I am on of those people who gushes with excitement at the thought of going to a kitten coffee house (yes, it really is just a coffee shop full of kitties you can pet as you enjoy your favorite beverage); I grin like a Cheshire Cat when I come close to the dog park; and every time I make my way to the mall, I will inevitably drag any poor soul who happens to be accompanying me over to the pet store where I will pine and beg them to help me rescue all of the critters. I am simultaneously the type of person who balks at the thought of going to a party with acquaintances, I get tongue tied and awkward during regular conversations. I have not mastered social interactions with other human beings; and so, I find salvation in the paws of other species. Needless to say, I am an animal person. And as we just passed Nation Pet Day, it seemed fitting to raise my glass in celebration for my beloved little beauties. (Side note: apologies that this was not posted on the actual day- I had it all finished, but a technical glitch made the entire post mysteriously disappear without a trace right before I could hit publish. Today it magically reappeared; instead of questioning it, I will thank my lucky stars and send it off just a couple days late).
Animals bring out the best in us; at least they do for me. These compassionate creatures can enrich your life and teach you more about the world than you had realized. I’ve had a myriad of critters who’ve graced my existence with their own; from dogs, cats, ants, gerbils and guinea pigs, right down to hedgehogs, chinchillas and ferrets. And who can forget the attempted capture of snakes, wolly bears and millipedes? With these creatures have come joy, pain, and life lessons I cannot forget.
Sometimes it was a simple reminder found in the most mundane of activities, something so subtle you could easily miss it. The simple ant farm taught me to see the beauty in nature; from the designs that they built out of the earth itself right down to the teamwork they used to create the masterpiece of their home. The chinchilla reminded me how delicate the beautiful things in life can be, and how you must treat them with care as respect. She also taught me that the only way to truly live your life is to let go and get a little dirty on occasion.
From the snake and millipedes I learned that sometimes the best thing you can do is fight for yourself, in spite of the best intentions of those trying to ‘rescue’ you. Only you will know what is best. Fun fact: yellow-spotted millipedes are surprisingly common in the Pacific Northwest, and when they feel attacked they emit cyanide. The internet will try to tell you that it is a strong almond smell- do not believe those lies. It is horrible and does not wash away easily.
My hedgehog was rescued from an abusive situation, so he had some trust issues. You always hope that all of the love you shower them with can smother the pain they have endured. But real life is not always like a story. Spike and I had good days and bad days; there were times he would run and play, trying to eat my hair as he scurried through the mazes I would make out of our pillows; and there were other days when the slightest movement from across the room would send him into a shivering and spitting ball of quills. From him I learned the importance of unconditional love and compassion, and how to read the signals others are sending. He also taught me that food is usually the best bridge between two creatures- nothing would change his mood quite like his favorite treat being gently placed beside him (in fact, this is a trick that still works on me).
For those of you who aren’t aware, ferrets are notorious thieves. Mine was no exception; he also had a bit of a sweet tooth. His favorite hauls were tootsie rolls and pop tarts. In theintjs following his passing I would occasionally find another little nook or cranny stuffed full of his sugary delights. Bandit was full of joy and life. He taught me the importance of dancing and singing for joy as he hopped and chirped around the living room, eying any unsupervised candy. He was persistent in his love and affection; poking and playing with the cat until she finally gave in. His joyful persistence finally broke through her grumpy exterior. They became the most unexpected of allies.
These days I have just two little critters- one cat and one dog. In fact, they are both curled up with me as I write this. Most days they try my patience, they push every single button and then come back around for a second time. They howl and bark when all I want to do is catch 5 extra minutes of sleep. They poke at each other and skid down the hallway to determine who is king of the castle. But at the end of the day, they are my partners in crime. They are my cuddle buddies when I am sad or sick. They give my kisses when all I want to do is cry. They are usually the first to hear my most recent work in progress. They remind me when I’ve been sitting in front of the computer too long, so I need to get up and go for a walk. They never let me forget the importance of play or tasty treats, or head scratches just because you care. When I’m bored they surprise me by dragging in their favorite toy to toss around (and occasionally the cat will drag in something dead and leave it on my lap as an unexpected gift). At the end of the day, they run to the door- as excited to see me as I am to see them. I learn something new from them every day- whether I want the lesson or not.
It is the worst cosmic joke that us humans are forced to outlive our beautiful creatures when they are far more deserving of that extra time. I heard once that it’s because they already know how to live with love and compassion, and so they don’t need as much time here on earth to get it right. Not like us. It seems fitting, really. The most poignant of lessons were not ones that had to be vocalized to me. They were ones my furry friends were able to show me.
So for all that they do- to us and for us- for all of the times that they make us want to pull out our hair while simultaneously dying from a cuteness overload- here’s to the pets that make this world a bit brighter, a tad happier, and a hell of a lot more enjoyable.