Buckley came to Ingrid King when she was working as the manager of the Middlebury Animal Hospital in Virginia. The tortoiseshell rescue with the bent leg wasn’t the first cat to wander into the writer’s life; but she packed an emotional and spiritual wallop that King has yet to recover from. Not that she wants to. “I didn’t realize how much she [Buckley] opened my heart and changed my life until I was in the middle of the changes she brought about,” King admits.
Buckley’s Story (iUniverse, Inc.), winner of the 2010 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award and a National Book Awards finalist, is her tribute to her wise furry muse and mentor, to the “little cat [who] was pure love.” Think of it as a feline Tuesdays with Morrie. “Her freedom-loving spirit inspired me to finally make the leap of faith and work for myself,” King says. “She taught me about letting go of fear and worry and to live in the moment. And finally, she taught me that sometimes loving means having to let go, no matter how painful it might be.”
King had always had a strong spiritual kinship with animals; she had also always been keenly interested in Reiki, a form of energy medicine that dates back to early 20th-century Japan. A little more than a year after Buckley entered her life, the two passions came together for her. She left the veterinary clinic, bringing with Buckley with her, and opened Healing Hands, a home-based Reiki practice. She worked with animals and humans, often sending distance healing to both with powerful results. Her favorite distance-healing story involves a 15-year-old cat down in Florida. “She had virulent nasal discharge caused by calici virus, was not eating or drinking and was very frail and had very little energy,” King recalls. “After just one distance Reiki session, this kitty started eating – in fact, she got up towards the end of the session and went to her food bowl and ate for the first time in days. She continued to improve with subsequent sessions.”
Buckley, her “little Velcro cat,” started out as official greeter to clients but quickly added assistant Reiki practitioner to her duties. She’d “jump up on the treatment table and curl up next to or on top of the client.” It soon became clear to her owner that Buckley was positioning herself next to whichever part of the client’s body needed an energy boost. Clients began reporting “a feeling of added heat or pulsing where she had been.” After awhile, King just skipped sending Reiki to the areas that Buckley had already seen to.
Even in her day-to-day life, Buckley “radiated” a joyful healing energy, “transmut[ing] the energy of the house in general,” King observes at one point in her book. “Cats are sensitive to energies and have the ability to change negative energies into something peaceful and calming…More people commented on the peaceful energy in my house after she came to live with us than ever before.” Amber, the other tortie-in-residence, had “a quieter, more serene energy” of her own. “Between the two of them, they had the vibrational spectrum of aligning with Source covered,” the writer reflects.
The word-picture that she paints of their lives together is lovingly detailed, the colors rich and warm. But the best memoirs, like Rembrandt’s paintings, have a certain amount of sadness and shadow in them, offsetting the glowing hues, and Buckley’s Story is no exception: Buckley, the little cat with the brave, beautiful soul, was suffering from heart disease.
King did everything she could, but she was finally forced to admit that she couldn’t control the outcome. “For a recovering control freak like me, that was not an easy challenge to overcome!” she admits. "It was a gradual letting-go process, but it was probably accelerated by her because of the kind of cat she was.” Buckley fought being pilled and acted up at the vets, thus closing off a number of possible life-prolonging treatments: “It was going to be her choice how far we would take treatment, and when she would be ready for transition.” So King followed her lead, trying not to focus so much on treating the cat’s illness “on a physical level.” Instead, she learned to really connect with her [Buckley] on that deeper level, and to honor both her wishes and my own intuition with regard to what was right for her.”
Buckley lost her battle on November 28, 2008. One of the great strengths of the book is King’s treatment of her beloved friend’s death. She does this without morbidity or sentimentality, only with loving honesty. The shadows that creep into those last chapters only underscore the beauty of their camaraderie.
And, in the end, that is what we take away from Buckley’s Story – that and the loving buoyant spirit of the cat who, like the teacher in the adage, showed up when the human was ready for her. King herself sums it up best. When asked what word-picture of Buckley she’d like to leave the reader with, the writer says simply, “Joy.”
Ingrid King with Amber, one of her beloved torties.