Gypsy and the Toilet Angels
This article also published in the Winter, 2013 issue 89 of Species Link Journal
Sixteen years ago this month, my little “chiweenie,” Gypsy, came into my life. The vets said that she was about three years old at the time–and so this means that we are celebrating Gypsy’s 19th birthday this year. I want to honor Gypsy and our life together while she is still here in her body–and to share some of our journey with you.
Gypsy came to Save the Animals Foundation, the large, no-kill shelter that I volunteered at in Cincinnati, Ohio, in August, 1996. She had been found on the streets, and when I met her for the first time, she was skinny, had a leg deformity, and was fighting a bad upper-respiratory infection which kept her in isolation at the shelter. When I took her food and medicine to the 3rd floor of the shelter, an old, former convent building in the inner city, I opened the door and was greeted by Gypsy’s spunky, bright eyes, her voracious appetite, and her tender heart. She climbed into my lap…we looked into each others’ eyes…and I knew that my resolve to not bring any new animals into my household was going up in smoke as I fell in love with funny, sweet, vulnerable, precious Gypsy.
Gypsy has been with me through the better part of two decades now. We have been through a lot together: three moves, the addition and passing into spirit of many other animal friends, changes in relationships, lifestyle, and work for me, and great spiritual growth and evolution for both of us.
Gypsy has always been her own “person.” She is spunky, determined, and has a streak of the incorrigible curmudgeon. She is tender-hearted, vulnerable, and loving…and has a purity and innocence that touches my heart. Gypsy has also struck fear into the hearts more than a few people and dogs with her insistence that no one do anything with her, around her, or to her that she doesn’t like. This includes a trio of gigantic Mastiffs who lived in our old neighborhood…a large assortment of mail carriers and UPS drivers…my former music students and their parents (embarrassing)…and generally anyone and anything that doesn’t feel quite right to her.
Gypsy has always had a voracious appetite…”I’ll take your fingers with that biscuit”…has loved her walks, pulling along on her harness like a little tank. I will always remember her barking at the nature spirits in our backyard in Prescott, near the graveyard where our cat and chicken friends were buried. “I’m calling in the spirits,” she would say, as she barked and barked and barked.
A few years ago, when Gypsy was about 15 years old, she started to fail. She stopped wanting to go on walks, became incontinent and mentally confused. When I communicated with her, she told me that she felt that she was dying and that she was scared. She didn’t understand what was happening to her body and what would happen when she died.
I now refer to this time of Gypsy’s life as the “Toilet Angel Period.” For several months, Gypsy slept deeply for many hours a day in a little bed behind the toilet. She was not really in her body. I felt her traveling in the Spirit World. One day, I asked her about her journeys.
“I am traveling with the Angels,” she said.
She showed me that she had special guardian angels who were accompanying her on her travels to the “other side” as she slept behind the toilet. She showed me visiting many lovely places, and feeling very cared-for and loved. I felt that perhaps Gypsy was beginning a slow, gentle transition toward death. These journeys continued for several months, until one day, Gypsy got up, shook herself off, marched up to me, looked me straight in the eye, and said:
“OK! I’m back! I’m done with traveling with the angels. They have showed me the route I’m going to take when I leave my body, they have showed me what will happen and where I will go. I know all about it now. I’m no longer afraid, and now I’m back to live my life. I want to take walks, enjoy my food, sniff in the yard, and share love with my family.”
And just like that, Gypsy resumed her walks, her interactions with me and others….and spent very little time in her little bed by the toilet. When our beloved little bantam rooster, Ganesha, died suddenly, Gypsy told our friend Penelope that she had seen a HUGE angel in the backyard:
“And I said to him: NO!! I’M NOT READY!! TAKE…………..THE……………CHICKEN!!”
Gypsy has loved helping me with my animal communication work. I’ll never forget her helping my first class of students, including transmitting the picture of her special toilet portal, and stubbornly refusing to give up her place outside on the driveway with her little face pointed in the direction my car had gone until I came back from that first day of teaching.
In 2009, I asked Gypsy for help in teaching a class on “The Spiritual Lives of Animals.” She said,
“Yes! Tell them about my Angels. Tell them that my life is filled with so much happiness now. I am so much less afraid than I used to be. I feel so much more love. My body sometimes gives me trouble, but I am not done yet! I have so much left to complete. I help Nancy, and I help her students, and this makes me feel so proud and fulfilled.”
Gypsy’s little body is remarkably sturdy. Her heart, lungs, and internal organs are heathy and strong. Our wonderful holistic vets, Dr. Metcalf and Dr. Armer, keep her “tuned up” and comfortable with acupuncture, herbs, and supplements. Although Gypsy’s bloodwork showed the beginnings of kidney disease 4 years ago, it has not progressed…thanks, I’m sure, to high-quality food, holistic veterinary care, and exceptionally strong genes.
In the last year, Gypsy has had more difficulty. She is now 99% deaf and almost completely blind…she has significant symptoms of dementia/cognitive impairment…and her incontinence has become much more frequent (inside=outside; it’s all the same). Sometimes Gypsy doesn’t know me…she doesn’t know where she is…she becomes lost and frightened. These are the hard days.
And there are also good times…moments when Gypsy is completely present, waiting in the kitchen for mealtime, looking up at me expectantly with her big cloudy eyes and her earnest little face.
This morning, for the first time in the 10 months that we have lived in our new home, Gypsy took an adventurous foray beyond her usual comfort zone of the sidewalk in front of the porch to the great expanse of the backyard…straight to the area of the cats’ outdoor “litterbox.”
Whatever other faculties Gypsy may have lost, her sense of smell and her taste for disgusting-to-me-delectable-to-her-“treats” is as strong as ever.
Gypsy’s moments of cognizance, of presence, of connection with me have become more and more precious. When she allows me to pick her up, kiss her little face, offer her my cereal bowl…I feel so thankful that she is still with me. These small joys and victories of having Gypsy still “here” mean everything to me at this time in our lives together.
Anyone who has ever cared for an elder, animal or human, knows that it isn’t always easy. There are days when I think that I will go mad if I have to wash one more load of soiled rugs and bedding….or make the umpteenth run to the store for wee-wee pads and enzyme cleaner….or be awakened in the middle of the night by the confused clickety-clack of little Gypsy’s nails on the floor, wandering lost, confused, scared. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed…and I ask Gypsy, “Do you still want to be here?” and she answers,
“Yes, yes, yes. I love my food, I love my treats, I love my little soft beds, I love my Nancy.”
And for Gypsy, for now, that is enough.
One of my wonderful and wise clients said to me the other day,
“People often lament about what a shame it is that our animal friends’ lives are so much shorter than ours. They feel that it is so unfair to have to go through the deep grief of losing them. I have a different view. I think God planned it this way…because our animals give us so much, it is our privilege to give back to them to by taking care of them as they grow old, and helping them transition safely and comfortably to the other side when they are ready.”
What a beautiful perspective, I thought. And I do indeed feel so honored and privileged to be able to care for Gypsy at this tender time in her life. I didn’t have her as a puppy–I wasn’t able to help her in her early years of abandonment, neglect, and abuse…but I can be with her now, holding her, taking care of her, making sure she has soft, clean, warm beds and plenty of delicious treats…because Gypsy has taught me so much about courage, tenacity, vulnerability, and the ability of all beings to learn, grow, and to heal.
Most of all, Gypsy has taught me about love.
As Gypsy has become sweeter and more loving, so have I. As I have cared for the tender, vulnerable, little baby dog in Gypsy, I have learned to be more compassionate for those places in myself…the places that are vulnerable, confused, afraid of being hurt, afraid of being thrown away. And as Gypsy’s wounds have healed, so have mine…we have healed these places in each other.
As I accompany and care for Gypsy in the autumn of her life, I feel so grateful for all she has taught me…all I have learned..and for her funny, precious presence by my side.
Happy 19th Birthday, Gypsy, my little sweet love.