“Our pets love us in a way humans never can. In turn we love our pets in a way we can never love other humans, so maybe the grief we feel when we lose a pet touches the grief we feel for not being loved in a way we need to by the humans in our lives.”
– Nadia Bolz Weber
Tears roll down my cheeks as I read these words. They belong to another, but they resonate the whispers of my own heart, the very pulse of my being. The love I feel for the 18lb bundle of white and grey fur curled up beside me touches the realm of sacredness. It is not just love but devotion of the kind I feel for God, my children, and my parents. And I wonder why. The latter form the core of my existence – my parents and God are the reason I walk this earth and my children are the reason I wake up every morning determined to be a better version of myself, but what is it about this tiny being – he with the black button nose and sparkly eyes which surge with waves of kindness and silly mischief, that has my heart in raptures?
Pets teach us to love unconditionally they say, in a way all of mankind must learn to love. But is their love truly unconditional? After all, Leo does expect treats and belly rubs in return for those wags and licks. I am his human because I fulfill his needs. Would he dote on me as much if I didn’t?
Recently my daughter adopted a kitten, Ash.
The first time I saw him over Facetime, when my daughter held him Lion King style announcing his arrival into her home and our family, she said, “Look Mom, it’s your grandson.”
I am not a cat person.
Would I love him as much as I loved a being of my own blood? – I thought.
But in the five days that I later spent with him, listened to him purr, watched him leap in royal strides up his cat tree and swish his tail in elegance, he won me over. And now that he is across the country, I miss him as I miss my child.
A few years ago, my son and I ran a 5K with Leo organized by the American Pitbull Foundation. “Floof,” as my kids lovingly refer to Leo, was all of six months then and one of the tiniest contenders. He made a great start as he scurried along with the other furry participants to “Who Let the Dogs Out” blaring on the speakers. Suddenly, he plonked himself down and rolled over for a belly rub. Never mind the race, I want to enjoy myself, he determined.
After a little cajoling, he stood up but promptly ran the other way. The dogs behind us are more interesting, he fathomed. Fortunately for us they didn’t indulge in play and ran past us, and he followed. But stopped again just to gather in the sights.
After several such pleasure breaks and a few diversions for squirrel chases, we crossed the finish line in last place. “Never again,” I presumed my 15-year-old son would say and was pleasantly surprised when he quipped, “That was so much fun Mom!”
Maybe the reason pets come into our lives is to teach us to slow down and be in the moment. When we watch Leo revel in simple pleasures unabashedly, so wholeheartedly -roll in the grass, bury his Dentastix in the crevices of the couch, squeak his toy, his joy catches on.
There’s not much he does yet everything he does, he does with élan, with an air of royalty. He circles his spot precisely three times before he lays down, he sniffs and sniffs on his walk until he finds the perfect patch of grass to poop on and always greets a visitor with a toy in his mouth – never empty handed, or should I say empty mouthed? When he cannot find a toy lying around, he picks up what he finds usually from the ever-flowing laundry hamper.
Once he ran to the door with an undergarment he found. Unfortunately, it was mine but fortunately, I was the one to be greeted. Maybe it was his way of admonishing me for not doing the laundry on time.
In the four years that Leo has been home, I’ve lightened up as a mother. Once while on walk with him, we met another lady with a pup who was keen to play with Leo. But my furry baby didn’t want to. So, I politely let the owner know that Leo wasn’t in the mood and walked on. It was an epiphanic moment for me.
Had this occurred with one of my human babies, I would have prodded, poked, and eventually shoved them until they had played with the other kids, out of the fear of them being labelled as ‘unfriendly’ and me being judged as “not a good enough mother.”
How many times had I forced them to do things they were not interested in and conform to join the herd so that they and I would fit in! I enjoyed having a dog so much because I allowed him to be. There were no expectations of him. If he was lazy, laidback, and messy, it was ok. But if my kids seemed disinterested or didn’t clean their rooms or chose not to socialize, I lectured them to no end.
On that day, on that walk, I decided I would lower my expectations of my kids just so that I could enjoy motherhood more. And I have – my kids and I are happier because of it.
Until Leo came along, I had only read from the spiritual greats of the oneness that humanity is. Every living creature reflects the divine I had heard but had never understood this truth. Now though when I look into the eyes of any animal, – be it another dog, a cow, a panther even, I see Leo gazing back at me. I experience the sense of inter-connectedness.
Even though I’m still learning to see this reflection in the humans around me, I’m more aware of the oneness that binds us all that the barriers of skin, race and culture that separate us.
Our pets are divine harbingers – they come to us ephemerally to playfully remind us of eternal truths.
Their gifts to us, intangible transform us in ways that are subtle. In them we see the wholeness that we come from, the wholeness we yearn to be.
That is why I think we love them so much.
In the past year I have gracefully let go of my children and many things dear to me, yet I shudder and wince at the thought of ever having to let Floof go, and tears roll down my cheeks as I feel the pain in the words of a fellow writer who has just lost her dog.
Author’s note: This story was written to the prompt ‘Intangible‘ by DYWT. This story also won the writing contest on the group.