As we celebrate the Christmas season, I thought it’d be fun to revisit some of the stories posted at LAA Pet Talk about the bonds between people and their pets, and share some of the truths that those stories reveal. Long-time pet owners especially may not find any of the truths earth-shattering, but they’re still worth remembering as we wake each new day to the company of our beloved pets.
- Pets become our best friends
One cat owner, Erin, believes that her life has changed dramatically by the bond she shares with Blossom. Why? Because the two of them are best friends. Erin can talk to Blossom about anything and Blossom in turn will shadow Erin everywhere. “She and I are more attached than I’ve ever been to any animal, or human for that matter. There’s really nowhere else in the world I’d rather be than at home with her.”
One dog owner, Jenna, bonded with Lucy through the tough times they shared. Jenna’s strenuous academic load and heavy work hours, combined with numerous apartment moves, took an emotional toll on her. Similarly, early in their relationship, Lucy suffered from medical issues, which Jenna scrimped to pay for. But the hurdles that the two had to overcome are overshadowed by the endless memorable moments that the two have shared. For example, there’s the ritual that happens after Jenna comes home and takes Lucy outside. “When we get back in, she races to her doggy bed, sits down and watches me walk into the room. She looks at me and give me a cute little ‘I missed you’ howl.”
- Pets fulfill our need for unconditional love
Truth be told we all crave to be accepted the way we are, yet we sadly often struggle to find anyone capable of loving us in that way. This then is the gift that pets can give, because all our pets want is to be cared for and to make their owners happy. Case in point, not only has Blossom never judged Erin, she’s also always made her feel as if she’s doing a good job. Blossom also shows concern for Erin’s needs. One day Erin lost her footing on her slippery wood floors. While Erin herself wasn’t particularly fazed by the accident, and even laid on the floor laughing hard, Blossom walked around Erin’s head crying and showing great concern. “I don’t feel like I have an empty spot in my life or the need to fill a void. I have Blossom.”
Jenna similarly believes that Lucy is her support system. Lucy reminds Jenna not to take life too seriously and that there’s always something to be happy about. She brings Jenna toys so that they can play, and makes Jenna laugh with her “random sassy howls when the room is too quiet”. By getting her through dark moments, Lucy has shown Jenna that she’s always loved and that she can be herself.
- Sometimes we choose them
Pets have typically come into my life because I picked them. The most extreme example happened about a year after I moved to the Midwest and decided that I needed a pet. What kind, I had no idea. After weeks of research, I elected to get a guinea pig. Their shy personality seemed most like mine. I also appreciated that guinea pigs could bond with people. But my search wasn’t over. Now I had to find the right guinea pig. I shopped around for several more weeks until I finally settled on a tri-color Abyssinian. Fruity watched TV with me, snuggled into me when I read, and as my companion for almost nine years.
One of the members of an online cat group I joined when Lucy got sick has since become a dear friend. Marlo adopted her own cat, The KNIGHT, from a shelter. “It was love at first hold!” The KNIGHT is a Flame Point Siamese, which is orange tabby-Siamese mix that Marlo describes as a “very pleasing combo!” The two take walks together, during which the KNIGHT always shows her the beauty of the woods. The KNIGHT stopped eating when he developed Chronic Kidney Failure, but rebounded from it, and the two are enjoying his new lease on life.
- Sometimes they choose us
In the aforementioned cat loss group a common refrain from the group’s members was that their cat had picked them. I felt the same about Lucy. I had grown up being a dog lover, until Lucy showed up in my bushes and stayed there until I finally invited her into my home. She lived with me for eight years until she died of Chronic Kidney Failure in 2013.
Two of our subsequent cats have been just as determined to choose their people. Despite growing up ‘wild’ in a community cat colony, Bootsie never failed to head straight to the cars of her caretakers. I soon developed a bond with her that she reciprocated. She’d let me rub her belly and even come running when I called to her. A stray kitten, Rainy walked boldly up to a friend of our family and demanded attention despite the presence of boisterous dogs. This friend brought Rainy to us, whereupon Rainy immediately won over our hearts by becoming an almost instant playmate for our other pets. Our friend is now Rainy’s godmother, and she drops in regularly for visits.
- Sometimes they need a sibling
As strong of a bond as people and animals might develop, there are times when adding an additional pet to the household can further deepen those bonds. My husband and I discovered this through our cats. Prior to Rainy, our other two cats simply tolerated one another. Consequently, whenever I wanted to spend time with one of our pets, it had to be as individuals. Then along came Rainy, who greatly improved our family dynamics. I’ll never forget that day in our kitchen when I was preparing food. I turned around and found all three cats staring eager-eyed at me. Since that time, the three cats have groomed each another and have snuggled together with me. As a bonus, the cats even get along with our dog. We’re now one big happy family!
Duana had a similar experience with her dog Finnegan. At six months, he began to chew everything. Keeping him active reduced the chewing to a minimum, but also “became quite the chore”. Instead of giving up on Finnegan, Duana decided to try fostering another dog, which she hoped might serve as an outlet for Finnegan’s energy. Initially, the dogs wanted nothing to do with each other. But then, “After two hours, Gus finally decided he’d give in and Finnegan wasn’t so bad.” Now not only are the brothers are inseparable, but they also often spend quiet time together with Duana.
- Pets can lead us down unexpected paths
Every now and then, there will be that special pet, the one that radically changes a pet owner’s life. Within months of Lucy coming into my life in 2006, she broke all my preconceptions about cats being moody and distant creatures. Lucy followed me everywhere. She also laid on my stomach, my back, my arms, my legs. When I felt sad, she listened to me. When I felt happy, she raced around with me. She turned me into a cat-lover. Which led me into animal rescue. Which led me into writing for LAA Pet Talk. My life is forever changed because of her.
A year ago, when I put out a call for pet owners to share unique gifts they’d given to their pets or had received from them, Kathy responded with a story about Skylar. When Skylar was still a puppy, Kathy began taking Skylar to work with her. People were so happy to have Skylar around that Kathy got the idea to use her as a therapy dog. Because of Skylar’s calm and confident demeanor, training didn’t take much effort. Those days of using Skylar as a therapy dog, combined with Kathy’s research into the value of using therapy dogs in higher education, led her to develop a program of using therapy dogs during exam weeks at Southeast Community College where she teaches.
- Pets encourage us to give it back, pay it forward
A few years ago, I felt inspired by the story of a lady from Florida who had rescued a special needs squirrel. This squirrel changed the lady’s life and set her resolve to always give back to animals the love she had received from this squirrel. Now this lady fosters animals at high-risk of euthanasia in her local shelter and finds homes for them. She constantly tells people to “pay it forward”.
Pam is one local dog owner who has done just that. Years ago, friends kept bringing their dog’s puppies to visit Pam and over time one became her favorite. The runt of the litter, Sadie was a cute cocker spaniel with freckles on her nose. Pam traded them three small pine trees for Sadie. “It was the best deal I ever made!” Sadie became Pam’s soul mate. Sadly, Sadie suffered from severe allergies that required medication, and had so much back pain that she needed a chiropractor and acupuncture. In caring for her beloved Sadie, Pam realized that animals with special needs can be wonderful pets too. After Sadie died, Pam established The Sadie Dog Fund in her honor. The non-profit helps families who can’t afford life-saving medical treatments for their dogs. “It’s my way of paying back the gifts in life that animals have so richly blessed me with.”
- Pets can be ambassadors
Pets not only can inspire their owners to speak out for animals, but sometimes they themselves become ambassadors. In the case of Star, the New York pit bull who survived being shot in the head, every appearance she makes speaks volumes for the cause of pit bulls–the dog breed most commonly euthanized today. Star regularly attends animal adoption events in Nebraska on behalf of shelter dogs, as well as fundraisers for other causes. Her owner, Charlie, notes that she also likes to attend the “END Alzheimer’s Walk sporting her purple tutu,” and continues to make friends with her “signature smile and large, floppy ears”.
- Our love can lengthen their lives
There’s a sweet book by Deb Barnes called Paw Prints on the Heart, in which Deb writes about how her cat kept trying to eat and to energize himself simply out of his love for her stubbornly clung to life out of love for her. Many members of the cat loss group to which I belong to also expressed a similar sentiment, that their cats rebounded weeks and months simply out of love.
A dog owner, Kathy, responded to my call for tributes with her account of Jigger. A long-haired Chihuahua puppy with hydrocephalus, Jigger wasn’t expected to live to his first birthday because of the many multiple physical problems he experienced. But defied the odds. The family’s vet told them it was “a true miracle” that Jigger had lived to almost five. The miracle happened, Kathy says, “because of the love and attention he received throughout his life”.
- A pet is God’s opinion that life should go on
Some of the most touching stories came in the form of tributes. Shari lost her parents, her home, and more, but persevered because her dogs helped her to find the blessings of life. When her husband was evacuated from an emergency scene and suffered from third degree burns over one-third of his body, he wanted to die, and so did Shari. But their dogs saved them. “We were dead broke. We had nothing left. BUT WE HAD THEM. They’re what mattered.” For the sake of the dogs, the couple kept moving forward and eventually found some sort of normality. “We knew they were sent to us for a reason, and we would never betray that bond. They’re the family we call home.”
Jacki also found her will to live because of a pet. The two of them developed cancer around the same time. Vipere and she would take turns at treatment. “He’d go for his chemo, and then I’d go for mine; we would both suffer together. He was a much better patient than I ever was. He never complained, always looked at me with trust, and did everything I asked.” To Jacki, not only was Vipere the reason she decided to fight for her own life, but he walked her down that path.
A couple of years ago, I led at a pet-themed writing club for children. In the curriculum that I developed, I tried to show how we can help animals but also how animals help us. I hope that LAA’s series on the bonds between people and pets has both inspired you to want to help animals and renewed your appreciation for how pets can help us. In the new year, LAA Pet Talk will share more new stories.