Although February is often associated with romantic love, it’s the perfect time to celebrate all kinds, including the soul-FULL love and appreciation we share with our animal family.
At BrightHaven, we believe that love is such an essential, transformative and powerful healing energy, it is the guiding force of our work. The importance of love to living a full life is but one example of the deep wisdom shared with us by our beloved animal teachers over the years.
BrightHaven’s President and Founder Gail Pope and I include the following story and many more tales of wise and wonderful animals and their spiritual life lessons in BrightHaven’s latest book, GRATEFUL for Animals: Spiritual Comfort & Wisdom in Life’s Last Chapter, available on Amazon. Learn how the spiritual comfort and wisdom shared by animals may inspire you to live and connect more deeply with yourself and others from your heart and soul—where love remains the prevailing principle!
Gary and Panther’s Story
Gail beautifully relates the story of two wonderful felines who graced us with particularly touching and life-changing lessons.
“Let me take you back to 1993 when BrightHaven itself was only a few years old and our mission a little different as it then included the young and also wild.
Gary was a feral cat, living close to the 405 Freeway in Southern California in an area scheduled for bypass, bridges and intersections galore. Dedicated animal lovers set out to humanely trap the many wild cats living there and release them elsewhere in a safe location; they were doing an amazing job. Gary was trapped one sunny day and for some reason, deemed unfit for release. He came to live with us, one of the first feral cats I had the pleasure of knowing! Of course, I knew he would soon fall prey to my charms and tumble into my arms. He was friendly, remained close by and warily approached me for food. I was positive and patient that soon we would bond, but it was not to be—a sad fact for me!
Two months after Gary’s arrival, one of our veterinarian friends called, asking for our help. A pair of gorgeous young feline littermates were to be euthanized at the request of their human guardian who, due to her illness, feared she would injure them. Her distressed family pleaded with the vet to save them… And so, Panther and his sister Olivia came to BrightHaven. He, a large, shy and declawed and clumsy black panther, was appropriately named… and Olivia, a minute, tawny owl-faced beauty. They were both bright eyed and absolutely stunning.
Livvy and Panther did not seem terribly bonded and soon began to explore their new home eagerly… Well, Livvy did, but Panther looked no further than the fearful and somewhat angry-looking orange face that peered at him from around the garden door. Just one look was all it took (where have I heard that before, I wonder??!!) as Panther laid eyes upon the rakish and extraordinarily tough-looking guy, Gary. After a quick sniff, followed by a subservient head butt from Panther, the deal was set. The two became one in an instant and were inseparable until the sad day of Gary’s death fifteen years later.
Over time Gary mellowed much and even moved to live with his mate in one of the prestigious kitchen baskets, eating alongside the crowd on the countertop. He always ducked back or behind Panther should a human hand dare to come too close. But then the miracle came…
We noticed that Gary would look longingly as we stroked Panther, and then he amazingly began to lean a little in our direction, clearly wishing for the touch but far too shy to try or trust. And then the happy day came when he began to allow us to stroke him—only when Panther was between us and Gary could pretend, to save face, that we were only caressing his friend. Never him of course!!!!!!
Both boys were treated homeopathically and glowed with obvious health and vitality until, in their later years they each suffered chronic issues. For Gary it was his liver and for Panther, painful feline plasmacytic lymphacytic stomatitis and its ensuing mouth troubles. Although their talented classical veterinary homeopaths had done an amazingly fine job, it was fast approaching the time we’d have to bid this pair fare-thee-well.
First Gary began to withdraw, refusing to allow me close to him. His appetite dwindled and he began spending more and more time with Panther at floor level or in an armchair bed. That was such a hard time for us all, especially me, as never before had I so very much wished to be able to hold, cuddle and comfort an animal. Once again, lessons were learned of the importance of honoring Mother Nature, plus the will of others, and allow Gary his space, however painful for us it was. He had the love of his life, Panther, with him and remained calm and content.
At this time Panther continued to look and act well and it seemed clear to us that he was going to care for Gary all the way to the end of Gary’s life, although we learned via communication that he actually may have been planning to follow his beloved soon thereafter and so we remained poised to watch with deep affection the unfolding of the final chapters of the lives of this BrightHaven couple. Their 15 years together was a rich journey of love and living life to its fullest—an experience filled with joy and delight for all who were privy to this most special friendship.
Gary continued his journey through the dying process, his face becoming thinner and his body gradually losing weight, to become bony. His abdomen slowly grew larger and, although he continued drinking water, his appetite began a very steady decline. All of these physical changes were perfectly normal as death drew closer.
He also began to spend some time alone, although we noticed that Panther was never far away! We were vigilant in managing any pain or discomfort and Gary began allowing me more and more freedom to stroke and caress him. Upon wakening, he was often seen standing in a classic cat pose, leaning his body forward as he stretched out his front legs in a comfortable body stretch, indicating no discomfort. For that we were so grateful and happy.
Soon, Gary’s eyes began to gather a little mucous, a sure sign that his bodily functions were further slowing and yet he could still jump to his favorite garden chair for a nap in the sunshine, with his best buddy on the opposite seat! Gary’s last days were spent in love and comfort, with his friends about him, and they proved to be a very special time for all the humans in his life, as this feral boy finally realized our love and allowed us into his private world to tend to his needs and help him to eat, drink and even have his bed changed.
Many times, we have seen animals saying goodbye to each other as death approaches and were prepared for the parting of this wonderful boy team. Sure enough we saw them distance as Panther moved to another room to sleep. Others stepped in to do their part in helping the pair bid farewell, and support Gary through his journey to the next world.
During the daytime, Gary still managed to get himself outside to lie in his favorite garden spot. Only now Panther was nowhere in sight—but, happy for us to note, one day dear tubby old Mr. Woody the cat strolled along, clearly realized the need, and hopped in to lie beside the wild cat who must have been his friend. Many long hours were spent together as they perhaps discussed the catching of mice or other small rodents in their younger days!
In the late afternoon Gary would hobble indoors to drink, and lie on the rug in his room, and we were touched to then see him joined on several occasions by brain damaged Furbee. Very often dying animals have welcomed the loving and gentle arms and ministrations of Furbs. He may not have been able to communicate on the levels we recognize as normal, but he surely understood the power of love. From time-to-time Panther would swing by to shout a greeting, but then would be gone quickly to his new room, leaving us saddened, but understanding of their need to end the relationship.
Eventually I moved the much-used blow-up bed, which came out for many a vigil, to Gary’s side and began my nightly watch. I was soon joined by many cats and Joey-Dog too. Felines Blue lay wrapped around my head and Stefanie and Vancouver snuggled close with SuzyQ and Samantha. In the beginning Gary was understandably wary when he saw his new team of friends so close, but soon accepted and welcomed us each night.
The evening before his death on July 17, 2008, Gary allowed me to pick him up and cradle him in my arms for the first time ever. He lay back and relaxed on my chest. It was to prove one of the single, most special moments of my life. Remember, Gary was a feral cat, who I had never had the pleasure of holding and cuddling before—even once!
That night proved to be our final time together. His breathing slowed and he spent periods where it was so inaudible that one would think him already gone… but maybe Gary was simply stepping out to visit that other world of which we can only dream. He lay calm as he approached the end, and Panther came quickly to bid a final farewell.
Stefanie stretched out a gentle paw as I held Gary comfortably so that the life could leave his body, and the room became suddenly quiet as he lay still, and this time it was Blue who stretched out a reverent paw to touch his old friend. Moments so special as never to be forgotten… And once again we have been humbled and honored to be present and witness a precious life come full circle.
One often hears how, after the death of a life-long partner, the one left behind can never again really find the will to continue on with life, grieving until their time comes, and that is just what Panther did. He remained loving, affectionate and close by for comfort and care, but always with that faraway look to his eyes. His own illness finally took a turn for the worse and Panther was clearly on another road and not to be disturbed.
On the same night and a week before Panther’s death, both Blanca and Jessica (BrightHaven vet techs) dreamed that Panther and Nicki the horse would leave together. During those long seven days, which we will never forget, Nicki lay outdoors and Panther lay indoors, both gradually winding down to be in that special place from which to slip away to new life, and this Panther did at 7 p.m. on March 27, 2010, just exactly 12 hours before Nicki, his trusted steed, was ready to take him onwards. Fact, fantasy or fiction—who’s to say? We rest comfortably in our belief and firmly trust that all is well.”
True love stories never have endings. —Richard Bach
BrightHaven Caregiver Resources to Help Your Animal Live Well Each and Every Day!
- Do you have questions about how BrightHaven’s holistic healing or animal hospice care approaches can help your animal? Book a consultation with Gail by sending an email to email@example.com.
- Follow Your Heart: Navigating a Terminal Diagnosis – helps you walk this often-challenging path with a deeper sense of peace, confidence and clarity. (Author: Gail Pope, BrightHaven President and Founder)
- The BrightHaven Guide to Animal Hospice – learn how to care for your animal companions in their Golden Years and through the end of life. (Author: Gail Pope)
- Soar My Butterfly: The Animal Dying Experience – a simple guide to the signs and symptoms you may encounter during the final stages of the natural dying process. (Author: Gail Pope)
- Walking with My Dog Through (End of) Life – an intimate look at a profound life passage, from terminal diagnosis through hospice care and a peaceful, gentle natural death. (Author: Carol Howe Hulse, BrightHaven Education Program Manager)
- BrightHaven Online Learning – help your loved one live the best life possible each and every day! We share what we’ve learned about holistic healing, animal hospice and living and dying well by following the wisdom of the animals since 1990. Helpful online courses cover navigating a terminal diagnosis, animal hospice fundamentals, the animal dying experience and how and why we made the shift from conventional to holistic health care several years ago.
For more resources and information to help you help your furry family member, please visit BrightHaven’s Caregiver Resources & Education and Animal Caregiver FAQ.
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