We are the luckiest, who grew up with animals. I can’t remember much about the early childhood pets except that I loved them. As a child, we had 7 feral cats living under the porch at one time, so those don’t really count as pets. And I remember screaming at the top of my lungs while standing on top of a kid-sized table in the kitchen thanks to a Doberman Pinscher that didn’t like kids and which my dad drove off into the woods that night; two Collies, one who I coaxed onto a park bench and blamed myself when he jumped off and broke his leg in a slat; a German Shepherd mix that we named “run, Joe, run” after a 70’s TV show and whose name was changed by an adult, and a miniature poodle who ended up not being very miniature since Pebbles liked table scraps, but who stayed with us longer than any other pet, through most of my childhood, for 9 years.
It was the love of animals that spurred my dream to be a veterinarian, and to have an afghan dog, or start an animal sanctuary. Things being what they are, I am not a veterinarian, I don’t have a dog, and sometimes, it’s me in need of sanctuary.
But I do have two cats, who bring me joy every day. They cost me money, too (more and more lately), but I love them and they love me.
When I was first married and in California, we decided (okay, I was overruled) to get a cat. He had good points: Dogs need a yard to run in, daily walks, training, and maintenance. So I was introduced to cats. Let’s capitalize. Cats. Temperamental, moody, mysterious, vocal, demanding, aloof, intelligent, gravity-defying, self-sufficient Cats.
Maybe it is only after owning a dog or cat as an adult, that we understand the intimate bond that develops. Who, in our lives, daily and consistently is ecstatic when we get home? Who must we respond to, sometimes even before we’ve gotten the mail, or even shut the front door? Who gets their joy from our joy and comforts us even when we don’t know we’re out of sorts? My cat, Casey, falls over and rolls back and forth from side to side, grabbing her tail and licking it, when I get home. My other cat, Schmitter (I’m told) hears my car coming ’round the corner and circles the house interior three times, as fast as her little fat legs can take her. When I get in the house, she head-butts me and grunts. (I know, there’s another little thing called ‘food’ that evokes a similar reaction.)
Pets want to be close to you, sit on you, touch you, lick you, sleep in the bed with you. For dogs, we are part of the pack. We are family. For the independent cat, we are accepted (after a long trial period) as a trusted friend.
Animals teach us, too. They taught me that if one dog is special, they’re likely all special. They’ve shown me that a cute dog is a great ice-breaker with a cute guy. They’ve taught me that I must be in tune with my environment and those around me, because not everything is said in words. And because I have reaped the rewards of years of playfulness, company when I feel lonely, and a warm snuggle when I am cold, I guarantee that these creatures are worth more than money…worth more than stuff.
They teach me that compassion is key and love is not automatic. What they give me is unequal to what I provide them. They are more than an obligation, more than a toy, more than a pet. They’re my family too.
I’m not stating anything new, I know. If you’ve had or have a pet now, this is common knowledge. But sometimes we need a reminder, lest we forget.