Loving Animals

February 1, 2008
We can have a profound kinship with animals.

PuppyFocusing on a February theme of love, yesterday I wrote about broken hearts. Today I want to talk about love of animals, for when a loved one is no longer in your life, a pet offers a chance to give and receive love unconditionally.

In the book  Ask Now The Beasts: Our Kinship with Animals Wild and Domestic author Ruth Rudner, who has written about the west for many years, helps us see the interaction between people and animals as a longing for connection, to identify with the animal’s life and to somehow be seen by the animal.

After reading her stories, I began thinking about the animals in my life. As a child we had a puppy for a very short period of time, but we lived in an apartment and the puppy, a well-mixed breed with distinctive markings, kept growing and growing. One day my father looked out the window and saw a huge dog with distinctive markings that was most probably the father. He claimed it was as tall as a pony, though I suspect he was exaggerating. In any case, that was the end of a chance to have an animal in my childhood because my mother was not fond of cats ever since a cat bit her when she was a child, leaving a large scar on her hand. So cats were out.

It wasn’t until we had children that animals came into my life.

Our oldest daughter owned our first cat, a large orange and white kitten she named “Fluffy.” Well, that was its name until we took it to the vet, who declared it was a boy. We guessed he must know, being more experienced with that kind of thing than we were. So the cat became her brother’s and was renamed “Orange Oliver.” Later I nicknamed him “King of the Road” because he would disappear for periodic jaunts with his buddies and not come back until he needed R&R after a fight, or when he was really hungry. Then he would meow plaintively at the door. When you opened it, he would proceed with slow and deliberate steps, as if to say, “I am king of the road and I’ll come in when and how I chose.”

When our twins were toddlers, we had a two-year-old boxer whose tail kept swishing things off the coffee table and knocking the twins off their unsteady legs. She lasted about a day. A couple years later we tried a shaggy terrier who bit one of the twins on the eye lid, requiring a trip to the hospital. Missed the eye by a hair. Got rid of that one. Waited a few years before we got Sabrina, a black long-hair lab, and then a golden lab, mixed with some other undetermined breed, we called Caramel. Both great companions on hikes.

Then there was Cecil the Sea-Sick Sea Serpent or Five-Bucks-Shut-Up, depending upon what member of the family was speaking. “It” was a long eel-like fish (I don’t know the technical name) that I thought beautiful, bought on a whim, put in the fish tank, and told the kids not to tell their father how much I paid for it. In those days, decades ago, $5 was a lot. However, when Bob came home and saw the fish, he asked how much it cost and one of the children piped up with, “5 bucks.” I immediately said, in a low voice, “Shut up.” We never used that phrase in our house and wouldn’t let the kids say it, but I simply reacted without thinking. From then on it was “Five-Bucks-Shut-Up” to several members of the the family, though I still called it Cecil.

We kept Crickter, a boa constrictor, in a cage in the dining room. Yes, I know, some of you wouldn’t have a snake in the house, let alone in the dining room. But we kinda liked it there. My son even raised mice so we could feed the snake, a process that was fascinating to watch. ‘Course, there were more mice than one snake could handle, so he sold them to the pet store.

In addition to the mice there were hamsters, lots of fish, several cats, rats, and a turtle.

Can’t say I was passionate about any of them, but I liked them well enough to keep them for the sake of the children. Now I am content to love other people’s animals, even the ones who will lick you to death or pester you for petting. However, I can do without yippy little dogs that protect their fenced-in front yard from nasty people who dare walk down the street. Wonder how their masters (and neighbors) can take all that high-pitched yapping. And I can also do without big dogs who quietly hide behind wooden fences, waiting until you come strolling down the sidewalk on a warm spring evening. Then, when your ear is about a foot from the fence, they will announce their presence. At least it reassures me that my adrenaline system works.

While I love to walk through the pet store when we go to the mall, at this stage of life I would find the work of caring for an animal more trying than the pleasure I would get from it. ‘Course, who knows, when I get really old and tottering, I may get myself a cat, a lap cat, naturally, and sit there rocking and petting a ball of fur. At least I wouldn’t have to walk down the street carrying a plastic bag behind a dog.

Writing this reminds me of a story I heard many years ago. It seems a priest, a minister, and a rabbi were talking about the beginning of life. The priest said that life begins at conception. The minister thought it better to consider life as beginning at birth. The rabbi said, “No. You’re both wrong. Life begins when the children go to college and the dog dies.”

I ask forgiveness from those of you who are dearly attached to your dogs and want to have one as long as you live. And if you would like to share your comments about this topic with me, please use the Contact Us form on Support4Change.

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