Ernie was a magnificent black and white cat who lived his days in his person’s pet grooming shop in Boston for many years of his life. He was intelligent, ornery, opinionated, handsome, and charming. He stole my heart within moments of talking with him. I feel love for all my clients, animal and human alike, but once in awhile a particular animal will crawl right to the center of my heart and stay. Ernie did this. I fell unabashedly in love.
During our first conversation, regarding his person’s store, he told me “This is MY shop.”
“Why then,” his person asked, “do you occasionally knock over all the shampoo bottles and pet food bags on display which makes such a chaotic mess?”
“To get your attention!” Ernie exclaimed. “Sometimes you and the others here thank me, as you should, for doing my job, and sometimes you don’t even notice!! It makes me angry.”
“I’m confused, what job?” his person asked.
Exasperated, Ernie said, “Don’t you know! Don’t you notice?! I calm down all the cats who are brought here. I assure them that even though there are loud and obnoxious dogs here barking their heads off and scaring them, they are SAFE. No one will hurt them. And that their bathing experience really won’t be too bad—they’ll have this warm hairdryer blowing on them which feels great and then afterwards they’ll feel all clean and soft, AND their person WILL come to take them home. It’s my job to help them be OK with their ordeal and I do it well!”
“Oh my goodness,” said his person, Diane Dewberry, now proprietor of The Healthy Animal in Pembroke, MA. “We always wondered why Ernie would stand in front of the cat kennels staring at them. We thought he was being aggressive! Please tell Ernie we are sorry for not understanding sooner and thank him for doing such a good job calming the cats.”
“Well,” Ernie said, “you’re welcome. And I would appreciate it if every day, and I mean every day, if someone would notice and thank me. Cats, you know, are not used to all this traveling and noise and being in a kennel like dogs are. It’s my job to help them, and it’s your job to thank me. And tell the rest of the staff too.”
“OK Ernie,” Diane said, “we will be sure to notice and thank you each day. What you do is important.” Ernie purred contentedly and thereafter ceased knocking over display items except in the rare occasions when the people around him forget to give him thanks.
In another session Ernie told Diane that as he sits on the counter near the register when people pay their bill, he intentionally sits on their checkbooks and wallets and sends them messages while he gives them head rubs. “What messages?” Diane asked. “I tell them to spend more money, spend more money, that their cat or dog would like this or like that. I tell them buy more stuff, buy more stuff. I know it will make their cats and dogs happy and then you’ll get money for us to all stay in the store.” Who needs marketing plans for increased sales when you have Ernie?!
Ernie was certainly assertive, and also profoundly loving. In his forays outdoors in front of the shop, a man in a wheel chair would often be nearby on the sidewalk. Ernie always jumped on his lap and lavished the man with affection.
“Why do you do that?” Diane once asked.
“Because somebody told me this man really needed cat love, so I give it to him. He is smart enough to know how great cat love is. He needed my kind of love so I give it to him. It makes us both feel really good. I get to have another place to feel needed and he gets a place to feel loved.”
When I finally got to meet Ernie in person during a trip to Boston, I was so excited I could hardly take a moment to say hello to Diane and her staff when I walked into the store before beelining it to Ernie who was sitting at the front counter. I couldn’t help myself; I just wanted to meet Ernie. He purred and drooled on me as I petted him and allowed me to hold him. I was in heaven as I rocked him in my arms and kissed him. I fell in love with him the very first time we talked and I finally got to meet him and hold him—bliss!
Some years later, when Ernie was making his transition to heaven, it was Christmas time. I thanked God for cell phones (which were newly introduced at the time) which allowed Diane and I to talk while I was in airports so I could help her connect with Ernie and clarify his wishes during this challenging time. While Diane and her dear friend Freddie drove Ernie to hospitals in Boston through snow storms, and we spoke from airports in Atlanta and San Francisco, Ernie mostly complained that I couldn’t get there in person to see him in his body another time! We loved his complaining! He left the earth as he was during his time on the earth: direct, clear, demanding, full of himself, and bursting with love. We cried and laughed a lot in those conversations.
Much later, when I was writing articles for a newsletter, I asked Ernie if he had a message he might want to share with others. He said:
“Yes, tell everyone that it’s really rude to comment on how someone’s looks have changed. When I got old and sickly, some people would say to Diane right in front of me, ‘Oh Ernie must be sick,’ or ‘He’s really getting old isn’t he?’ Well, do they think THEY will never get old and not look like some little kitten? Our bodies are temples when we’re on the earth and an old temple is still a temple and has seen a lot more life and wisdom than a young one. Everybody should be loved, no matter how they look. Looks are nice but they aren’t everything. People shouldn’t be prejudiced about other people or animals just because of how they look.
A few years before I died Diane rescued this little white rabbit and brought it to live at the shop. I couldn’t believe it. A rabbit! And everyone who came in raved on and on and on (it was really sickening) about how beautiful, adorable, pretty and precious this rabbit was. Some of these people were the same ones who seemed repulsed by my old body. I was really hurt. And, I am ashamed to say, I took it out on the rabbit. I never hurt him (I would never do that), but I did hate him for a long time. And even after I died, when I saw that Diane had placed some rabbit statue thing on my grave, I told her to take that blankety (he used the F word) rabbit off my grave. So, I still have some healing to do about being so jealous of someone who is so beautiful.
But mainly, I’d like to tell you all to please love everyone not based on how they look—not everyone is picture perfect looking you know. Appreciate the special things about how everyone looks. love yourself no matter how you look.”
God bless you Ernie. You are missed and loved. May we all be half as wise as you.