became one of the children’s pillows as they lay on the ground outdoors in the grass or inside on the floor. She got along with all other dogs including one of mine, a bad tempered Chihuahua that only this mother could love! It is not an exaggeration to say that Snowy had the temperament of an angel. This quality endeared her to everyone she came in contact with. That she was loved by so many makes it so much harder to have lost her. There is a hole that has opened up in all our lives for those of us who mourn her.
Because she was a snow dog Snowy preferred to be outside whenever possible. Wherever a patch of snow remained Snowy would be lying on it. I often felt her conflict – she wanted to be indoors with her family but loved the outdoors because Nature was her natural element. Her father Eric and son Tommy called her in each night. Sometimes Snowy declined the invitation but soon she would get too lonely without her family and would open the door with her nose (in Patty and Eric’s bedroom) in the middle of the night letting all the heat from the large house escape until someone woke up freezing!
Snowy’s death came suddenly under very mysterious/unsettling circumstances. On the night of January 22nd I arrived for my bi –weekly visit and Snowy was not there to greet me. When I got in the house I was going to ask where she was but got distracted by other conversation and forgot to mention Snowy’s absence. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that this was the only time Snowy and I hadn’t had our time together. I felt a vague sense of unease but dismissed it.
The next day I had a frantic call from Patty. I raced up to their house to discover to my horror that Snowy had apparently drowned in an old well that was surrounded by good-sized trees. Disbelieving, I went down to the well with Tommy, the oldest heartbroken son, to see for myself. My animal senses were on scream. My reaction seemed extreme even for me. I felt like I lost myself. I did not believe then, and do not believe now that Snowy simply fell into that old well and couldn’t get out. She was too well coordinated, too bright, too knowledgeable about the land she loved. I sensed that something was very wrong. Snowy had more work to do and had been torn out of her life before her time. Whatever really happened will remain shrouded in mystery and perhaps this is a blessing. I am grateful that witnessing Snowy’s dead body was not the end of the story.
Later on that same night Snowy came to me in a series of visions, (the clarity and length of which I experienced only once before in the town of Assisi, Italy). This time I was lying in bed unable to sleep when I felt her Presence in the room with me. Suddenly I saw her. We met nose to nose just as we always had done and I could make out every detail of her beloved face. Her chestnut eyes bored into mine, our noses almost touching, and then just as suddenly the scene shifted and Snowy was running around outside her own house her beautiful body bounding with grace. She was trying to let her family know she was all right, that she missed them. I felt so much relief as my worst fear dissipated. Snowy’s body had not been caught in the well. She was free and she was happy and she loved her family. She loved me too. This powerful “knowing” flowed through me like a great river beneath words…The two scenes repeated I don’t know how many times before Snowy’s presence began to fade. I struggled to keep her with me but my time with her was over and I had to let her go.
Snowy will live on in the hearts of all of us that loved her. And because “Spirit Dogs” will continue to crossover to be with people that need them I am convinced that Snowy will one day be making the journey onto what Native Americans call the “good red road” in yet another dog’s skin…
Postscript:* Just after writing this tribute I had a dream about another of my (dead) dogs reminding me that she too was a spirit dog that came to warn me that my current dog was ill. Whoops – “Spirit Dogs” come in all sizes and have as many personalities and behaviors as people do! Thank you for correcting my perception Rinkie.