Soul Animals

Orange fritillary butterflies flutter beside the trail, dining on coneflower nectar and dew. The dogs run in front of me. Old Willow leads in a burst of energy, but her speed doesn’t last. Disco comes behind, bouncing up and down until I throw a yellow squeaky ball. We walk together in morning peace punctuated by the warning calls of a Red-winged Blackbird and Disco’s squeak, squeak, squeak.

Willow needs to be inside before the sun comes over the eastern hill and overheats her chocolate brown body. Her labored panting breaks my heart. She’s 13 and her weak back leg collapses sometimes. She recovers her gait and keeps going, a good lesson for me with imbalance from Meniere’s Disease. Heat and turbulent weather are hard on us.

Willow at 6 weeks

Willow saved me after my husband Vic died. When I brought her home in 2009, her puppy sweetness brought joy after years of grief, but before she was six months old, she needed surgery on her left knee. A dog with torn knee ligaments? It felt unfair, but helping her heal healed me.

Now her age takes a toll and this time she won’t recover.

Disco at 6 weeks

Three year-old Disco loves Willow the way a baby loves her Mama. She watches Willow for silent assurance that a new place or person is safe. If Willow moves toward the unfamiliar, Disco follows. My black rescue mutt is a sweet high strung girl who hardly knew her biological mother, so Willow inherited that role. As they walk down the trail side by side, I remember Marion Woodman calling her beloved dog her Soul Animal—an intimate friend closer and more comforting than most humans.

Willow and Disco meet for the first time in 2019

How will Disco cope when Willow dies? How will I? The three of us have been constant companions since the pandemic arrived not long after I adopted Disco. With my help, Disco will manage, the way I managed when my love Vic died. Disco and I will grieve together. More hugs, more treats, more hikes, more visits with friend’s dogs, and more snuggles by the wood stove on cold winter nights.

For now, every night, Willow makes it up the stairs, slowly and carefully, to sleep with her pack. Every morning, I wake up with vertigo and silence before my hearing aid and cochlear implant are in place. I scan my body and groan. “I don’t want to feel like this. This is too hard.” Then I open my eyes and see two pairs of brown eyes watching over me, waiting for me to wake up.







Willow struggles to her feet like an arthritic grandma, but she loves our morning walk. After breakfast, she lies in my breezy office near my feet and Disco lies a few feet away by an open screen door. They aren’t worried about the future. Being together this morning is enough.


I’ve had dogs since I was a child and some felt like “soul animals,” but these two are special companions even though neither has been easy. Do you have pets who feel especially close and supportive?

Marion Woodman speaks of her analyst Dr. E.A. Bennett who called her dog her “soul animal” in a heart-opening 16 minute video called Marion Woodman and the Conscious Feminine Project. If you’re only interested in her discussion of a soul animal, that begins about 4 minutes into the video, but I recommend the whole video. For other posts about my connection with Marion, see Falling in Love with Marion Woodman. If you’re a dog lover, see Black Dog Winter: A Gift of Synchronicity.

  1. Dear Elaine,

    I’m so happy that you get to share your life with your beloved soul animals, Willow and Disco, and of course your beautiful Monarchs too these past six (or is it seven?) summers now. I love your photos, especially the ones of baby Willow and baby Disco! They were such cute bundles of puppy, love and fur. What amazing luck (and so much more), that Willow has got to spend all thirteen years with you so far and Disco has spent the last three years with you both too. I love hearing news about your little pack of three! Can I, dare I, ask, is there any possibility of another puppy arriving at some point in the future?

    My own beautiful soul animal, Sheba, died many years ago and I’ve never felt able to welcome another dog in my home since. Sheba was a short-haired German pointer, a beautiful, soft and soppy dog, whose placid gentleness helped me during many tough moments in my life during her thirteen years. I was only eighteen when I first met her for the first time as a puppy and 31 when she died. Here in my late 50’s, I never say never for when Lin retires in three years’ time that might just be the right time to welcome a new soul companion into our home. We’ll see. Right, I’m off to dig out my old photo albums now.

    Sending love, light and Lammas blessings across the oaks and oceans between us, Deborah.

    • They’re my deep intimates, Deborah–as you know. I’ve had dogs since I was a little kid, but I doubt there will be another after Willow. I understand your heart break around Sheba and dogs take a lot of time–sort of like raising a kid. For retired me, love is worth it plus they encourage me to keep moving, even in a snowstorm or heatwave. I once wrote a story about my history with dogs, beginning with my farmer grandpa’s sweet dog Poochie.

      It’s hot here and the earth is thirsty, although not combustible so far. We humans have made a mess of a Divine Gift. Blessed Lammas to you, dear one, and may there be bounty in the harvest.

  2. It’s never easy to see our pets grow old, especially when they were the ones who pulled us out of grief and encouraged us to live again. Willow has been so important in your life, and now her life is hiding down. My heart goes out to you. Disco will be a different partnership. My two young cats gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and eventually their time here ended

    • It’s nice to hear from you, Mark. No, it isn’t easy and I’ve been through many dogs in my life. I never expected Willow to live this long, but here she is ready for a walk or a nap and still continent and enthusiastic. Willow has been especially important, but when it’s her time, I’ll let her go knowing we helped each other. My relationship with Disco will change without Willow in our lives, but that time is in the future. Animals help us so much in times of grief because we have to do the simple things to tend them like walks and food, but we don’t have to worry that our honest grief and tears will overwhelm them. They’re great teachers in the art of surrender to the body.

  3. My heart leapt up when I beheld the photos of your beloved Willow and Disco. You have written about them before, but they seem so real in the pictures–on the path and with their “Mama.” Chocolate and ebony, they are a sweet match.

    You show the benefits of pure love between the species, even with butterflies. Incidentally, I had to look up the meaning of the word “fritillary” and discovered its in the family of butterflies I am most familiar with. I enjoy learning new words. Thank you!

    Another phrase that resonated with me is “arthritic grandma.” I’m off to the chiropractor’s office this morning, but I needed to visit you first. 😀

    • Thanks, Marian. I think I could use a good chiropractor, but most I knew have retired or don’t live nearby anymore. My dogs give me the sweetest affection. I haven’t lived without a dog since I was a young child except in my college years. When Vic and I bought this house in 1972, we also got a Black Labrador puppy for us and for our 2 year old son. And soon there were 2 sons.

      I love the word fritillary because it sounds like the way they fly and flit. Monarchs and Swallowtails are floaters. It’s been a fritillary year here, but Monarchs have arrived and I love playing with them as much as ever. I just released a beautiful female with the blessing, “Go out, thrive, and lay eggs.” Her eggs will be the migrating generation. Love from the north country.

  4. Daisy–Willow–Disco…the continuing thread of love. thank you Elaine.

    • And it goes back and back and back to Poochie, my grandpa’s dog when I was a little girl. I have canine and butterfly love fever.

  5. A lovely post Elaine thank you. A death of a beloved pet whether cat or dog or other can cause grief related to human deaths to resurface. I know I felt that way when two lovely dogs died at my home. The one, a labrador, Murdoch, lay down and died under our old oak tree, in the shade, near the enormous trunk. I was with Betty a black and white spotted small rescue dog, when she died. Harry a beloved ginger cat died under the table in my living room. I thought her time was nigh as he wasn’t eating or drinking but nevertheless it was so sad. I buried her in my garden. And the deaths of loved ones re-surfaced …

    We don’t have a pet at home though we look after our son’s ginger cat Angie when Mike goes away. He recently returned from the US and I kept him up to date with photos of Angie just about every day.

    I love that you have dog and butterfly fever! On the ground and in the air. Thanks for the Marion Woodman interview link – will check it out just now.

    • Thank you, Susan. Willow is lying next to me and breathing quietly. She’s more clingy than usual and I think her knees must hurt, but so far the pain killers the vet prescribes give her diarrhea which she and I find upsetting. I’m giving her CBD oil every day and glucosamine. The weather is hard on an old dog, so we’re not moving much. She took a run at 7 am this morning even though I kept reminding her to slow down and walk with me at my pace. She finally did. I hope she can die quietly at home when it’s her time, but my vet makes house calls to euthanize, so that’s comforting. It will be heartbreaking because attachment hurts. Having a grandpet sounds like a great idea.

      I love that video with Marion and find it one of the most natural of many videos. Just Marion telling stories without fancy embellishment by producers. May you and your family be well and safe.

  6. I hope you have many more happy years with them!

    • I don’t wish for too much with old Willow, but she ran with Disco for about 10 minutes this morning before it got hot. “That’s it for today,” her body said. She’s sleeping near my feet. We’ll go out after sunset.

  7. The three of you are so blessed to have each other. We lost our Pablo, last year. He was nearly twelve and the most lovable boxer! Lucky, our little rescue, now seven, like us, misses him. But life goes on and we do the best to keep each other’s spirits up.
    Thank you for sharing the link to Marion’s interview. I loved it, especially with her link to India.

    • I agree, Corinne. I’ve loved dogs since I was a little girl and can’t imagine living without them. Disco is part boxer and she’s sweet, sweet, sweet. I’m sorry your beloved Pablo died and I’m glad you have a rescue. I couldn’t imagine living without a dog on my hikes, so Disco is my Lucky equivalent. Love, love, love. I agree that’s a great video of Marion Woodman. Nothing fancy, no fast cuts or music, or flashy backgrounds. Just Marion telling stories the way I remember her. Thanks for commenting.

  8. They give us so much, don’t they? Loved this post Elaine. I’ve found similar companionship with my dogs, and I’m always amazed at how much they teach me. :O)

    • My dogs teach me about constant love and clear emotional communication. Willow wants to be near me when the weather is stormy, so I write to the rhythm of her soft snores. Disco wants to snuggle all the time and needs lots more exercise in general, but not in this humid heat. We’re taking longer walks before breakfast before the weather gets steamy. I can’t imagine living without dogs and hope I won’t have to.

  9. My little girl cat is showing signs of arthritis and takes the stairs slower nowadays at age 15. She is our first and only pet that we had together and when she goes, too, I won’t be able to bear it. The only comfort might be that she’ll be crossing that Rainbow Bridge to where he’s waiting for her.

    She’s so afraid of new things, unfamiliar sounds and strange people, and I don’t want to uproot her life here, so, crazy as it may seem, I think that’s why I stay here. After that, who knows…

    • Oh, Joe. How I understand. I won’t consider moving as long as old Willow is alive. She’s 13 which is old for a Lab and still takes short runs with my younger dog Disco and likes to take walks with me, but she clings to me in a new way. I think her back knees are painful and arthritic from ACL surgeries but every medicine the vet has tried for pain gives her diarrhea which is so distressing for both of us. I’m giving her CBD oil once a day and that seems to help. Have you tried that with your kitty? Sounds like she is aging naturally and normally and still making it up the stairs to be near you.

      You will bear it, Joe. Somehow you will and somehow I will. Willow is my relaxed dog, but I’m concerned about younger Disco who is extremely attached to Willow and to me. If I have to leave this land, my son in NC will take Disco (we made that deal when I adopted her), but I can’t stand the thought. Somehow it will work out and somehow we’ll both get through these life and death changes. Sending you hope.

  10. Dear Elaine,
    You summed it up for me in your response to Deborah: “For retired me, love is worth it plus they encourage me to keep moving, even in a snowstorm or heatwave.” I have lived with four dogs in my adult life and loved them all, but I have never been as close to a dog as I am with Blue, the puppy we adopted a little over a year ago. Being retired and living with a chronic illness have changed the rhythm of my days, which now revolve around my walks in the forest with Blue. Like you, I frequently wake up in a body that is hard to inhabit, and then a Blue snuggle has me ready to greet the day.

    I can just picture Willow, with her arthritic body, making it up the stairs at night to be with her pack. Dogs teach us so much about keeping growing old and living in the now.

    With love, Anne

    • Blue sounds perfect for you, Anne, and keeps you visiting the forest–good for body and soul. I’m grateful Disco doesn’t need huge amounts of exercise. Two 20 minute walks–one in the morning and one in the evening–is enough when it’s very hot or cold. When it’s extremely hot, she lies down in the shadiest place on the trail and waits for me. Willow walks with me and when Meniere’s symptoms act up, the two of us walk at the same speed. Fortunately the weather cooled here so being outside is easier for all of us and we can take much longer afternoon walks in the woods with Disco running up and down the trail and Willow ambling along. Our soul companions make life sweet.

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