~by Michele Gregoire
April 2014 Review–Nurturing Paws, Edited by Lynn C. Johnston
This month I review Nurturing Paws, a compendium of short stories, vignettes, and poems, by seventy-three different writers who share their special experiences with pets and other animals. Many are profound and often sad accounts but they provide encouragement and positive outcomes. The editor, Lynn Johnston, is also the publisher and operates Whispering Angel Books whose output is focused mostly on inspirational and devotional works. She dedicated the book, published in 2011, to “the animals who have graced my life…Each one taught me the meaning of love, compassion, loyalty, gratitude, forgiveness, and friendship.” Thus, this volume is, as the back cover indicates, “an uplifting collection of more than 80 short stories and poems celebrating the remarkable ability of animals to ease our physical and emotional pain while showing us love, compassion, and acceptance.” Significantly, the publisher donates a portion of the proceeds from this book to animal charities, which is an act that matches the altruistic purpose and focus of the work.
Many of the contributors are accomplished award-winning writers who have also published in, for example, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books and similar anthologies. A number of them write for other Christian and spiritual publications as well. There is the vein running through this genre of literature that recognizes and acknowledges God, and many of the works herein exhibit an awakening or recognition of God’s presence in the authors’ lives through the animal relationships and experiences. Just a perusal of the titles illustrates this: Miracle, My Dog is Spiritual and Eternal, Heaven Sent, A Gregorian Kind of a Cat, All Dogs Do Go to Heaven, The Language of Love, Angel Boy, Silver Saint, Nurturing Paws, and How My Cat Helped Save My Life are a sampling of titles that reflect the spiritual breadth of the authors’ experiences. The inevitable pain of mortality is inherent in the writings but it is coupled with a sense of healing or redemption. A number of the authors wrote their works as part of a therapeutic grief process that helped them cope with the agony of losing an animal to death. Several authors also wrote to help move themselves through their own illness and pain, expounding on the healing aid of their pets or animal friends as partners in achieving wellness or in living with a chronic condition. I would be hard pressed to select a favorite, or even several, from the contents of the book. Each is a special piece and can be appreciated for the sentiment expressed by the individual authors. And, as most edited books, it is not intended to be read from beginning to end but to savor in its parts over time. It is to be read as an anthology of short stories and poems, most of which are quite tender so brief doses of reading are recommended. Though a number of these poems and stories can be very cathartic not all are sad, as most contain elements of poignancy that relieve the distressing components.
Elaine Morgan, a three time Senior Poet Laureate, wrote ‘A Gregorian Kind of a Cat’ about an injured cat she rescued. Her beautiful prose is unsurprisingly very poetic as she writes about this cat. She speaks of his purring as “his plainsong…my heart and my head follow the music of the plainchant of his purr. After a few years of being without a cat in my life, I’m again appreciating the wisdom and stillness of the feline species…I’m once again relaxing to the chanson of a cat.” She tells him he’s a Gregorian kind of a cat and starts to fall asleep again, “following the river and the celebration of the liturgy in the air.” I love the way she equates her cat’s purr to Gregorian chant and liturgy. What a wonderful way to move into prayer, with a purring cat on your lap while relaxing! This is a story that begins with injury and pain and moves to healing – it closes with satisfaction.
In another chapter, John R. Chega writes about a pigeon he rescued during a snow storm. The bird had been injured and was nearly frozen to death. The author was somewhat of a loner, having lived a solitary life for many years, and wasn’t sure why he felt compelled to save the bird. Although the bird, whom he named Pepper, only lived for eight days, in that time he realized that “without someone or something to care for and take care of, the human experience is less fulfilling.” Because of this brief bond he became more involved with people and made some friends. He says, at the end of his story, “I miss Pepper, and in his honor, I’ve decided that from this time forward I will regard “ALL” life forms as gifts from God and respect as many of them as possible in my own limited time on this earth.” One short but powerful experience with a pigeon changed this author’s life and opened him up to much needed relationship with his fellow humans.
Rebecca Groff shared a fascinating story about her terminally ill neighbor Bonnie, whose three cats – Puddy, Sambo, and Hal – hated each other. But, on the morning of her death they all “walked into the room, lined up on the floor by the head of her bed and sat quietly looking up at her and waited.” The husband had never seen them sit that close together before. “After Bonnie released her last breath they got up and walked out of the room, each going their separate direction.” Groff closes with, “The Creator gives animals special vision and talents to comfort, even teach, in mysterious ways that we humans lack for all of our ability to verbalize and rationalize what should be obvious. Puddy, Sambo and Hal put their differences on hold while they gave Bonnie one final gift: peaceful air in which to leave.”
A couple of other stories that stood out for me were one in which a cat saved her owner from a serial rapist and another in which a woman rescued a severely injured mockingbird that she did not expect to live but who did survive and then became a model for her as she confronted a cancer diagnosis. There are many poems and stories about dogs and their love, loyalty, and healing goodness, and more about cats and birds with a few other animals as well. Readers who have had a meaningful relationship with an animal will especially empathize with each author’s contribution. This book is filled with truths about the human-animal bond and the human condition that drives us toward such bonding. It contains a breadth and depth of expression from a myriad of authors, most of whom are honoring the divine through love of their animal brethren.
Dr. Michele Gregoire has been Chair of the Education Department at Flagler College since 2004 and a member of the faculty since 1988. She came to Flagler College from Georgia College in Milledgeville where she had been Director of Music Therapy for four years and prior to that she spent one year in the same capacity at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Dr. Gregoire earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy at Florida State University, her master’s degree in Music at California State University at Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has conducted research and published articles related to music therapy and special music education, consistently maintains a strong record of professional conference presentations, and her current interests are historical research in music education, special education, and music therapy.
Dr. Gregoire has been involved in several professional organizations throughout her career, and has served in leadership capacities in most of them. She worked for ten years as a clinical music therapist and director of internship, specializing in developmental disabilities, at the beginning of her career and continues to provide consultation in both music therapy and special education to individuals and organizations.
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