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This past weekend, I performed a wedding ceremony alongside the shore of Lake Superior in Two Harbors, Minnesota. The setting alone was magical, but several things set apart this event as singularly meaningful for me. The first was that my hubby and I took a six-mile walk along the harbor that morning and at the end of the journey encountered a doe and her white-spotted fawn. I knew that was a wonderful omen for the ceremony that would take place later in the day. Then, an otherwise cool-ish, cloudy/foggy day miraculously cleared to temperate sunshine just half an hour before the ceremony. Finally, one of my most poignant experiences of the afterlife and our connection to those on the Other Side, as recounted in my book in the story Mavis’ Ladybug (pg. 76 excerpted below), came back to revisit me.

Mavis’ Ladybug

I was blessed to know a phenomenal woman named Mavis Vitums
for more than a decade. There were more times than I could count
when I saw evidence of her doing the work of angels in people’s lives,
my own included. She was the most giving person I think I’ve ever
known. In her sixty-eight years on Earth, she had fostered dozens
upon dozens of children and later gave homes to adults in need of
foster care, including my stepfather Leonard and his mentally
retarded brother Benjamin, who both lived quite happily in Mavis’
home until their deaths in 2001 and 2003, respectively.
After years of battling numerous forms of cancer and heart disease
— after even having died twice in the ER and been resuscitated — she
finally chose to let herself stop fighting and truly transform into the
celestial being I knew she always was on the inside.
However, while she was in hospice care in her nursing home
room, a few days before she died, I had said to her, “Mavis, we have
to work out an important detail. What are you going to send me as a
sign that you’re around and doing all right once you pass? I want to
be able to recognize it.”
She thought a moment and then said with a grin, “A ladybug.
Red with black spots. I think they’re classy.”
Well, she died on September 19, 2007, and I was to perform a
wedding ceremony on September 21. I’d gone into the ladies’ restroom
at the golf course clubhouse in Shakopee, Minnesota, for a
final freshening up before the ceremony was to begin, and when I
reached into a basket of paper towels to dry my hands, I stopped
short because there, atop the stack of towels was a red ladybug with
black spots!
The members of the bridal party who’d been gathered there waiting
for the big moment said they’d seen it earlier and just thought,
“Oh that’s nice. It’s good luck.”
I told them of Mavis’ promise to send me a ladybug, and they
promptly cursed me out for making them all cry before the ceremony.
I put the bug on my left palm and ran around the party room, showing
as many of the 250 guests and/or wedding party members as I
could find. The ladybug just contentedly sat on my hand, occasionally
stretching its legs and preening but otherwise never budging. I
picked up my note cards and decided I would perform the ceremony
with a bug on my hand. The wedding went off without a hitch; I can’t
imagine where my newfound confidence could have come from!
My husband took a Polaroid picture of this as untampered-with
photographic evidence.
After about an hour of holding my palm turned upward, though, my
hand started to cramp. I said to the ladybug, “I’m going to have to have
you climb up on my dress, okay?”
As if it understood me, it began crawling toward my chest when I held
my hand next to me and wound up positioning itself on my dress approximately
where a brooch would go. It sat there for nearly another half-hour then got a little bit “antsy,” pardon the pun, and crawled along my collar.
I said to it, “Oh, I get it. You have to go now, right? I’ll take you
outside.”
I placed the bug back on my left palm, where it sat, pouting, legs
tucked in and unmoving. My husband, Anthony, and I went outside
to near the waterfall beside which I’d just performed the ceremony.
The ladybug remained motionless until I said, “I see some impatiens
in the rocks over there. I’ll put you there, okay?”
The instant I’d said that, the bug began crawling up my palm to
the tip of my index finger, just like a trained flea circus performer. I
placed my finger next to a leaf on the purple impatiens plant, and the
ladybug readily climbed onto it. I turned for just a second to hug my
husband and say tearfully to the heavens, “Mavis, you rock!”
When I turned back, the ladybug had disappeared.
Later on, as we were leaving, I saw Stacy, a.k.a. the new Mrs. Jake
Adelmann, racing across the parking lot like a runaway bride, only
she was running toward us. She called out, “Tell your friend how
grateful we are she came to our wedding!”

Back to the present-day wedding. After we spotted the two deer that day, I had said aloud to my husband, Anthony, “Now all we need is a ladybug to make this wedding perfect!”

After the ceremony, Anthony and I were assigned seats at the table with the groom’s parents, grandparents and other family friends for the reception dinner. Later on in the evening, I was chatting with one of the family friends about my book, because she and her husband are animal lovers and she’d shared that her own neighbor had just lost her young chihuahua who’d been hit by a car, and for some reason I’d just started sharing the “Mavis’ Ladybug” story when my eye was suddenly drawn to the table’s centerpiece (made, I later found out, by the bride’s mother). Earlier on, I’d seen two ceramic mushrooms standing in a bed of succulent-like ground cover, thought it was a lovely arrangement  but investigated it no further. When I took a closer look, however, chills broke out on my arms and I squealed in delight.

Set in the center of the table’s decoration was a vintage-looking box with the word and a picture of a LADYBUG. In its open slot was a ceramic ladybug itself! This was the only design of its kind in the whole room, and I was seated next to it! I took a photo of the arrangement as evidence, yet again, that Mavis was watching over me.  (Double click on the photo to see it enlarged for detail.)

If all this weren’t twitterpating enough, I learned the reason the bride’s mother had chosen this particular item was because when her daughter was a teenager, her nickname was “Ladybug”!! (When she saw me totally spazzing over it, the bride’s mother kindly agreed to go to the store where she’d found this one and send me one of the ladybugs as a memento. Anthony gave her the money to cover the purchase.)

Then, she topped all this off by my telling me that she and her husband had seven adopted children and, over the years, 19 fostered kids—giving homes and love to those who need it most—just like Mavis had!!! Don’t hand me “coincidence” here. This is what miracles are made of in my world!

Mavis, you continue to rock, nearly three years after your passing from this physical plane!! The afterlife connections continue, and I am forever grateful!

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Exciting news…for me anyway. I am in the process of having official vestments made for my use during animal blessings. Rosalyn of Pets-R-Loved embroidery products is making it for me. Look for more on this as the project is completed. Everything is a step toward organizing a World Animal Day Blessing Event in early October.

The vestment scarf will featured an embroidered Westie and cat figure, along with paw prints. I will happily bless every kind of animal, but to include every species would clutter the design.

I went to the World Animal Day site and was totally floored by the hundreds of participating organizations from the world over! It really gives my heart a boost to know Americans are not the only people out there devoted to celebrating the human-animal bond. I am thinking of organizing an animal blessing event in Minneapolis this year. It will no doubt be very small scale, but it will be a start. More on this later…or, if someone reading this already knows of an organized event I can volunteer to speak at/perform a group blessing—I am an animal chaplain after all—in my area (or elsewhere if my travel expenses can be covered), I’d love to avoid reinventing the (hamster) wheel. 🙂

You can contact me directly at <goodgriefpetloss@gmail.com> with ideas and/or suggestions.

//

It’s a topic I admit I hadn’t given much thought to, but reading about it, it only makes sense that animals need blood during medical emergencies or surgery just as humans do. I’ve often given blood myself and know it’s a simple, painless procedure that’s so very important to do. I’m going to check with my vet about my Westies donating on their next visit to his office.
This article explains the current expansion of dog blood banks.—Sid

Dog Blood Banks are Rising to Meet Demand

Jun 14, 2010 Valerie Modreski

The demand for canine transfusions and blood replacement has become so high that communities are establishing blood banks to reduce potential pet loss.

When a medical condition or emergency occurs with a dog, it may be in imminent need of blood. To meet this demand canine blood banks are opening, nationally, at a promising rate. Pet owners are donating their pet’s blood as they would their own, and recently established banks are reporting excellent numbers.

Canine Blood Bank Exposition

The concept of blood banking for pets has been around for years, but in recent years it has really taken off. Holly Carey, assistant administrator to the animal blood bank, and registered veterinary technician at LSU’s School of Veterinary Medicine, says the boom can be attributed in part because “there are diseases that we know about now that we may not have known about before.”

The LSU blood bank opened in 1992 and they have since turned into a 24 lour critical care and emergency center. Carey states that dog poisonings are on the rise and once a dog’s blood is tainted in that manner, he may need a complete transfusion. Casey also says “there are a lot of things out there that people didn’t know were toxic, like the Sago Palm”. Poisons have considerably increased their caseload, according to LSU vet techs and staff.

The Popularity of Pet Blood Banks

Before the recent influx of blood banks for dogs, various veterinary offices would have donors on hand. Dog owners would offer their pet’s blood to meet any emergency. Ann Schneider, medical director of the Eastern Veterinary Blood Bank in Severna, Maryland, says “Our blood bank is a little different”, as it is based strictly from a volunteer base. “People bring in their pets to donate blood on a regular basis.” But, she adds, “The need for blood donations grows every year.”

Most veterinary professionals attribute the demand to the fact that animal medicine has grown so much in recent years, and they are able to save dogs that used to have to be put down. When you save a dog’s life, there’s a greater chance that he is going to need blood.

The Future of Blood Banks for Dogs

As of now many of the large banks share their product with vets and animal hospitals in need. The Eastern Veterinary Blood Bank has created a stock supply and Schneider says, “People call us and we ship blood, we also have distribution centers.” These are clinics across the country that keep the EVBB’s blood on hand, ready for delivery in their local area.

The Bank’s staff do a great deal of traveling and admit it is nothing for them to travel hours when they know of a dog willing to donate. Then, the blood products are paid for by clients, or dog owners, and that’s how they are able to continue to offer this much needed service.

Of course, like human blood banks, they are always looking for donors and various incentives are offered at different facilities. These incentives can include free yearly blood work ups, heart worm prevention, various tests done on site and even free food. Sometimes they run drives and offer little giveaways like bandannas and name tags. Then once a dog has been in the volunteer program for a year he automatically becomes eligible to receive free blood for his life’s entirety.

I’m going with my sister tomorrow to visit a prospective poodle for adoption. I was called as a reference by the woman who is screening applicants for her dog’s new home. I understand the heartache of having to relinquish a beloved pet when you’ve lost your job and/or house and can no longer keep your dog with you. That’s NOT what’s happening here.

What I have trouble with is that she is, in essence, running an in-home puppy mill and because this dog, to whom she refers as her household pet for seven years and who slept in bed with her that whole time, didn’t have enough litters or produce show-quality pups, she’s getting rid of her to make room for another money-making bitch.

What stuck in my craw was that she actually admires her own behavior. She literally told me, “It’s the most loving thing I can do to let my poodles go” [when I’m through using up their uteruses]—brackets text mine. I’m really unable to wrap my mind around how someone can think she is almost “saintly” for throwing away her supposedly in all other ways perfect pet for another buck. Our pets are not commodities!

My sister and I know it will be VERY hard to bite our tongues toward this woman tomorrow, but we don’t want the dog to suffer, which it would if the woman declines my sister’s application. Loving our pets unconditionally and with total devotion is a family trait, so I know this poodle is in for a delightful future home. It just breaks our hearts to think of her confusion over why she’s being given up in the first place.
Please, everyone, support rescue, not professional breeders when you get your next pet.

Check out the reviews of the play I’m in. Click here. Come tonight (Friday, June 11) dressed in your fanciest/zaniest wedding attire and enjoy a reception with cake! There are just two weekends left to see this wonderful 1950s confection.

The very talented Georgette Weitz of Loyal Pet Loss just sent me one of her stunning pet tribute frames, featuring my beloved Westie Ludwig in a picture and with his name engraved on it. It really is gorgeous, and I urge you to visit my Pet Loss Memorial Products Page on this blog to see samples of her work. Remember, your pet doesn’t need to have passed on to warrant one of these terrific collages. Celebrate them while they’re here, too!

I don’t typically bash or even criticize another author’s work, but when I read the article highlighted below, I became more than a little irked. I commented on the site as follows:

I champion Ms. Litzinger’s efforts to fill the need of an important niche, grieving animal lovers. In writing my own book on the subject, “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” I heard innumerable times of how much more difficult the process was for people to get through simply because of the dismissive attitudes of much of our society.

I must admit, as I read this article, I felt somewhat put off by what appeared to be a flippant tone used by the author. It doesn’t take a genius at reading between the lines to perceive the writer found the concept of providing counseling services to grieving pet owners to be a bit on the silly side. Quotes like “A Pennsylvania pet loss website (who knew?)…”; “…pet grief counseling differs from human grief counseling—besides referring to the deceased as Buster or Whiskers, of course”; and “This unique, uh, undertaking …” sounds like scoffing smart-assery to me. The subject deserves serious attention, and at least Ms. Litzinger’s quotes give it the proper tone, but the I-think-I’m-so-witty writer here does aptly portray the prevailing ignorant, insensitive sentiments out there.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Eric Heyl column: Western Pennsylvania woman finds purrfect niche

Read it for yourself and let me know if it struck you the same way. —Sid

Hi,

I had the coolest thing happen today. I’ve been Googling almost daily to find the Strib’s follow-up piece about the premiere of “Destination: Outer Space” and never had any luck. This morning, I woke up with the sudden, seemingly random thought that I’d better use a coupon I have for Ricky’s Embers Restaurant in Fridley before it expires.

It’s a fair distance from home, so I don’t often go there, but I took the pooches for a walk in Columbia Park (Columbia Heights) to justify the drive. Anyway, after I ordered my burger to go, I sat in one of their waiting area chairs, which were covered with previously read newspapers. No sooner did I sit down but I looked to my left, and whose mug do you think was staring up at me? That’s right, the surprisingly photogenic Mr. Mihm!! I squealed with glee and had to tell the server why I was spazzing and fully intended to steal that copy of the paper.

See what happens when one is Divinely Inspired?

This was the movie premiere to end all movie premieres! You may recall, my hubby and I each had ONE LINE in it! —Sid
Christopher R. Mihm, photo by Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

250 attend premiere.

Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

Fans turned out at the Heights Theater in Columbia Heights last week for the world premiere of Christopher Mihm’s latest film foray, “Destination: Outer Space.” The movie follows in the sci-fi trail blazed by the Arden Hills filmmaker’s previous works: “The Monster of Phantom Lake” (2006); “It Came From Another World” (2007), “Cave Women on Mars” (2008) and “Terror from Beneath the Earth” (2009).

“Destination” involves a rocket that travels faster than the speed of light — no small feat. Also remarkable was how Mihm’s fans donated time and money when recession-related financial challenges put the movie up in the air (“Destination: Outer Space,” North Extra, April 21: www.startribune.com/local/north/91264509.html.)

Another metro-area showing is coming up at 7 p.m. June 25 at East Ridge High School, Woodbury. For more: www.sainteuphoria.com.

I came across this fascinating, in-depth look at many religious faiths’ stance on whether Pets Go To Heaven (similar to my book’s chapter on the topic) by Helen T. Gray – Jul. 31, 2008 02:26 PM McClatchy Newspapers (MCT) KANSAS CITY, Mo. Food for thought… —Sid

Carolyn Sharp’s beloved greyhound Starr was 4 years old when she was diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer. Sharp decided the two of them would stay together as long as Starr was not suffering too much. The greyhound received radiation treatments and pain patches for several months until the veterinarian told Sharp it was time to end it.

“When we went in for the last time, I held her in my arms for the comfort of both of us until she had left,” said Sharp, who lives in Overland Park, Kan. “I have still not really made peace with losing her so young.” Eight years later she still doesn’t understand the “why.” But she is certain she’ll hold Starr again – in an afterlife. “I believe I’ll have three cats and a whole bunch of dogs waiting for me,” Sharp said. Is there an afterlife for animals? Or as a popular question puts it, “Do all dogs go to heaven?”

Jack Vinyardi of Kansas City, Mo., an ordained interfaith chaplain of pets, said he is asked that question all the time as he comforts people about to lose or who have lost a pet. He tells them there is no faith that claims to know unquestionably what happens to animals when they die.

“It is my job to comfort,” he said. “I believe we each can find answers to divine questions if we look deeply in our own hearts and ask for guidance there. Although our answers may differ from the answers others have found, they are our own, and they will comfort us. “And there is only one religious truth I can confidently assert, that our relationships with our companion animals are both emotional and spiritual, so they never really end, wherever our bodies and souls go after death.”

One writer, mourning the loss of his dog, said recently that there are no souls or a heaven and that the departed, including his dog, exist only in people’s memories of them.

Sharp did not agree.

“If God knows the fate of a sparrow, what makes you think he wouldn’t be concerned about our pets?” asked Patricia Cox of Prairie Village, Kan. “To some people they are our children. Who are you to say they do not have souls or a heaven to go to?” We asked people of various religions how their faith answers the question of whether there is an afterlife for animals:

PROTESTANT Thor Madsen, academic dean at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, acknowledged the desire of Christians to see their pets again. But, he concluded, “We really have no biblical grounds for an assurance that our pets will be resurrected along with us.” Some Christians think heaven would be lacking something essential to their happiness if their pets are not there with them, Madsen said. “But the Scriptures imply that heaven’s overwhelming treasure for us is the fellowship that we, the followers of Christ, will have with our Creator and Savior,” he said. “… Nothing will seem to be absent at that point.”

CATHOLIC Children, and even some adults, have asked the Rev. John Schmeidler of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lawrence, Kan., whether their pet had gone to heaven. God’s plans for animals regarding an afterlife are not fully known, he said. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about animals having a soul, but it wasn’t similar to that of humans, and St. Francis of Assisi saw animals as God’s creatures to be honored and respected, said Schmeidler, a Capuchin Franciscan. The Catholic Church traditionally teaches that animals do not go to heaven, he said. “But a lot of people have a hard time with that, and I do, too, when I see a grieving pet owner. I know God wants us to be totally happy in heaven, and if our dog will help make us fully happy, and if God can resurrect us, I’m sure he could resurrect a dog, too.”

MUSLIM The Qur’an contains no direct references to an afterlife for animals, said Muslim scholar Abdalla Idris Ali of Kansas City. But there are indirect references. One says that in paradise people will be given everything they have asked for, he said, “so indirectly, if they want their pets, they can have them with them.” Islam also teaches that God will be judge of people and animals, Ali said. “For example, he will charge an animal that has horns who took advantage of one that didn’t have horns, and that horned animal will be turned to dust after taking him to account for what the horned animal did,” he said.

JEWISH Rabbi Scott White of Congregation Ohev Sholom in Prairie Village once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Lord, please help me to become as great a person as my dog thinks I am.” “Judaism teaches that God reserves a blessed existence in the world to come for the truly virtuous,” White said. “It’s only fitting that such an existence includes the pet that inspired the greatness. “For myself, paradise with my own mutt (Rescue the Wonder Dog) is a perfect inducement to pursue virtue.”

AMERICAN INDIAN American Indians believe all creatures are interconnected, said Gary Langston of Kansas City, a Northern Cherokee. “All living things are children of the Earth,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we have feet or wings or roots. “So, yes, there is an afterlife for animals. We all are going home, back to the Creator. And, yes, people will see their pets again. The dog I had as a kid, his spirit never left me; he just moved into a different dimension.” Langston said he believes that when he dies he will move into the dimension where his dog is, and they will be in the spirit form together. The companionship, friendship and love that humans and their pets share in this life will continue to be shared in the afterlife, he said.

HINDU/VEDANTA There is a story in the Hindu epic “Mahabharata” about Yudhisthira, the eldest and noblest of five Pandava brothers. When he made his final journey to heaven, his faithful dog Dhruba followed him there, said Anand Bhattacharyya, a member of the Kansas City area Hindu community. “Yudhisthira was allowed to go to heaven, but not his dog,” he said. “But he didn’t want to enter heaven without his dog. On Yudhisthira’s insistence both were allowed to enter heaven in eternal peace.”

Still the general Hindu belief is that animals have souls but no access to eternal life, Bhattacharyya said. “Because of the soul’s inherent urge to be united with its source (God), souls in animals will ultimately evolve to the human plane. Once the soul is in a human body, it is capable of union with God in eternal bliss. But it may take many more reincarnations in human form to liberate the soul from the death-rebirth cycle.”

A similar view comes from Linda Prugh of the Vedanta Society, an organization based on a Hindu philosophy. She said animals have souls, but unlike humans they do not have the ability to reason and discriminate between right and wrong. Animals go from birth to death to birth again and slowly evolve into higher forms, eventually reaching the human plane, she said. The goal of life is to realize one’s true divine nature, which is one with Brahman (all-pervading Godhead), and to see that divinity in every being and every thing, Prugh said. “So our pets, whom we love and take care of, should be treated as manifestations of the divine,” she said.

BUDDHIST From the Buddhist perspective, “I don’t know” about an afterlife for humans or animals, said Marnie Hammer of Mid America Dharma. “The Buddha talked about being present now rather than spending a lot of time worrying about what’s out there,” she said. Buddhism teaches that the animal realm is a lower realm of existence, Hammer said. “I’ve had three cats that I’ve shared my life with and have made my life richer, but I don’t know if I’ll see them again,” she said. “That’s not the question.” The question, she said, is whether one is making life “more peaceful and generous for everyone.”

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/pets/articles/2008/07

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