In college I discovered one of life’s great dichotomies: Babies vs. Animals.
Kate loves animals. Anthony loves babies. Thomas loves animals. Tiffany loves babies. Tiffany’s friend loves animals. I love… I like both fine?
I’m sure there are plenty of people in the same boat as me, fairly comfortable around either with some interest in both someday. There are also those few sociopaths that probably hate animals and babies alike. Never until college, though, did I realize quite how obsessed with animals some were.
Since classes have yet to begin, I’ve been spending a good chunk of my free time reading the news online, and the middle of this week included a surge of animal stories on CNN, several of which I emailed to Kate. One story was about the tragically brutal death of a cat at the hands of its owner’s jealous boyfriend. Another recounted the miracle of a feline stuck in a toilet bowl, rescued by firefighters smashing the toilet to pieces. The most interesting, I thought, was about hurricane victims and their pets.
Apparently, just a few years ago, pets weren’t allowed on buses to shelters, meaning many pet owners had to decide between remaining with their animals and escaping the surge and its subsequent devastation. For Ike, however, special measures were in place to ensure animals could be kept for their owners at a special shelter, and owners can use a bus to visit them frequently. These people who have lost everything are so thankful their pets are still alive, and their spirits are lifted by each visit.
The article pointed out a problem I’d never considered: some people love their pets so much that they are willing to put themselves in danger to avoid separation from their animals. In past hurricanes, people died doing this. It’s not necessarily smart, but when is love? I find it fascinating how attached we become to our animal friends. They become family–and some people would rather die than leave them. I remember what my mom used to say during high school: the dog was her best friend. She questioned my dad’s love for her, but the dog was always there for her.
Ironically, I sometimes think animals know much more about being human than we do. They are sensitive and affectionate, playful and relaxed, teaching us to be the same. While many of us are scarred by broken human relationships, pets give us a way to attach to someone that will love us back–often quite unconditionally–which I think is a healthy first step to larger scale healing. Pets need us to take care of them, a position we usually enjoy being in–while sometimes it’s a pain, I think we’re wired to feel good when we take care of something. Our pets also take care of us, not only emotionally but by eating the food we accidentally drop on the floor, altering us to intruders, and eliminating household pests. This mutuality was even stronger during the days of traditional farming. Farmers were completely dependent on their chickens, cows, goats, and other animals for food and/or profit, but at the same time, their tender care was necessary for the animals to thrive.
Nature is screwed up, and human/animal and animal/animal relationships are as broken as human/human ones, many times. At the same time, our relationships with animals have the potential for such beauty. Whether speaking of pets or livestock, I really believe it’s true: if we’re willing to let them into our lives, animals are like a natural form of long-term therapy.