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Totems: Dog Medicine

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

A note from Cie: Many of you know of Thunder, my medicine dog and medicine partner from these columns or from being the recipient of his medicine in healings and trainings. He passed into Spirit on January 23rd. What follows are revised and abridged excerpts of my story that appeared in Dr. Stanley Krippner's, Healing Tales, and some new stories. Look to your own animals to see if they have some of his qualities.


April 15, 1994 – January 23, 2010

It had been a particularly hot, final round in the healing lodge. Prayers had been offered for the world’s children; that their suffering might cease; that they would have a beautiful planet upon which to grow and thrive, in their lifetime and for the next seven generations. The flap of the lodge opened, and the others filed out moon-wise, but I could not leave. I could only stretch out on my belly crying, while my soaking wet pareo smoked with heat. I cried for the children of the world, for my own daughter who was struggling with illness, and for my inner child, many aspects still ignored and unexpressed. When I finished crying, I lay there exhausted, unable to move. Soon I heard sniffing outside the lodge. My medicine dog, Thunder, was looking for me. My fingers reached through the blankets, which had been placed over the sapling frame, forming a womb-like structure above the pit that held the hot rocks. I felt cool air and then Thunder’s tongue licking my hand. He stuck his nose under the blankets and inched his way in along the ground. I knew then that he was going to “medicine” me, because otherwise he would never have willingly gone into the heat. He was a fire-driven Aries, always looking for an ice-cold mountain stream to lie in. He came in anyway, and began to lick my face and body, washing away sadness and pain. When it got too hot for him, he left, then returned, licking me once again. He did this four times. By the fourth time, I felt healed and energized. How does one thank a healer like Thunder? That night he ate steak!

Thunder was given to me as a gift when he was eight weeks old. It was love at first sight. At the time, I was staying with a medicine brother and his clan. Thunder followed me everywhere. I'd walk across the room and he would tumble after me, coming to a halt with his head on my foot. Everyone started calling him Shadow. Usually, names come to me right away, but I just couldn't get his. That all changed one day, when he went unconscious. I revived him with my medicine fan, and brought him to the woods for a naming ceremony right away. I asked the grandfathers for his name, and was told Shadow was only part of it, and I was given his full name. To confirm it, four peals of rolling thunder sounded through the hills of upstate New York. No lightning; no rain, just thunder. It was done; it was good.

Thunder was one good-lookin' dog – long black fur, with a white blaze on his chest and four white-speckled paws from his sire, a Springer spaniel. It was his good looks that got us to New England. My daughter and I, and Thunder went camping at Fire Island National Seashore. Two women from Northampton were camping next to us, and one of them had an attack of puppy-lust over Thunder who was four months old at the time. Over a shared meal, they asked me what I was looking for in a place to live. I replied that I was looking for an area that was rural, but not redneck; that supported and promoted the arts, and had a sensibility for the sacred. They said, "That's a perfect description of where we live. Come stay with us, and look around." Thunder and I moved to the hilltowns of western Massachusetts. Because of Thunder, we got to live deep in the woods, explore remote areas for our nature walks, and do work where I could have him with me. Turns out, what was good for Thunder was also good for me.

I was house-sitting for a friend, while she was away. From her cottage on top of the mountain, one could see well into Vermont and New Hampshire. The air was charged with electricity, as the darkness and wet of the storm crept up the mountainside behind the cottage with alarming speed. As thunder sounded in the distance, and lightning lit the sky, the elements were unleashed. Trees swayed wildly in the wind, foretelling the intensity to come. In the eastern sky, there was an extraordinary band of light between upper and lower darkness. As though to signal the advent of the rain from the west, a Great Horned owl flew in from the light band in the east, heading straight toward the cottage windows. At the last minute, the owl made a right-angle turn, crossed in front, then headed back. I wondered momentarily if the appearance of Owl meant transformation of negativity, which it usually did in my healing work, or if this time, she was a harbinger of death. All sensible beings were scrambling for safety, as I unplugged everything unconnected to surge suppressors. Strangely, Thunder insisted on going outside. More uncharacteristically, I felt that I needed to let him. I had just closed the heavy farmhouse door, and was heading for the kitchen to watch for him, when without preamble, lightning reached from the sky to the mountaintop. BOOM! It hit the ground, right where I’d last seen Thunder. He yelped in fear and pain. Immediately, I ran to the door. He was moving in circles and shaking all over, but he was able to come to me when I called him. I didn’t realize until I saw him alive, how afraid I’d been that lightning had struck him. The lightning struck very close; he shook for two days. After this initiation by fire, he began his healing work in earnest.

The most essential part of life is to love and allow ourselves to be loved. Loving another being, especially a being in the natural world can help us to love ourselves, and find the divine in life. Loving Thunder gave me that gift. My relationship with him was one of the most enjoyable relationships in my life. Now, you may be thinking that is because he was a dog. It’s true that relationships with humans tend to be more challenging and offer more life lessons. Animals just love you unconditionally, no matter what you do or don’t do for them. Thunder’s complete acceptance of me was wonderful, but the love I feel for him has more to do with the particular being he was. I never tired of sharing my life with him. He was my familiar, and a friend who never failed me. Our relationship was special because we respected and trusted each other. I related to him and communicated with him in all his wonderful complexity.

Thunder was my medicine dog, helping me in my healing work. He was a healer in his own right, training as a medicine dog during his first days with me, after I realized that was his path. Besides the usual training commands, his education consisted primarily of exposure to many different environments. Thunder went almost everywhere with me, into diverse geographical and social situations. So that he would be welcome in situations where a dog normally was not, he had to respond with greater sensitivity than other animals. His physical training made his body strong and durable; his mental and emotional training cultivated his natural intelligence and sensitivity, and Life gave him his great heart.

I called him an "energy groupie" because he always wanted to attend ceremonies and healings. When he was younger he was too inexperienced for some of the more serious healings. Part of the gift of animals is that they absorb and siphon off negativity for humans. That’s a good thing to remember when fighting takes place in the home. The more sensitive the animal, the greater the absorption of energy. One’s animal companion should be cleared of harmful energies for optimum health and well-being. Cedar, sage, essential oils or copal are all effective for clearing. In the mystical realm our animals may “take the hit” for us when we do not assume responsibility for our own bodies or actions. I recall the times Thunder manifested some physical ailment, corresponding exactly on the metaphysical plane with an issue I’d avoided or left unresolved. When he had digestive problems, usually there was something in my life I couldn’t “stomach” or digest. I watched him have ear inflammations when someone was criticizing my life, or saying something that I did not want to hear. Through experience and observation, I have come to know that the subconscious mind receives thought patterns quite literally, and the body manifests them in a physical pun. Did you imagine that part of your pet’s soul contract was to help you with your physical and emotional challenges? Humans and pets are so psychically connected, pets often take on our character traits and disease patterns.

Over the years, Thunder was pretty much a part of all my healing work. He would either work on the person or animal who arrived for healing, or be in the corner, anchoring the energy. At healing conferences, he was allowed to roam free as he often did this for an entire group. I had seen evidence of a great spirit shining in his old-young eyes. I had seen him heal people by his extraordinarily loving ways. He was especially healing to elders and children. An old man said he had recently lost his favorite dog after many years, and that even though he had other dogs, it was the half-hour that he spent with Thunder which made him feel whole again. One time, someone who was staying at my house had a serious illness. Though Thunder always slept upstairs with me in my room, this time he stayed downstairs with this man for two days and nights close by his side. On the third day, the man got up feeling much better. Thunder went back to being his normal self, after being smudged to release negative energies. Another time a housemate was crying in great emotional distress. We were sitting in the living room. Even though he knew he was not allowed on the couch, he went over to her, and without hesitation climbed onto the sofa and into her lap, licked away her tears, curled up and lay there until she was once again composed.

If I’d needed evidence that Thunder was a great soul, the incident with Gwyneth, our kitten would have confirmed it once and for all. When Gwyneth was separated from her mother, she still wanted some nursing for comfort. She was entirely unafraid of Thunder, who was an eighty-pound dog. He certainly was surprised the first time she nosed around, looking for that satisfying nipple to which she had become accustomed. He must have sensed that she needed the comfort, because whenever she wanted, he let her suckle from him. He lay patiently on his side, just as her mother had done - for about a week. After a week he said, that's enough! I understood the meaning of peace on earth, seeing Gwyneth cuddled up to him, sleeping in complete trust, or boldly picking at his food bowl for leftovers. Later, when she had her litter, he watched over the kittens, when anyone came near them, or when Mom went outside for a well-deserved break.

Thunder was very healing to me as well. In the years that he was with me, there were many times that I was amazed and amused by what I think of as his sense of humor. He would nip playfully at my ankles and tug on my slippers as I tried to walk up the stairs unencumbered. Above all, he kept me joyful. The same great heart prompted him to sing to music (usually on key), whether it was a plaintive Celtic melody, opera, or country-western. If it was rock, we'd dance. It kept me balanced and grounded to take care of him. Feeding him, going for walks in the woods, and giving him love and affection was my privilege. The way we take care of our animals is how we honor them. He took care of me by reminding me that life is meant to be enjoyed, and by keeping me laughing. When I cried, my friend licked away the tears until I remembered who I was.

Thunder tried hard to understand my verbal language, and indeed there wasn't much of anything he didn't understand, though it was much easier for him to perceive images in my mind. We were especially synchronized when we were out for our daily walk in the woods. I had only to think fleetingly of the direction in which I wished to go, and he was headed that way. I let him lead me when I was enmeshed in brambles or on rough terrain. When I used words to ask him what he wanted, he’d do a double-take and then hold very still to let me know I hit upon the right thing. Made me laugh every time. That and the way he cocked his head from side to side, as though it were a dowsing rod, divining the vocabulary he knew from the other words they were all tangled up in. If it got too complicated or he wasn't pleased with what was happening, the side of his upper lip would curl under in consternation, and he'd look puzzled until things changed. It’s surprising how cuddly an eighty-pound dog can be, especially if he’s ingratiating himself into a situation or bed where he’s not sure he’s supposed to be. While he tested the waters, he was his cutest, coy self. I loved that silent, replenishing closeness, as he did, for he felt safe to turn on his back and expose his belly.

Our animal friends, and in fact all our relatives in the natural world communicate, just in ways other than we humans do with each other. Often their language is telepathic. If we can put human arrogance aside, which compels us to think that nothing other than speaking or writing is communication, then we may find ourselves receiving pictures from them of what they want. Four-leggeds communicate in a way that is closest to humans, especially those with whom we live, but all species have a language besides body language - either of sound, movement or the release of smells. If we don’t make distinctions between us and them, and are open, they can give so much meaning to our lives. I promise you that if you love and respect your animal friends by honoring their needs, allowing yourself to see who they really are, and opening to their wisdom, you will receive one of the great joys of this life, the companionship and unconditional love of an authentic being.

Once I took Thunder to an animal communicator's weekend. All the other dogs were fighting and being territorial. Thunder sat there like a buddha in the midst of chaos. The host wanted to spend some time with him. He said, "The first thing you notice about Thunder is his intelligence." He asked Thunder to show him who he was and Thunder showed him his heart. He said, "In the center of his heart was a door, and when you opened the door, all you saw was sky." That's how I'll remember Thunder.


Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a healer and writer for 35 years. As an interfaith minister, advocate and steward for the natural world, Cie lives and works shamanically, with light and sound, offering healing for animals and humans. For healing in person or by phone, for you or your animal, a reading, spiritual training, to attend Cie's Arts Salon, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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