(Title from the lyrics of a song called “Animal Grace,” composed by singer-songwriter, Laura Nyro, that appears in her last DVD collection, “Angel In The Dark.”)
This is an unusual article to find on a horse racing site, even though its subject is the deep attachment between human and animal. I know that THE VAULT’S readers will understand why it belongs here, among the stories of thoroughbreds we love.
…Last night, Jericho Braveheart, our Spirit Dog, died in the arms of my son and myself. In attendance at our home was our vet, a man who himself was sent by some loving and benevolent spirit to the animals and humans in his care.
For the last three days of his life, people in our community whom he knew and loved appeared, like a band of angels. His first dog walker when he was only a baby — the elderly couple who take coffee every afternoon at Second Cup and who reminded Jericho daily that ” … you are our dog, too” — the children in our building who got their very first dog because they had fallen in love with Jericho — our “flower lady,” Mrs. Kim, who Jericho adored and who kept biscuits for him in her flower shop. And on it went.
It was hard not to notice Jericho. He walked with a brace on his right foreleg for most of his 11 years,8 months, the result of a freak car accident that almost killed him. The vets who attended him after the accident said it was a miracle that he “came back to us” as the dog he had always been, in terms of temperament and personality. Apparently, this often doesn’t happen when an animal survives trauma. But not only did Jericho come back, he resurged with gusto and a renewed tenderness for family, friends, children and strangers who needed a little love and kindness in their lives.
So it was that when we discovered that he was dying, my son and I made the decision to speak for Jericho, to help him to leave us before his illness worsened any further. During this time, I mused about a precious, silvery thread that weaved through the texture of our life with Jericho. It began within days of our bringing baby Jericho home from the SPCA.
In the years that had passed since my previous dog, the “crate” had come into vogue and, accordingly, we bought one, put a soft blanket down on the floor and scattered a few toys inside for good measure. Then we waited for Jericho to do what the dog books said all pups do: namely, to adopt the crate as his indoor doghouse. After 6 days of waiting, during which time Jericho sniffed at it but otherwise crept passed it in silent foreboding, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Scooping him up, I placed him in his crate with several puppy cookies and closed the door.
When we returned, about 20 minutes later, Jericho was waiting for us at the front door.
We examined the crate. The door was closed, the drop-lock in place. So how had he…..?
I placed him inside the crate again, closed the door, dropped the lock and reinforced it by securing the door to the frame of the crate with a leather belt. I tried the door to be sure it was closed properly and then out we went, for another 20 minutes.
And again, baby J. met us at the front door.
He followed us happily into the living room where he sat down, his tail thumping out a drum beat on the carpet. The crate was intact — door closed, lock dropped, leather belt. This time we checked each of the three walls, convinced the crate had some kind of “assembly flaw.” But we found nothing of the kind.
At work, I told the story to a few women from the Cree Nation that had come down from the North to work together with me on an educational mission that was close to the heart of their community: writing units of study in the Cree language for the children in their elementary schools. Even before the incident of “Jericho and The Crate,” I had fallen in love with their stories, customs and ancient wisdom.
Daisy Bearskin and Lucy Shem smiled as I told the story of my Houdini puppy. Then they explained, in gentle but earnest tones, ” Jericho is a Spirit Dog. That’s why he can get out of the cage. He is your Spirit Dog and a cage is not the right place to keep him. Just like you wouldn’t put your own spirit in a cage – it’s the same for your Spirit Dog.”
Then Daisy reached into her purse and pulled out a small charm made of Caribou bone, threaded onto a strip of leather. The little figure was of a howling wolf. She pressed it into my palm and said, “This belongs to Jericho. Keep it with him always. He is your teacher and guide.” I was very moved by her gift. Later, when I asked how she knew the charm was for Jericho, she replied, “I put it in my bag when I knew we were coming down here. I thought it was for you at the time. But after you told us the story, I knew I was wrong. It belongs to Jericho.”
That night, my son and I disassembled the crate and took it down to the basement.
Significance of Animal Spirits
Jericho wore his sacred charm for awhile but I was afraid that he might lose it. Eventually, I took it off and kept it for him in a ceramic jar with my own Native North American treasures — a turquoise beaded bracelet, a Medicine Bag and sacred stones.
Long before Jericho came into my life, I was fascinated by the traditions and beliefs of different cultural communities and had read many books on the subject. So I knew quite a lot about Spirit Animals and Guides long before I met Daisy and Lucy.
The Native North American belief is that every human has an animal spirit and, if our heart is open, they come to us. In the past and in some cultures today, the young are sent out into the wild to encounter their animal spirit; this was part of the initiation into the culture of many, if not all, indigenous Native North American tribes. At essence, this part of the initiation ceremony was about uniting your essence with the Mother of All to become part of a sacred world that is both here on Earth and not here.
Spirit Dog, 10 years later (2010)
Jericho, my son and I reaped the fruit of what was in essence an inter-species affair for a decade. During which we learned so much from and with Jericho, each and every day. While some saw him as burdened by his handicap, we, his family, learned that this handicap was a gift that had been entrusted to Jericho. And he carried that gift with great wisdom into schools to work with teenagers who bore the scars of cruelty and into the lives of strangers who themselves walked on despite handicap, old age and infirmity.
Last year, my friend Liz Read, a gifted photographer and artist, came for a visit. As was typical at that time, Liz never went far afield without her camera. So it was that on this day, shortly before she left, she snapped a few photos of Jericho looking up at me, listening in on our conversation.
A short time later, she sent me the photos with a sort of befuddled note. Jericho had turned out blue, even though everything else in the photos was the colour it ought to be. The blue encircled his heart and head. In another shot, a close-up of Jericho laughing — a trait so much a part of his personality — his whole face was blue. Liz sent the originals together with the same images converted to black and white. In her note to me, she confessed that her camera was likely on the fritz, although she had examined it carefully and could find nothing wrong. She was unable to account for the “correctness” of the background in the first photo (below), as well as Jericho’s hind leg, which is colour correct.
At this point, let me qualify. I am not persuaded by “New Age” wisdom, nor do I subscribe to theories of literal reincarnation or anything of that kind. I am, however, deeply spiritual and I certainly believe (undoubtedly a genetic gift from my Welsh grandmother) that all animate and inanimate forms have a spirit, or soul. And that this spirit, or soul, is immortal however it may choose to manifest. (Actually, this latter is born out by science and particularly, quantum physics, that teaches us how matter can neither be created nor destroyed. It simply manifests itself in a different form — in the air we breathe, in the warmth of the sun on our faces, and so forth.)
My first thought about these exquisite photos, and particularly the whole body shot (above), was that the composition was like a painting — one of those rare instances where one is reminded that photography is, indeed, an art. I chuckled about the serendipity of my “blue dog.”But later and in the days that followed, I reflected on Buddhist and other teachings, where the spirit, or soul, is blue and in which the colour blue, as in Christianity, universally signifies a divine presence, as well as protection from evil.
In the end, I decided that our Spirit Dog Jericho was manifesting himself and hoping that I would notice, just as he had when he was a baby escaping from the dreaded dog crate.
The Circle Closes
As you may know, circles are sacred symbols of eternity. Hence the sacred depictions of them in the artefacts of many, many cultures in the form of the uroborus (snake swallowing its tail), in haloes, in wreaths, in dances, in stone circles and ancient symbols.
It is in this sense that my Spirit Dog Jericho closed the circle of his story in this world.
In the days before Jericho left us to begin the next part of his journey, the hours passed with a great heaviness for me. One night, I decided to Google “Spirit Dog” to see if there was anything else I could learn that I didn’t already know. Up came a listing of sundry sites where the words “spirit” and “dog” appeared.
Many of the first listings were either New Age-y or else, told me nothing new. Then I came upon something called, “Meeko Littlefoot.” When I opened Meeko’s page, I was stunned. Since Jericho was an SPCA rescue, we knew very little about his bloodlines and in those first years, I was determined to chase down photos of dogs who looked like him and carried his distinctive face markings. I never found a dog that resembled him.
Suddenly, here was Meeko and although not identical, her resemblance to Jericho was startling. Meeko is a North American Indian Dog (NAID), a breed I knew nothing about until a few days ago. As I studied the different NAID sites, I also knew that my search was for something tangible that would tell me our beloved Spirit Dog would never really leave us. We humans are thick-minded in this way and I am no different: we think we need proof to believe.
It is almost two days now since Jericho’s physical presence departed, but he is here, teaching me: It doesn’t matter what breed Jericho was or wasn’t — his life was sacred. And to share this part of Jericho’s journey is one of the greatest gifts my son and I have ever received.
Thank you, my darling boy. Within us, you are home.
For all those of you who have known, or are waiting to meet, your animal spirit, this excerpt from “My Dog Tim,” written by Winifred Mary Letts in the 1800’s:
[My dog Tim] he’d stick to me till his lastest breath;
An’ he’d go with me to the gates of death.
He’d wait for a thousand years, maybe,
Scratching the door ‘an whining for me
If myself were inside in Purgatory.
So I laugh when I hear them make it plain
That dogs and men never meet again.
For all their talk who’d listen to th’m
For with the soul in the shining eyes of him,
Would God be wasting a dog like Tim?