The Healing Power of Animals


I've been meaning to write about this for a long time, but it always seems too big a subject to tackle in a single blog post.  And so it is.  But I'll touch on it, anyway, as an introduction of sorts to my next few posts.  In which I'll be writing about my animals: two old horses and a cat, and their incredible gifts.  I may even get into some of the animals from my past, too - I still carry their lessons with me today, and they'll always be a part of my story.

Why now?  Several things came together for me recently to finally motivate me to take on the GIANORMOUS subject of animal healing:

First; October is Adopt-A-Pet Month.  (It's still October, right?)

Then; while flipping through the Santa Barbara Independent's Annual Animal Issue, I came across an ad for "The Cutest Pet in Santa Barbara" Photo Contest.  Deadline was a few days off, why not take the photo-op to brag about my wonderful, healing, feline friend?  Game on!  Hundreds of the cutest photos of Truly later, I submitted my final (it was tough!) choice, along with her "cutest" story, to the paper for the contest.  But I realized that writing about her "cuteness" was merely scratching the surface of all there is to the Truly story, inspiring me to get to the rest of it!

Next; I'm due to start my 7th round of chemo next week. Chemo weeks always remind me of how powerful our connection to our animals really is: mine each mirror my pain in some way, reminding me that I'm not doing anything alone.  As it is every month: Truly is my on-call bed and couch-mate, cuddling with her mom for all the extra naptime; my horse Stevie tends to take a hit to his own health, clearly reflecting my distress; and Reggie, twelve hundred miles away in Colorado, causes my friend Jenny to call me up and ask, "You doing okay?  Is this a chemo week?  'Cause Reggie's really droopy today."   Yep, I've got a pair of horse-shaped pillars on either side of me and a cat purring on my lap - my own personal team of energy boosting, pain-absorbing, animal healers to pick me up when I'm down.

And finally; I received the following email from one of my greatest animal healing (human!) friends, who lives entirely too far away in Switzerland.  Warning: get out the tissue!

Her eyes met mine as she walked down the corridor peering apprehensively into the kennels.  I felt her need instantly and knew I had to help her.  I wagged my tail, not too exuberantly, so she wouldn't be afraid.
As she stopped at my kennel I blocked her view from a little accident I had in the back of my cage.  I didn't want her to know that I hadn't been walked today. Sometimes the shelter keepers get too busy and I didn't want her to think poorly of them.
As she read my kennel card I hoped that she wouldn't feel sad about my past.  I only have the future to look forward to and want to make a difference in someone's life.
She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds at me.  I shoved my shoulder and side of my head up against the bars to comfort her. Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship.
 A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well. Soon my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms.  I would promise to keep her safe.  I would promise to always be by her side. I would promise to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes.  I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor.  So many more are out there who haven't walked the corridors.  So many more to be saved.  At least I could save one.
I rescued a human today.

May you be blessed enough to be rescued by an animal in your lifetime.  If you have already, I welcome your stories in the comments. 

*Written by Janine Allen CPDT, Rescue Me Dog's professional dog trainer. Janine's passion is working with people and their dogs. She provides demonstrations for those who have adopted shelter dogs, lends email support to adopted dog owners that need information beyond our Training Support Pages, and aids shelter staff and volunteers in understanding dog behavior to increase their adoptability. Copyright 2010 Rescue Me Dog;

Adopt A Pet

Highly Regarded


I'd been thinking about it for months.  Maybe even a year.  Then the day came and went, and I didn't even acknowledge it, at least not the way I should have.  I told a handful of people, "My old grey horse, Reggie, turns 30 today."

Reggie is my grand old lesson pony, left in the fabulous care of a dear friend in Colorado when I moved to Califonia in 2008.  It broke my heart to have to leave him, but it would have been selfish to uproot him and haul him halfway across the country at his age. 

I'd intended to write something sigificant, something memorable, something that would adequately capture the essence of the little grey horse that could.  But every time I sat down to tackle the task I realized just how much there was - just how big this little grey horse really is.

So many stories, so little internet!

Nearly eleven years ago, I had just arrived in Colorado and was in desperate need of a good "baby beginner" lesson mount for my newly established Premier Riding School.  A friend of a friend of a friend told me about this 19 year-old grey Arabian gelding, registered with the Purebred Arabian Horse Association as High Regard.  He was described as having "a lot of use left in him" and the owner was looking to give him to a good home so that he "didn't go to waste".  I'd like to say I rescued him from a nearly abandoned barn, regretfully leaving his stablemate behind, but I realize now that he saved me.  Because he quickly established himself as the safest, most trustworthy, most well-trained lesson horse I've ever had the privilege to call my own.  He became the anchor of my riding lesson program.

Reggie was the horse that endured bouncing, pulling and mixed signals as students learned the basics of horsemanship and balance.  Not that he was a dead-head or without flaws, but I quickly learned not to judge this rough, fleabitten, arthritic, old gelding by his cover.  He was smart.  Too smart, sometimes.  He was sensitive and opinionated (ask my vet!).  And he was funny.  As in, he laughed at his own jokes.  This little grey horse was unmatched in the humor department, and he reminded me to lighten up when I needed it.  So, I laughed with him.

He understood his job, and took it very seriously.  He didn't just carry people around - he safely instilled confidence in the most timid of riders, but knew when a student had turned a corner and was ready to take it to the next level.  He taught me how to teach people to ride.  Over the years I watched him humble countless riding students when they needed it, including advanced show riders and adults.  Just try getting on him with any inkling in your mind that you know more than he does.  Sometimes an advanced adult rider wouldn't be able to get him to trot.  At all.  He was his own version of, "So you think you can ride?"

But he was so much more than just any lesson horse.  I spent at least an hour a day with Reggie, usually six days a week, for seven years.  He was my business partner and my friend.  He taught my students every bit of horsemanship, from the ground up.  I used to tell people, "he teaches the lessons, not me!"  He didn't just teach students to ride, but to listen, as well.  Myself included.

But wait, there's so much more:  Reggie has touched the lives of so many, please complete his story, from your perspective, in the comments below.  Whether it's a whole story, or just a quick sentence, Reg and I want to hear from you!  Spread the word...there's a PRIZE involved - ten notecards with Reggie's face on them to my favorite comment before August 15, 2010!

Me and My White Horse

Where in the World is Girlbert?


Here I am!  Not writing has been killing me, with so little space in my head for remembering!

Boyfriend had sailing work in Southern California and Mexico for most of February.  My oncologist almost fell out of his chair laughing when I asked.  "Mexico?  That would be a NO."  I sort of need a babysitter, so we decided I would go stay with friends and family while he was working.

So off the midwest I went.  My first stop was St. Louis, to visit my friend Kari.

Kari is one of my oldest horse friends.  And I'm not talking about her age, because we're only a year apart.  But I've known Kari since the fourth grade, that would be twenty-four years, which is a long time in horse years.  We took lessons at the same riding stable in North Aurora, Illinois.   We grew up riding and showing Saddlebred horses together in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.  She came to my graduation from William Woods University in Fulton, MO.  We were in each other's weddings. 

Then I was out of touch.  Recently, her old horse Bubba passed away and we got back in touch.  When Kari suggested that I make St. Louis the first leg of my three-week tour, I jumped at the chance.  I had yet to meet her daughter, Ella (she's six already!), and her new horses, Rooty and Thumper.

Kari and I didn't miss a beat, riding horses, talking horses, breathing horses.  (Thanks for putting up with us, Dave!)  The only thing that has changed is the addition of the fascinating, profound combination of Kari and Dave that is their daughter, Ella.  Nice to meet you, young lady.

We even took a road trip (sans the 80s music - damn broken iPod!) to Farmington, MO to see another couple of dear friends - Andy Amsden and my old horse, Amy.  She looks fabulous and happy, and clearly remembered me.  I can still see her expression as she touched my arm gently with her nose (Mom!... touch...You're...!... touch....), just like she always did.  I love you, too, girlie.  Thank you, Andy, for taking such great care of my girl!

We finished up our five days of good 'ol equine-saturated bliss with a drive up north into Illinois, meeting my parents halfway.  We had lunch, tearful goodbyes, then my parents took me the rest of the way to their house in Aurora, IL.  On Kari's birthday, no less.  Thanks for sharing your day with me, Kari.  Thanks for everything.

Let's do it again soon, 'kay?

Check out the photo gallery.

Further midwest adventures coming soon!

Back on the wagon - six miles on the bike and big glass of fruit/veggie juice for dinner!  A huge weight has been lifted and my mind is clear.  Healthy mind, healthy body!
Kari, Meet Amy the Wonder Horse...

Good to see the old man!

Good to see the old man!

It's been a month an a half since I saw this guy last!

Back In The Saddle


I am officially one of those crazy raw-food people.  I've had the juicer a week, and the million-dollar question in our house has become:  "What do we juice next?"  

"Should we try carrots and oranges together?"  


"What about apples and broccoli and carrots?"  

"Oooh, yeah!"

I've been eating about 80% fresh, raw foods for almost a week now, and I don't know that I've ever felt this good my entire life.  Energy and positivity abounds!

It's been a LONG time since the thought of adding anything to my to-do list each day, particularly something athletic, didn't make me want to throw myself off a cliff.  But my energy level has hit the roof and BEYOND.  I feel like my old self again, only better.  I feel like I can do ANYTHING, maybe even multi-task!  And I WANT to do things!  Like yoga!  And clean my house!  And MAKE MORE JUICE!

Despite the fact that I did get to ride a horse (for the first time since February - yahooie!) and give a young friend of mine a riding lesson last week, I'm referring to getting back on my mountain bike.  I haven't ridden since brain tumor (SBT) and Keppra.

Exercise has been LOW on the priority list for a multitude of reasons.  First, taking the time has been difficult, with brain cancer being a full-time job and all.  And I'm overwhelmed when Boyfriend asks me what he can make me for dinner, never mind what happens when the credit card companies start calling at 7am.  Then there's the fact that even going for a hike would leave me a bit shaky, combining my medication's side effects with physical exertion.  So getting on something with wheels, even with a helmet, hasn't seemed like the prudent thing to do.

But Friday I was feeling restless, not to mention brave, so Boyfriend and I went on an 8-mile ride.  AND IT FELT GREAT.

Hopping on that kid's horse for five minutes last week actually did more lasting damage than the hour-long bike ride.  My inner thighs have been punishing me, complete with maniacal laughter, ever since.  (Is is lame to point out that I didn't bother adjusting the stirrups, and so I went without? For the whole five minutes?)

We just got back from our second bike ride.  STILL GREAT.

Behold, the power of THE JUICE.


Who's horse is THIS?

Who's horse is THIS?

Unusually snuggly...

A Dear Old Friend

A Dear Old Friend

Stevie Hug

Stevie Hug

The Three of Us

The Three of Us

Getting Even Steven


Dear Stevie,

You turn 26 years old today.  I've known you for 12 years now and I've never taken the time to reflect on our relationship in writing, so this letter is clearly overdue.

You are the most sensitive, opinionated, human member of equine society I've ever known.  You've been my crazy-best-friend-straight-out-of-a-sitcom-character-sidekick since you came to live with me.  

You had your own fan club back in our lesson days.  You've taught more lessons and taken more ribbons at horse shows for my students and myself than I could ever count.

You're the horse who everybody wanted to buy, but was never for sale.  Partly because I knew you would eat them for lunch if I weren't there to translate.  Partly because I knew we were meant to stay together.  

You've earned yourself many nicknames, some flattering, some not-so-much. You've been an ongoing lesson in patience and picking my battles.  You've taught that some things can never change.

You've made me laugh, even when you're terribly serious.  You've made me cry with sadness and with joy.  You've flattered me and made me look a fool - sometimes in the same breath!  You've inspired me with pride and love.  And there have been times I've been madder at you than any human I've ever known.  

You broke my heart when your health became so poor, that I wasn't sure you were going to make it.  And I know that when I decided to put in the extra effort to help you recover, you made the extra effort required to stay on the planet with me.  

You've made me a better teacher, a better horse trainer, a better friend and a better person.  You are an example of rising above the fray, of perserverance and of mind over matter.

Knowing you all these years, I know what it means to be misunderstood, underappreciated and devalued.  But I see you.  You're a treasure in my heart.

Steven, I'd say we're even. 


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