Animal lovers know full well that a furry companion can raise our spirits and lift our hearts. Betty Grodnitzky found an animal friend in the most unlikely of creatures — a deer on the lawn outside of her Pikesville residence whom she named Bambele, Yiddish for Bambi.

“I first saw Bambele through my kitchen window in 2014,” recalls Grodnitzky, a Southwest Baltimore native and artist who goes by her Hebrew name of Bracha-Shira. “Her beauty captivated me. She became a major portion of my life and changed my life. It gave me a wonderful reason to get up every day and look out in the yard and see her. It’s extraordinary.”

Grodnitzky, whose husband Stan died in 1989, began photographing Bambele and other area creature friends in an attempt to capture their beauty and wonder. “In the beginning, I actually fell many times when photographing them,” she says. “I learned with experience.”

Grodnitzky took these photographs and self-published two books: “Bambele, The Gift of Love, Wrapped in Fur” and “Getting to Know Bambele’s Furry and Feathered Backyard Friends.” She will sign copies of the book on Sunday, Oct. 21, between 2-4 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 1819 Reisterstown Rd. in Pikesville.

“The books are of the highest quality printing and will become coffee table books looked at over and over again,” she says. “They will make wonderful holiday gifts for animal lovers of all ages.”

Grodnitzky says her experience with Bambele makes her feel particularly connected to her daughter, Kandye, who died in 1996. “Kandye was an animal lover. She used to find animals and bring them home,” Grodnitzky says.

The first time she saw the deer, Grodnitzky says she didn’t know if the animal would return. But Bambele returned to her yard and brought other animals like foxes and birds with her.

“Her schedule has changed,” she says. “She now comes every evening, whereas her visits formerly were during the day. She looks in the window and she stares right at me. I know her and she knows me. It’s beyond words.”

Grodnitzy wrote extensively about Kandye in her books. “She had a very special gift of being able to relate to animals,” she wrote. “Time and again, I find myself thinking how much she would have loved to have shared in this special experience. Believing that her spirit is here with me, I choose to believe she has enjoyed viewing this phase of my life from another dimension.”

In addition to her books, Grodnitzy’s art is currently featured among works by 36 artists in the American Visionary Art Museum exhibition, “Parenting: An Art without a Manual,” which runs through Sept. 1, 2019. Her portion of the exhibition explores the pain of losing a child and her experience finding comfort  and solace from an animal companion. Included in the exhibition is a card that Kandye had written her mother.

“Seeing my story, with photos of my daughter, Kandye and me, together with my photography of the animals on exhibit at AVAM, was quite an emotional experience for me,” she says. “Rebecca Hoffberger [the AVAM’s founder and director] allowed me to bring honor to my daughter.”

The exhibition was emotional not just for Grodnitzky but for AVAM visitors as well. “Numerous people, with eyes filled with tears, came up to me and thanked me for telling the poignant story of love for my family and love for the animals,” Grodnitzky says.

Hoffberger can’t lavish enough praise on Grodnitzksy and her artwork. “The losses that Betty has had are so very significant,” she says. “In the middle of Pikesville suburbia, she found her greatest connection in nature and comfort from the animals. You would assume she lives at the edge of a natural forest because of the great variety of wildlife, flora and fauna she sees.”

Grodnitzky is creative in many aspects of her life. She is an accomplished singer and artist, and can now add photographer and author to the list. “She is self-taught photographer,” says Hoffberger. “I think it’s beautiful that she is so observant. The wonder that she has captured touched my heart.”

Through her life and art, Grodnitzky also remains steadfast in her commitment to Judaism and Israel. “Judaism is inseparable from who I am,” she says. “Prayer is a large part of my life. I pray for people and animals.”

Even through devastating loss, Grodnitzky keeps her heart open to the wider world. “I’ve lost so many members of my family,” she says. “I remember hearing what I refer to as an inner voice, saying, ‘Betty, now go make the world your family.’ And that’s what I have done.”

Anna Lippe is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer.