In our yoga practice animals inspire us in our asanas—pigeon, peacock, frog, cat and cow. As yogis, in life they inspire us, too. When I recently had a woman in class who had a yoga mat with cats on it I had to tell her how much I liked it. Yoga mats now have so many choices and designs but I had never seen that one. I told her how we had cats at our yoga retreat in Maine and that it had never presented a problem; even our allergic guests dealt with it. She said she thought every yoga studio should have a pet. One of the places I study in New York City (Genny Kapuler) does and I love it! One particularly allergic guest at Sewall House had no problem when it came to Lucy (“I wish I could hug her!”) and our “non-cat” people embraced her as well, sending us photos of her sitting on their bed.
Our first mascot at Sewall House was Westy, the subject of many of our guest’s camera shots. Guests would send us CDs with photo studies of dear old Westy, who was already 10 when he escaped the city in the summer months to his “country home” where his favorite activities were porch-sitting, jumping in laps for as long as he wanted and walking to his wooded outdoor bathroom as a daily routine. Like all of us, Westy had a personality and let you know when he had too much of whatever it might be, or not enough if he wanted a piece of your muffin! As he grew older he gradually became blind with cataracts and had hyperthyroidism. But he did so well, still engaging in his favorite activities, even if moving a little slower. He continued to slow down, hanging in with us until right before our Thanksgiving Retreat in Maine 2008. Sadly we reported his leaving us in our newsletter and received sympathy cards and emails about dear Westy. I had him 18 years. We had seen and done a lot together.
As Westy was preparing to leave us another life walked into our lives. I was teaching a full class over Labor Day weekend. Kent, my husband, had gone down to the lake to do some work on the cabin. But he never made it. At the head of the lake he was greeted by her so he came back, interrupted my class, and simply said “Can I speak with your for a moment?” He never interrupted class so I know this must be important.
He led me out to the truck, which held a kitten that appeared to have a severe eye infection. “She purred as soon as I picked her up,” he said, “Now what should I do?” I suggested he drive her the 30 miles to the vet and see what the condition was and have it treated. When he returned he said they would check her and I could pick her up, as he was leaving the next day for a week in Sweden, where he is from. So here I was running the retreat with my mother-in-law Inga while he was in Sweden. I could tell she was none too happy about a 3rd cat, as we also had dear Shanti the black Buddha coon Kent has saved from a shelter the summer before. Between caring for the guests and our two cats she was right but didn’t say anything. I only sensed it.
The kitty had to be at the vet’s for three days because of our schedule but the vet assured me she was a healthy, loving kitty. When I did finally get there to pick her up on a Friday afternoon, with a guest in tow, they said they had named her Helen. “ Helen.” I queried, “Why Helen?” For Helen Keller, they said. Whereupon I realized that this “healthy” kitty was blind. In our yoga practice the asana are only a small part of the picture. How we think, what we say, what we reflect on and how we treat others and ourselves are key parts of the practice. Kindness is the basic goal of yoga. My heart went out to this little creature that someone had dumped. Our full house of guests embraced her, too, several of them being cat people as well. She slept on the sofa the first night, all the night through, after one guest caressed her to sleep. Then she slept with me as the other cats got used to her (Westy never actually got used to her because he was blind now, too. Who was this new energy pouncing and wanting to play? He wanted to know.) She was a voracious eater; we later found out she had worms and had them treated. Our season winds down in the fall. We have fewer guests than summer so it was easier to keep her in, which we had to do. Each autumn guest embraced her; even the woman from California who put up with her yowling before we realized the young thing was in heat! (She wrote in our guest book “I love Helen.”) The closest vet who could take her right away was almost two hours away so Kent dutifully drove her there. The people at that office sang her praises as much as the first vet’s staff had. Kent, however, did not like the name Helen. She was recrowned Lucy (as in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds). She had this habit of facing upward and waving her head like Stevie Wonder, so I nicknamed her Lucy Wonder.
Our other two cats spent most of the day outside and didn’t really go in guest rooms, which boded well for the allergic ones. Lucy, on the other hand, would spend the night with whichever guest was handy. She slept around! And some were disappointed when she only showed up for one night with them. Fickle and full of love Lucy! We had two allergic women, one had no problem at all, and the second one teared up every time she entered the yoga studio, where Lucy loved to be in the energy, but the guest chalked it up to having had a recent break-up and needing to cry about it anyway! And her closed bedroom door at night remedied any problems with tearing instead of sleeping.
Lucy wove her way into the web of our lives. Then this winter when Kent was living at the retreat with just Lucy and Shanti, having nursed old Westy before his passing, Lucy began to have intermittent digestive problems. We had her tested; her blood work was fine so we continued to research what it might be. We determined that she had irritable bowel syndrome, not uncommon in humans or cats. We were not able to find her a home in rural Maine so sadly and reluctantly brought her to New York City, where I was teaching, to find her a home. The love an animal gives and receives from us cannot be minimized. It was an excruciating decision. I would miss seeing her laying on the yoga studio steps or sprawled out in her beautiful Coon cat coat on the sofa. Kent had already concerns all along about our busier season and the chance of a guest mistakenly letting her out. Now with the new condition there were even more challenges for running a guesthouse with her loving presence there. Guests who had met her expressed true sadness to hear she would no longer be at Sewall House.
Kent at one point said maybe we should not have kept her at all that first day. But I disagreed. The pain of giving her up is real but the joy and inspiration she has given our guests and us has been worth her short stay with us. Her spirit is so special she is sure to re-inspire wherever the universe lovingly takes her. And it is amazing the amount of energy that love can give you in looking for homes that will be right.
As Gandhi said “You can tell a lot about a country by the way it treats its animals.” They are all our teachers, a wonderful gift from the mystery of life and we are there to care for them and let them take care of us, as only they know how to do. Ahimsa, non-harming, is an important principal in Yoga. So as we send Lucy to the next step in her journey we do it with as much ahimsa as our hearts and souls can bestow on her precious joyful soul (her birth defect even gives her a permanent smile as you can see from the photo).
Note: There is a happy ending to the story. Lucy is now back with Donna and Kent! She is now cured of the irritable bowel syndrome and she is the new mascot of Sewall House. How did this miracle happen? That is another story that we will wait for Donna to tell us!
Donna Amrita Davidge owns and operates Sewall House Yoga Retreat in Island Falls, Maine with her husband Kent Bonham when not teaching Kundalini, Hatha, Ashtanga or Vinyasa Yoga in NY City. Their retreat has been operating since the house was purchased in 1997 (it was built by her great grandfather William Sewall, nature guide to Theodore Roosevelt) For more information about the retreat, the training or questions about yoga please go to www.sewallhouse.com or email@example.com