July 2, 2022

What a Three-Legged Cat Taught me about New Beginnings.

At 5 a.m. this morning, I opened the door to the room where my three-legged rescue kitten had spent the night to find chaos and a complete lack of kitten.

My heart made the connection long before my sleepy brain did.

It was her first night alone in a new room in a new house. She must have gotten scared and scrambled out of the window in an attempt to find safety, or me.

The second-floor window.

In the few brief hours since moving into the home where I hoped she would grow old with me, I had lost my cat. 

Just then, a tiny squeak came from the top shelf of the built-in wardrobe and demanded to be lifted down, cuddled, and fed.

Humans of the world, meet Dahlia. She is my friend and teacher. She also has three legs, black velvet fur ticked with white, and a purr that makes iron malleable at room temperature.

Dahlia came into my life with the stitches from her leg amputation still in place. As a vet with a special interest in physical rehabilitation and behaviour, I thought I would be the perfect person to rescue this tiny six-week-old scrap of life with a traumatic past. Man alive, was I wrong.

By now, every reader who’s lived with a rescue animal is doing a big old eye-roll and thinking, “Really? Is this what you call an insight?” But hear me out. I’m a vet who spent years lecturing other vets on animal welfare and behaviour. If anything, I was overqualified!

Hahaha, nope. Dahlia does something almost every day that breaks off a piece of the armour around my heart and makes me reconsider my own life. 

And so it was this morning. The little bundle of blackness with the big green eyes stared up at me as I lifted her down, purred, and scuttled off to explore the rest of the place while still chewing on the last mouthful of breakfast kibble.

Watching her, I realised how big a disservice we do ourselves by staying attached to only one of our emotions about big life events. So often, I state that this decision or that moment is the start of something new and beautiful and then cling to the feeling of hope and renewal that new beginnings can bring. I’ll do better this time. I’ll be stronger. When I feel anything else—fear, sadness, doubt—I believe I’ve dropped the ball and ruined it all.

Yoga even has a word for this. One of the five kleshas (or blocks) we face is abhinivesa. It translates as attachment to life, or fear of death, but my human teachers remind us that it is difficult to grow if we’re too attached to anything. Until this morning, I had always thought the attachment I need to break is to material things and comfort. Yet, we can be just as strongly attached to a point of view or an emotion. I can be so stuck on needing to feel positive that I cage that positivity and squeeze the joy right out of it until it becomes hollow.

Dahlia loves the new house. She’s already found two sunny spots that make her purr like an old diesel engine, but she also hated last night when she was alone in an unfamiliar place. The truth is I did too. But Dahlia didn’t hang around this morning, blaming herself for having been weak last night. She didn’t get so attached to one emotion about her new beginning that she lost the ability to experience the full spectrum.

Fresh starts are wonderful, but they’re scary.

New things cannot begin without the old and familiar being left behind. I look at Dahlia, and I vow to learn from her, to allow my heart to fully embrace my sadness at the old home we left behind and the friends in it because my need to be relentlessly happy about new beginnings actually dishonours the richness of my past.

I’ll love the excitement of finding new spots for the furniture, but I’ll make time to remember how good it looked in the old house.

And tonight, I’ll make sure Dahlia has easy access to her dark hidey hole, if that makes her night easier and her morning brighter.


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