What Carly the Cat Taught Me

February signals the month of love with Valentine’s Day. Whether you subscribe to this tradition or not, it’s hard to miss the flowers, chocolates, and heart shaped balloons on display everywhere you go. For this month’s missive, I’d intended to write about a rabbit hole I went down about the irony of Black History Month being in the same month as Valentine’s Day, and how one month, or one day, couldn’t possibly capture the full meaning behind what both these events are meant to symbolize, and more importantly, what it says about the society we live in that we have to have these dates. Does Black History disappear from our awareness at the end of the month? Is Love only celebrated on Valentine’s Day? I’d intended to dig deep into this and share my perspective of all this, but it seems that the universe wanted to lead me down a different path.

On February 17th last year, our beloved dog, Alfie, crossed the rainbow bridge. He was just shy of his 14th birthday and had been fighting an aggressive cancer. His death, and my grieving process, permeated my whole being. I feel his absence in every waking moment as a constant ache in my core. As his first anniversary loomed, I had wanted to give space to celebrate the love he brought into our lives and honor him in some way. Instead, we were presented with an extra dose of grief.

On February 17th, 2023, we found our beautiful barn cat, Carly, lying motionless in our car port. We think she’d been bitten by a snake and had just crossed the rainbow bridge when we found her, as I’d been where she was laying only a few minutes prior. Her body was still soft and warm when we picked her up to lay her in her final resting place. HERD members who have been to our in-person trainings both here in Florida, and previously in Ohio, will remember Carly’s constant presence as part of their training experiences. She was the friendliest cat I’ve ever met, and my clients dubbed her a “Cog” – part cat, part dog – due to the way she would run up to greet visitors, excited for attention and love. She would frequently insert herself into our circles during practice sessions, join in class discussions by taking up an empty seat in the barn, and occasionally cause havoc by bringing us her hunting gifts. The joy and comfort that she brought to our space was so much a part of our everyday lives, and the farm feels startlingly emptier without her.

What happens to love as we grieve? How do we open our hearts to new relationships when we are heartbroken? As animal lovers, we experience this circle of life all too often, and we tell ourselves that grief is the price we pay for the love we’ve received from our beloved companions. Alfie was our first dog. Carly was our first cat. I don’t know if these “firsts” have hit harder than subsequent losses yet to come. I do know that my grief is deep and any words that I type right now feel insubstantial, inadequate, and incomplete in my description of what I’m feeling. I’m grateful that both with Alfie last year, and with Carly this year, I am teaching in the immediate aftermath and am with people who understand this particular type of grief. Grieving as a community for the love we held with Alfie, Carly, and all our animal companions by sharing stories of their impact on our lives is a balm to my soul. I wanted to extend this support to those of you outside of our training space this week. If you have lost a beloved animal companion and want to share your story with us, we are here. Join us to honor those we have loved so that the love you feel stays alive. Feel free to email us at info@herdinstitute.com and send us a photo of your friends across the rainbow bridge.

To our sweet Carly: Thank you for being a part of our lives for the past 7 years; for entertaining us, comforting us, loving us, and being with us so wholeheartedly. I will miss walking with you to open the gate every morning, and having you twirl around my legs as I do my chores. Thank you for making your way home to us so we didn’t have to wonder what happened. Rest well, Carly cat.

With gratitude,

Executive Director