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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. March's Theme: "Pets"
Volume 4 Issue 3 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Pets: The Shadow Side

with Dawn Baumann Brunke

As a young child, I understood the word "pet" in connection to my dog and other dogs and cats by the action of stroking their fur. They were called pets, that is, because we pet them. And we pet them because we love them. What could be simpler?

As I grew older and began confronting what lives beneath simple assumptions, however, I found a more complicated picture.

Etymologically, it is unclear from exactly where and when the word "pet" derives. But if you dig a bit, you'll find that the term has connections to both "a spoiled child" and the "plaything of a spoiled child" - indulgence being a key element of both. A pet is defined as a favorite, cherished object of affection; an animal kept for amusement or companionship. In this sense, we pet our pets because they are ours to pet.

While we may not want to acknowledge it, ownership nestles right up beside the notion of a pet, since most pets are bought and sold. The 'owner' of the pet is the decision-maker who determines what the pet eats, where it sleeps, and what it does most of the day. Owners make other very personal decisions for their animal: neutering, debarking and declawing - even tail-bobbing and ear-clipping. Most often, these decisions are made according to what the human wants, not the animal.

As I wrote my first book about animal communication, I had many conversations with people about pets as well as with animals in captivity. I found it interesting how some of these people clearly thought zoos, for example, were horrible places. The sentiment was that whether or not adequate space, food and living conditions were provided, zoos were places of imprisonment.

And yet, I asked, what about aquariums filled with colourful fish or glass tanks holding lizards and frogs? What of cats forever kept inside the house or dogs restrained to a leash or tie? What of ornate cages confining birds or elaborate, plastic toys designed for us to watch mice and guinea pigs spinning endlessly in exercise wheels? Indeed, what kind of a zoo was being run at home? What sacrifices do animals make in becoming our beloved pets?

I did not exclude myself from these questions. In particular, I wondered about the goldfish in my aquarium. Though all of my dogs had told me they chose to be with me for a specific reason, what of the fish? I had originally bought them for decoration in the aquarium, but I never stopped to think about the fish themselves. It was not like they were dogs, after all; they were just - goldfish.

Perhaps it was a guilty conscience that boomeranged me into a state of hypersensitivity, for I began to wonder if it was right to keep any animal at all. Was my aquarium merely an elegant prison? Had I become an unwitting warden to goldfish?

If we are to see things as they truly are, we must be willing to enlarge our perspective. We must be willing to let go of the hotly-guarded judgments and cleverly-presented rationalizations which are often mere defenses against seeing the larger picture.

Thus I began my own exploration of captivity at home with the sage advice J. Allen Boone expressed in his classic book, Kinship with All Life: If you want the facts, ask the animal.

As I centered and made contact with my three goldfish, their beauty immediately touched me. Just as graceful and lovely as their physical form, the words and thoughts from the goldfish bubbled up in my mind as if filled with light and air. The more we spoke, the more I sensed them as very gentle, kind and intrinsically beautiful creatures.

My main concern, of course, was their living conditions, and so I questioned them about their tank. Did they feel captive? Perhaps they would prefer being in a pond with other goldfish?

Surprisingly, the initial feeling I got back from this question was one of shock. The goldfish were appalled. They were very happy in this tank, they said. Why would they want to go elsewhere? Life in a pond would be very different, troubling even. They explained how they would need to have a completely different consciousness for life in the wild, as there would be the constant necessity of being aware of predators.

As this line of thought wasn't something I expected, or even imagined, it was my turn to be shocked.

The goldfish then said they were especially pleased their tank was in the main living area so they could watch the humans and dogs and even television.

"Television?" I exclaimed. "You watch television?"

"Oh yes," they replied. "We like the television, especially the nature shows." They added they had learned much about other species from watching the television and this was one of the reasons they were very pleased to be in this situation.

They reminded me then of where they had been when we first met - in the feeder tank of the pet store. The consciousness of many of the fish in that tank, they said, was filled with fear and resignation. Most knew they would be a meal for some larger creature, as they believed they would have been.

When I asked if it was destiny or karma which kept them from becoming a meal for something larger, they said they didn't know. They expressed how they were pleased with living in this tank, and enjoyed each other's company. They felt this life was very special, not only because they didn't have to worry about predators, but because they had a chance to learn so much about humans and other life forms.

I had to wonder if this was my guilt-ridden subconscious talking, for again and again the goldfish related how contented and safe they felt. They definitely did not want to be anywhere else, they said, at least for now. The largest of the fish added he was living longer than he expected because he was learning so much and enjoying his life a great deal.

As I ended our conversation - not only relieved, but awed by the quality of thought these marvelous creatures held - I began to understand how an animal's life is often very different than what we humans might expect or interpret it to be. It was my human lens which first viewed the fish as decorations, and then, with projections of my own fears of captivity, viewed them as prisoners. As the fish related, however, neither of these scenarios was their experience.

Though it made sense, a part of me still questioned if all this goldfish talk was just an elaborate way of assuaging my own guilt for keeping the fish in the tank in the first place. How could I confirm what they were saying was true?

A few nights later, my husband and I were staying up late, watching a video of The Abyss, a film that largely takes place underwater. At one point, I turned my head and happened to glimpse the goldfish. I was simultaneously stunned and amused to feel a tingling rush of inner knowing that all they had told me was true, for there were all three fish floating gently in the middle of the tank, their eyes gazing straight ahead, directly in line with the television screen. I started to make contact, excited to ask: "Are you watching this movie with us?" - when I heard a loud "Sssshhhhh!" voice inside my head. They flicked their tails as if in irritation that I had disturbed them. I fell into laughter, never in my life believing I would be so happy to be shushed by three goldfish.

In letting go of expectations and assumptions, what we find beneath the surface is often surprising. Through a series of mysteriously orchestrated events, we come together with certain animals in our life, opening ourselves to the opportunity - and joy - of relationship.

Every animal who lives in your home has a story to tell you, if only you are willing to ask - and listen. Our animals teach us, protect us, guide us, learn from us, share with us, have fun with us, love us, and so much more. As we open ourselves to feeling on deeper levels, we find an inner core of relationship which is alive and constantly changing - constantly flowing in and out, uniting one heart touching another.

Thus we relax into an easier, more natural way of being. Assumptions fall aside as we move into the open-hearted integrity of a loving relationship. One of my favorite times of the day is sitting on the floor, petting my dogs. I pet them because I love them. What could be simpler?

Dawn Baumann Brunke is the author of Animal Voices: Telepathic Communication in the Web of Life and Awakening to Animal Voices: A Teen Guide to Telepathic Communication with All Life. Both books explore the deeper nature of our relationship with animals, nature, each other and ourselves. For more, see Dawn's website.

Be sure to read the reviews of her books in our May 2005 Issue and our January 2006 Issue.

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