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Pet Stories: In Your Own Words

Princess's Message

By: Nancy Ilk

I first laid eyes on Princess, the Great Dane-German Shepherd, one evening in March, in 1971. She was three years old, and if not for my last minute reprieve, would have been on her way to the Humane Society. Apparently, her previous owner had bred her, kept her pups, and then decided to dump her. When a friend of mine called and told me of her plight, I responded without hesitation--"Yes, I'll take her."

Through the years, Princess and I formed a special bond. As a survivor of childhood abuse, I often suffered from bouts of anxiety and depression, but I could always count on Princess to help me through these painful episodes. She sensed whenever I was unhappy and supplied me with extra face-licks and nuzzling. She was always there for me.

As the years passed, Princess wove her loving spirit throughout the threads of my life. It's funny how one goofy, but loveable mutt could bring such utter joy, making days a little brighter and nights a little shorter.

To me, Princess represented eternal youth and vitality, so I never paid much attention to the signs of her aging. I guess I didn't want to. But one day, while she lay sleeping on the floor, I noticed how gray the fur around her face had become; how it spread down over her muzzle, making her look almost comical, as if she were wearing a mask. Only it wasn't a mask, it was old age. I felt overcome with feelings of love and compassion for her, along with a sense of helplessness that I could do nothing to turn back time.

It was in Princess's twelfth year that I discovered the lump on her side. The Vet said that I shouldn't worry, that a lot of older dogs got them. Months later, though, when the lump had grown considerably, and Princess began losing her appetite, I took her back to the Vet. This time he told me the lump could be cancerous. She would need an operation.

On her last day at home before the operation, I recall looking at her as she lay on a rug near the backdoor. She looked so sad and forlorn, as if she knew something not-so-good was going to happen. I went to the refrigerator and took out a chunk of liver sausage for her. It had always been one of her favorite foods, and I wanted--needed to do something special for her. At first she looked blankly up at me as I handed it to her, but then she accepted it graciously--not with her usual greed, but gently and thankfully. I sat close to her and we looked at one another, connecting with our thoughts and our hearts. I wanted to throw my arms around her and hug her tight, never letting go, but I didn't want to hurt her. Instead, I hugged her with my heart.

That was the last day I spent with my friend. Princess died the following day, shortly after her operation.

Many things transpired after Princess's crossing: a divorce, a remarriage, a separation from my daughters, and a painful, but necessary re-evaluation of my life. At the age of fifty-one, I began a spiritual journey-- and Princess played a key role in it.

My journey began simply. I began taking long walks in the woods with my new dog, Penny. I meditated. I read books on spirituality. And I began dealing with the issues of my childhood abuse.

One day, while walking through the woods, I thought about Princess. I laughed as I began recalling all the crazy and maddening things she used to do. When I got back home, I sat at the kitchen table and began putting it down on paper. I'd always secretly dreamed of becoming a writer, but never possessed the self-confidence to pursue this dream; now, however, I felt inspiration surging through me.

It took me nearly two years to finish my story of Princess. From pencil to computer, I grew along with my story.

After several failed attempts to get my small manuscript published, I finally resigned myself to the fact that it was probably not going to happen. I felt like I had failed, and all the old doubts and fears about my self-worth came rushing back. And then, something beyond explanation happened:

While sitting in front of my computer one day, reworking (once again) my manuscript on Princess, I noticed that a small "dash" had appeared on top of one of the manuscript pages. Perplexed, I picked up the paper and looked closely at it. It looked like an ordinary dash. I put the paper back down and continued with my work. When I looked back at the page, I saw that the dash had moved. It now sat in the center of the page. I stared at it for some time, and then, as crazy as it may sound, I turned back to the computer and continued working. The next time I looked at the paper, the dash now sat at the beginning of a sentence near the bottom of the page. NOW I reacted. I jumped up from my chair, grabbed the paper and screamed, "What is going on?" The dash began to move slowly across the sentence. I yelled again, "Oh, my God, what is going on?" Penny, hearing my screams, came bursting through the door. I turned briefly to look at her, and when I looked back at the page, the dash had disappeared.

To this day, I have no logical explanation for what happened on that page. Perhaps Princess was trying to connect with me--to thank me for honoring her. Or to tell me to keep pursuing my dream of writing. I guess I'll never know for sure. I do know that since it happened, I've been more determined than ever to continue with my writing--and my healing.

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