Animal Blessing Service Stories – Jessica Seales and Rev. Anthony Makar
Animal Blessing Service Story – Jessica Seales
Since I was young, I always have loved living in the city. I never wanted to be the kind of person that wanted a slow-paced, small town life. So, you might imagine that I never expected to be the kind of person that had a house full of animals: four outdoor cats, seven chickens, and a guinea pig. And I never expected to text my best friend one day last week: “I am somehow becoming the kind of person that wants to own a farm.”
My road to animal ownership is a bit of a strange one. I’ve never been able to keep that many pets. You see – when I was 13 years old, I developed an allergy to both cats and dogs (and yes, I am definitely well-medicated standing before you today). This means that despite my undying love for all things furry and adorable, my pet ownership has been somewhat…varied.
First, I opted to adopt a turtle named Michaelangelo in college. Then, about 5 years ago, my friend who ran an animal rescue called me one day and said:
“Do you know what you’re not allergic to?…..Guinea pigs.”
And, naturally (because who says no to an animal rescue?!), that’s how I wound up with two guinea pigs.
Next, around the time that we moved into our current home, we started feeding a stray neighborhood cat. As it is with stray cats, one cat quickly turned into… several cats. And of course we all know how the story of cat ownership goes – “you don’t adopt cats, they adopt you.” so this is, of course, how I came to own four outdoor cats.
But chickens… chickens have been the most interesting part of animal ownership.
Have you ever watched a fish tank? You know how they tell you that fish tanks are so relaxing to watch? Fish tanks have nothing on watching chickens waddle around the yard, happily pecking and scratching, clucking with joy when they pick up a mulberry. Or calling “LADIES!” across the front yard and seeing three chickens run up to you eagerly in hopes that you’ll give them a snack.
When we first began looking into chicken ownership, we had plans to get just enough chickens to cover the number of eggs we ate each day (I’m sure you’ll figure out how that went). My mother in law, who lives in Dubai, kept several chickens of her own. It seemed easy – if she could keep chickens in the big city of Dubai, how hard could it be to have backyard chickens in Atlanta? So, I, being the expert in the family, got online and googled “Where to get chickens?”.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, where, of COURSE you can order live animals and have them mailed to you house, we chose 3 different breeds and clicked “purchase”. It honestly felt WAY too easy.
My chickens were on their way.
And there’s nothing quite like getting a text from your husband that says “The mail came and the chickens we ordered on the internet are here!”
The future is truly a weird place.
But the next text was “….now what?”
You see, young chickens can be…slow learners.
How do you teach them to drink from a water source? Well, you take their little heads and you push their head down under the water. So my poor husband has to spend two hours at home half-drowning chickens in an effort to get them to drink. Then, how do you teach the chickens to use the ramp in the coop? Well, you…shove them up and down the ramp until they get the message. And so on and so forth. There were a lot of feathers, a lot of stubbornness, and slowly, we got to know each other and the girls figured out their routine.
Life has funny ways of teaching you patience.
Our adults eventually settled in. But…you see…the other thing about ordering chickens online is that about four day after your baby chicks come in the mail, these hatcheries send you a catalog of all the different breeds you can buy! After many conversations with my husband that no, we didn’t need a goose, or a duck, or a partridge, or a pheasant…the only logical conclusion was, of course, is that if three chickens are good, SEVEN chickens are better!
And that’s what led to the whole flock: Dolly Parton, Kim Kardashian, Blanche Deveraux, Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead, Lucy Ricardo, and Ruth Bader Ginsbird.
These little goofballs are equal parts adorable, obnoxious, and hilarious. It’s funny how the strangest things can steal your heart. The waddles, the clucking, the POOP, chasing them away from eating the cat food (these chickens really love cat food), the time spent in your lap looking for treats…even when they drive me a little nuts, it’s all worth it in the end.
In addition to the silliness, though, chickens have also made me feel more connected to where I am from. Believe it or not, I’m an Alabama girl through and through, and I come from a long line of strong women – women who aren’t afraid to stand up for what is right, who aren’t afraid of hard work, and yes – women who, among other things, have tilled gardens and raised chickens. I find a deep sense of comfort in doing the same things these women did.
And they connect me to the earth. You develop a deep respect and sense of gratitude for these small animals that produce food for you. Food that requires a quarter of their body’s calcium every single day – these ladies are hard workers!
I am grateful every day for how they remind me just how connected we are. It brings me peace to know that in a world of stress, unpredictable politics, worry, and fear – animals, the earth, and life goes on.
And above all, owning these tiny dinosaurs is hilarious. From the times they thought my pink toenails were snacks, to the times they chase the cats through the yard, to having to baby-gate your porch so they don’t eat the cat food, to having a baby chick ride on your shoulder, and yes, even getting pooped on – there’s never a shortage of humor.
Patience, connection, gratitude, respect, peace, and humor….sometimes life’s best teachers come in small, feathery packages. And these are such important things to remember on my journey. I’m glad these chickens are along for the ride.
Animal Blessing Service Story – Rev. Anthony Makar
When our daughter Sophia turned four, Laura her mother and I decided to get her a new pet. We had had a fat, blubbery cat named Samantha whom Sophia would knead like dough, or lie on top of, and Samantha was old and tolerant and never snapped. But we had been borrowing her from Laura’s parents, and there came a time we needed to return her.
But children need animals to help build empathy and learn gentleness. And now that Sophia was a little older, with a greater capacity to be empathetic and gentle, it was time to seek out our next pet.
Which turned out to be petS. Initially, two cats, because we knew that a kitten would do better with another. But the litter of available kittens we found ourselves inspecting one day turned out to have three boys in it, all brothers, all astoundingly different-looking. We also learned that one of the kittens had already been named: “Bozo”–because his black and white facial markings were vaguely reminiscent of a clown. But he held himself with great sobriety, and I found myself angry at the insult. I found myself with a desire to take all three kittens out of that insensitive environment.
Bozo! Over my dead body.
So three kittens came home with us. Each of us named one of the kitties. Sophia named one Xena (after the Warrior Princess, which was a TV show at the time we all watched religiously) but we had made a mistake about the kitty’s sex and so, with apologies to the Warrior Princess, we went from Xena to Zeno. Zeno was white with orange spots on his body.
Laura named one of the cats Cuddles, and Cuddles had grey and black tabby features.
As for the cat I named, or rather re-named: from the ridiculous “Bozo” to something Shakespearian and elegant: Puck
Zeno, Cuddles, and Puck: our three boys.
Reflecting on all this I am aware of how full their personalities were. They enriched our human lives but their value far transcended that. They had worth and dignity that was inherently theirs. Relationships between and among each other that had nothing to do with us, and we could only watch and observe and wonder….
Zeno emerged as the alpha male. He and Cuddles were buddies but this circle of love did not include Puck. Puck was a loner. Puck was a more classical tomcat and enjoyed a good street fight. He also liked hanging out near the neighbor’s woodpile, and the neighbors loved this because their mouse problem was quickly resolved. Puck liked to be outside at night and come in to sleep during the day.
But back to Zeno. One of the things Zeno loved to do—this was when we lived in Texas—was to find a mound of red ants and pop it, watch the stream of enraged red ants flow up to the surface, and then eat the ants. He would eat them! He’d come home with lips that were swollen beyond belief and I would look into his eyes and they were inscrutable cat eyes. I mean, do you not realize what you are doing? Getting bitten by red ants can’t be fun! But he would keep on doing it.
Who understands the world of a cat’s mind?
As for Cuddles, well, he was a lover. He loved to be the baby and be taken care of. But he was also a big game hunter and loved to bring home presents. Once we were hosting a potluck party and right in the middle of it he brought a field mouse still alive and kicking. His contribution to the dinner.
Another time it was the middle of the night and I suddenly awoke to the sound of animal screaming right beside me and it was a half-mangled but alive bird that Cuddles had brought into my bed to show me love. I cannot tell you how bloody and gross the whole thing was.
That was the day I gave Cuddles a nickname: “Darth Cuddles.”
Our boys went with us when we moved from Texas to Chicago so that I could pursue Unitarian Universalist ministry. We lived in an apartment on the University of Chicago campus and it was a big change for all of us, but all of us eventually adapted.
For the cats, one of the adaptations had to do with the Turkish carpet that sat outside the entrance to our kitchen. For humans it was a carpet; for cats it was the Thunderdome. (Remember that old Mad Max movie?) The cats literally had an elaborate game going on. Only two cats on the carpet at one time; the third was on the outside, looking on. Watching and waiting for his turn. Two cats on the carpet, and the fighting was brave and magnificent and would go on and on until, suddenly, without any warning they would both run away, off the carpet, outside, GONE.
The cat off the carpet would be as startled as we were.
Another story has to do specifically with Zeno. We were lucky that all three of our cats enjoyed human companionship and did not flee at first sight of a person. But sometimes they would go overboard. Zeno, for instance. Right outside our apartment at the University of Chicago was a bus stop, and everyday around 2pm Zeno would walk out there and sprawl his body on the pavement and let people love on him. He would laze and lollygag. By 3pm, invariably there would be messages on our answering machine saying stuff like, “Hello, your cat is on the corner of 59th and Woodlawn and would you come pick up your cat?” People were concerned. But when the answering machine was delivering its message, guess who was right there listening in with the humans?
We would laugh—we would look at him—he would look back at us with those inscrutable eyes.
The lives of our pets. Mysteries that are far beyond our knowing.
Zeno was the first to die. Congenital heart stuff. And that was when Cuddles, in his grief, decided to build a relationship with Puck. He missed Zeno so much…. Puck really didn’t want a “relationship” but Cuddles was insistent and tried to teach Puck the art of mutual grooming. Puck would get impatient and pop Cuddles on the head. Cuddles would put him in a headlock and lick him.
Puck was going to become a cuddle buddy whether he liked it or not….
And then Puck died, and my sweet Darth Cuddles was so very sad. He would go looking for Puck. But his days of being a Big Game Hunter were over, and he wouldn’t stray very far from the front door.
He lived years beyond Zeno or Cuddles, and who can know the private world of an animal’s grief?
And then it was his time to pass beyond this life. Our daughter Sophia was the one to make the call. He was suffering and she did not want that for him.
Because we wanted her to learn empathy and compassion, that’s why we got the cats in the first place. And the cats did their job. They taught her well.
And meanwhile, we witnessed the mystery of their personalities and relationships with each other unfold. Valuable far beyond any service they gave to us.
There is a song from the musical “Wicked” that goes
I’ve heard it said,
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn….
So, let me say before we part:
? So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you.
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart.
Our beautiful boys: you are a handprint on Laura’s heart, and Sophia’s heart, and my heart.