Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Often, I debate whether a dog makes a person kinder or whether it’s kind folks who care for dogs? Or cats? Or horses? Or, well, any animal that needs tending to and love. When I was a young gal, I always thought I’d be a mom someday and when that maternal feeling set in, I wanted a baby. When you have a child, your life is no longer yours alone. You share not only your body with a baby but your wants, hopes, fears, food, house, car, friends, and kin. Even your pets. To me, having a child made me into a more caring person than I had been before.
Having a pet as a five-year-old changed me, too. I loved Mittens, my cat, I had to beg Mom for. I cared for her, and I loved and kept her litters of kittens. She changed me early on.
Then again, not everyone wants a puppy, a kitten, a responsibility. Are these folks less self-sacrificing? Not sure. Maybe, we who are selfish need to adopt a fur baby to get in touch with our more responsible side. Maybe, some folks are born naturally kind and altruistic. Perhaps others must learn to be so by taking care of pets, later children, and ultimately their elderly parents.
Once when going on vacation, the kennel owner where I lodge our dachshunds shared a story with me. She said a young, tough police rookie stopped by her kennel after work to sit and pet the animals. She asked him why. He said it relaxed him. After dealing with some difficult folks, tiresome duties, and horrible situations, cuddling a dog gave him relief and hope. “Besides,” he said, “the folks bringing their pets here are nice people, and after the day I’ve spent with folks who don’t care about others, it’s good to be around this sort of human being. It restores my faith in the world.” This anecdote reminded me of my original premise: the chicken or the egg? Is it that nice folks have pets or is it that having pets makes folks nicer?
I read an article today written by a young woman who suffers from eating disorders. She’s been in and out of treatments which she feels are part of an industry that perhaps doesn’t want to cure the problem. So, she has decided to change her routine. She now spends time at the Atlanta Humane Society. “To be able to walk the dogs I must stay healthy. I know they need me, and I can’t let them down.”
Sometimes, you rescue the animal; sometimes it rescues you. Some children have dander allergies; some don’t have parents who can afford the expense of pets; some live in places non-conducive to animal care because of busy streets or cramped apartments. I realize that a wonder-fur ball is not a possibility for every youth. Yet, for those without these restraints, I think there’s nothing better for a child than to love and nurture an animal. A living creature. (Not a character in a video game!) Besides learning responsibility, you discover how to love unconditionally. And that is something hard to acquire in school alone or from watching TV. Furthermore, when you become old and no longer are chasing after the next best thing, that loving animal cozied up beside you on the couch keeps loneliness at bay. You are his world.
Not only do your pets become your family, but also, they become your teachers, your healers, your counselors, your entertainment, your best friends; life without these dear blessings misses something. When you’re very young, you need their companionship, and when you are very old, the same holds true.
Some of my favorite people have been pets. Here’s to my long line of beloved animals. Most were dogs or cats, but a few were hamsters and parakeets. I don’t know which came first – the chicken or the egg, but I firmly believe that these animals taught me how to love at an early age. They helped form me. I remember them all. I miss them, too. And somewhere over the rainbow, I pray we’ll reunite again.