When Annie, my young mare, lost her life due to a 100% avoidable accident while in the care of the trainer, I was in shock for the first few days. Annie was young and the natural expectation was that she would be in my life for a very long time. Her loss blindsided me and I acutely grieved for several weeks. A few days after the accident, my daughter and I rode our motorcycles to a picnic at one of the state fishing lakes. It was a beautiful afternoon and there were many people there, very few of whom I knew. Someone had a dog with them. Once my daughter and I were settled in and listening to the proceedings, that dog came to me uninvited - a stranger - one of out of a crowd of perhaps 35 people. She sat on my feet with her back to me, leaning her full body against my legs. I do not recall any dog ever behaving like this toward me, not even my own dogs. That dog must have sensed my broken heart. Though it may have been wishful thinking, it felt as if my dear little Orphan Annie was near me one last time.
Cats do not last long here on the farm if they venture outdoors. There are simply too many predators. So, when I adopted the darling green-eyed, coal black kitten from the shelter, the intention was to never let her outside. Keeping a cat inside that is determined to get outdoors is like keeping a genie in a bottle. She thought it was a game to dart past me and squeeze through the rapidly closing door. Once escaped, there was no possibility of me catching her. I named her Avalon, and she was the most delightful cat I have ever known. She was very small and very beautiful and exceedingly loving. When she had entirely defeated me in the war for her freedom, she would follow Duke and me to the barn and back every day. It made me laugh to see the three of us lined up on the well-worn path.
As a kitten, she found her way to the tiny space between the shelf and the top of the computer monitor. This put her slightly above my eye level, which is the correct and proper height for feline royalty. This was her favorite perch, though I do not know how she comfortably managed to squeeze herself into that space once she was grown. Everyone in the family came under Avalon's spell. Of course it is my fault that she disappeared. I knew exactly what would eventually happen if she ventured out of the house. She was so determined to get outside that it seemed cruel to never let her out. Though there were several tense nights when she did not come when called, eventually I would hear her at the door. I thought perhaps she was smart enough to stay out of trouble. The night inevitably came when she never came to the door. After a few days, I knew that she was gone for good.
One winter night several months after she had disappeared, I was working at the computer when I felt a cat brushing against my legs. It was unmistakable and I knew it was Avalon. I could feel her presence so strongly. She was present for about fifteen minutes and then she was gone and she has never returned. Perhaps she has since been reborn as a beautiful actress or singer. She certainly possessed star quality. I still feel guilty that I did not prevail in keeping her safely inside the house.
About two years ago just as I was drifting off to sleep, I felt the mattress depress behind me as if someone had sat down next to me on the bed. In a blinding flash of adrenaline, I ran through the mental check list: Did I lock the doors? Who could have come into my house without me hearing? Am I going to die?! But then, just as rapidly, I realized it was the old dog Duke who had come for a visit. He was settling in next to me on the bed. I suppose it was something he had wished he could do his entire life. He was a farm dog and his duties were to live outdoors and keep an eye on things. In return for giving up the luxury of living indoors, he lived his entire life free of a kennel, pen, fence or chain. He never had to wait 10 long hours until I came home to let him out. He was free to run and roam and chase rabbits or dig determinedly after prairie voles. I never witnessed him catch a rabbit. I never saw that he caught any voles either. When I took him to the vet in Topeka, they remarked on how incredibly strong he was. It was because he was free to live a real dog's life, to run and chase any critter that would run from him. He had about 30 acres to police and explore and protect. When it was bitterly cold outside, he slept just inside the front door on a rug but for the most part he loved the winter. He was part German Shepherd, part Chow and part Gold Retriever and part who-knows-what else. His thick double coat allowed him to delight in the cold winters. He was happiest when it was cold as hell, running around like a maniac in celebration of the frigid weather. Snow was his absolute favorite delight. I hope the old dog has reincarnated as a wolf on the Siberian Steppes or a snow leopard in the Himalayas, or perhaps he came back to a loving family with children to love and look after. Wherever in the Universe his spirit may be, I hope he is at peace.
I no longer care if people believe my ghost stories or not. I do not care if people think I am crazy. I know what happened and I know exactly who came calling. What a gift for those beloveds to visit me once last time. I hardly deserve it.