Back in the winter of 2011 we were struggling. We didn't know, thankfully, that the struggle would get deeper and harder until we hit the infamous 'rock bottom' from which we all hope we'll bounce, should we hit it. I was holding on to my part-time job, post-economic crash, and looking for anything else I could find to fill in the gaps. In a local free paper I spotted a little ad saying that a person was needed to help look after some dogs. Phone number. So I rang and arranged an interview for the following week.
Come the day, wearing smartish (as in, clean) clothes that didn't look too much as if they'd be ruined by muddy paws, or that I'd care if they were, I found my way to a beautiful, big country house. The owners, a very elderly gentleman and his son, showed me to the study where we could talk. They were lovely. We talked about dogs. Then they told me that the dogs' number one human, their own wife and mother, had passed away the day before. We were all very stiff upper lip - although I tend to let the side down with watery eyes on occasions like these because heartbreak - and I was reminded that the older generation of the British upper class simply doesn't talk about 'this sort of thing'. Or perhaps, more likely, they were still in shock. I've been there.
A week later I returned to start my new job. Every Tuesday I'd visit the seven Beagles, bath a couple, groom a couple, and clean/hose their kennels and yard. I also got to play, cuddle and generally make a fuss of them.
It transpired that their late owner was Someone Big in Beagles. She was a nationally respected breeder and had judged championships all over the country, including Crufts. She had also been instrumental in setting up the Beagle welfare organisation in the days before such concerns were a given.
The thing is, because us humans were virtual strangers and I didn't want to intrude on what was profound grief, we simply never spoke about her. We talked about the dogs, my life and family. We shared an interest in environmental and conservation issues so we'd talk about that. Most of the time it was just me and the dogs. What I learned about her, Google told me. Photographs all over the house, of a stunning woman, showed me her face. She was clearly, going by Google facts alone, awesome. But we still never speak of her. The family does, obviously, but I don't.
The seven dogs - six female, one male - were the tail end of a dynasty. There had been, at one time, more than 40, virtually all of them Champions. I'm all about the rescue when it comes to dogs and I'm no fan of breeders. Nor do I like what showing has done to breeds over the years. That said, the Beagle - thanks in no small part to the role played by the woman whose dogs I was caring for - has stayed true to original type, strong and healthy. And there's no doubt that the dogs I was working with were wonderful and so very loved.
However, they were hard work for the family and slowly the difficult decision to rehome the younger ones was made. Three left home to new (known and trusted) families, sending regular tales of adventures and destroyed furniture (these are Beagles, after all) via their carers, and I was left with four charges. The eldest, already 14 years old, passed away in her sleep about a year after I started. Then my boy, Flyer as he was known at home, passed away about three years ago. So nowadays it's just me and the adorable mother and daughter pair that's left. Somewhere along the line I started visiting monthly, rather than weekly. The family moved home. I stopped needing the work years ago but somehow couldn't leave, so here I am...six years on.
This last weekend I visited and found that the elder of the two dogs, Plum, had been a bit under the weather. She was off her food, and her people thought perhaps it was a tooth problem. She was also being a bit clingy and inclined to snap at her daughter. Usually Plum is the gentlest of dogs so it was all a bit 'off'. A gentle exploration and massage along her jaw, then looking at and touching her teeth showed no problems there. Her eyes and ears were no different and she was comfortable with me feeling along her legs and feet, and doing a few other checks. And yet she wasn't right. She was pushing her head into me and just leaning.
Reiki can be really helpful in this kind of situation, so as I dried her from her bath I kept one hand over her heart and slipped into a Reiki space. It's a kind of meditation 'bubble' into which you invite whoever it is you're working with. Animals will often choose to experience it from afar, flopping down to rest on the other side of the room, stable or even field. Distance isn't an issue. Others really enjoy close touch. I stood with Plum for a moment and just took deep breaths, centring myself and visualising a white light around us. And then I started to cry. Just like that. Out of the blue.
The feeling of sadness was overwhelming, truly a wave. I 'felt' Plum as she said to me,"I'm sad. I'm very sad. I miss her. I wish I could be with her again."
Obviously I knew who she was talking about and as I comforted Plum and continued to hold us in the Reiki space, I remembered that this week marks the anniversary of her human mother's passing.
At coffee break I shared that I (as a non-veterinary person) couldn't find any physical discomfort in Plum. I didn't want to start a conversation about Reiki and grief so I just added lightly,"She does seem sad though. Perhaps she just wants some extra cuddles."
The son, who is a lovely man and very insightful - met this with a few moments' silence. Then, apparently changing the subject, he said,"Oh by the way, my father is in talks with the Beagle Club about having a section of their annual publication dedicated to people who've played an important role in the past." I'm glad that he also made the connection.
Clearly, Plum had been hearing conversations about her late human as the anniversary of her passing came around. No wonder she was sad. No wonder she was seeking closeness and affection.
This is not the first time that Reiki has opened doors to something else for me. It's not an aspect of Reiki that you pick up images or thoughts or anything else, it's just not about that, and yet it seems to allow me to find a frequency (for want of a better word) where this is possible. It's never been this strong though. This direct and almost audible.
I spent a couple of days wondering what to do with it. Trying to unravel what happened and see if it was just coincidence, just a thought, but it wasn't. It was Plum, sharing her sadness with me. I have no doubt about that.
So maybe this is something I need to explore. To try here at home with my dogs. It might seem strange that I haven't already done this but to be honest, I've always been a bit skeptical about animal communication. I'm skeptical about most things but always open to persuasion. I've never tried to talk on this level with my dogs because a) I think I read them pretty well non-verbally, and b) I'm scared they're going to tell me they hate me and want to call the RSPCA. Ha. But I think sweet Plum's openness was a gift in more ways than one. I owe her.