When my mister and I first met, I had two dogs and two cats; he had no pets. During that initial getting-to-know-you phase, I probably mentioned that I’d always had lots of pets but I can’t remember for sure. Back when I was deciding whether this person could be “the one” and we were having those dealbreaker conversations — religion vs. no religion, kids vs. no kids, Republican vs. Democrat, etc. — I didn’t think that “pets vs. no pets” warranted much conversation. He obviously knew that I had pets and that they weren’t going anywhere, so though the pets were eventually banished from the bed, they were part of the package.
Now that we have kids (and, sadly, we’re down to one dog and one cat, more on that later), the “pets vs. no pets” topic seems a little more relevant. Pets and animals have always been part of my life and they helped shape my character.
Our Beagle-Basset mix, Jinx, was around from before I can remember. From Jinx I learned to be spunky and stand up for yourself no matter how small you might be. “A person’s a person no matter how small” could have been her mantra. In later years, she also helped give me a kick-ass porn name: Jinx Center (the name of your first pet plus the name of the first street you lived on).
From our dog, Bear, and our cat, Zack, I first learned that humans can be cruel and heartless. Bear found us after being abandoned by his owners, while tiny Zack was the only survivor when someone threw a sack of kittens off a bridge and into the creek near our house. These two also taught me some basic medical skills; Zack had to be nursed with a medicine bottle because he really was too small to be away from his mama, while Bear had epileptic seizures that we had to treat with pills and electrolyte water.
From our horse, Amigo, I learned the value of hard work and that caring for a pet is a lifelong, serious commitment. His stall needed to be mucked. His coat and mane needed to be groomed. And every morning, even in the bitter cold of winter, I needed to haul buckets of water out to the barn.
From a multitude of pet mice (shout-outs to Tiger, Wildcat, Basil, Ebeneezer, Fiddlesticks, Justin, Nicodemus, and all the others, sorry I don’t have any photos of you), I first learned that all creatures, great and small, die. After various rodent ailments and injuries, I also learned that sometimes, helping them die is the best thing that you can do for them. I loved those meeces to pieces and they were the first beings to teach me about the circle of life. (My apologies for putting that awful Elton John song in your head, everyone.)
From Peck the Pigeon, I learned that some creatures are meant to live wild and free. He came to us with a broken wing. We quickly bandaged him up, got him a cage, boned up on proper pigeon care, and kept him safe and fed until his wing was good as new. I’ll never forget the joy I felt watching him fly away, even as I felt sad that he wouldn’t be living with us anymore. “If you love something, set it free . . .” and all that.
From Boris, my beloved dog who was my first baby and my best friend for fifteen years, I learned the value of loyalty and unconditional love. When he passed a few years ago, my heart was broken. Because our son, Big, was only a little over a year old, though, I couldn’t keen and wail, lie around in bed and wallow in my pain like I wanted to. Life had to go on, Mama had to go on. A good friend of mine told me, “Maybe he knew it was time for him to go because you didn’t need him to be your baby anymore.” This made me cry even harder while I smiled through my tears (and still chokes me up, even now, writing this).
From Gus, Maya, and Suki, my fearless felines, I learned how to be independent, how to demand what you want with no apologies, and how to not give a flying fuck what anybody thinks of you. These traits just seem to come naturally to cats. Come to think of it, maybe I was a cat in a former life . . .
I have no memory of my parents ever sitting me down to talk about death, compassion, loyalty, companionship, euthanasia, unconditional love, or any of these other weighty topics. They didn’t have to — the animals that I’ve loved during my life did it for them.
From Joe and Clementine, the cat and dog, respectively, who lie here near my feet as I write this, our sons are learning to be gentle, to respect animals and hold them in high esteem, to love them and care for them as members of the family. Although my mister jokes that in the pet department, “We’re only subtracting, no adding!” I see many years of assorted wildlife up in here. I can only hope that our boys will learn the same valuable life lessons from pets that I did.
P.S. When I just read this post to my mister, he replied, “They will NEVER learn the horse lesson!” We’ll see . . .