Sunday, June 1, 2014

Company and comfort 

I'd like to devote this entry to Banjo, who has made me think recently about the unique kind of empathy shown by our companion animals. Banjo lives with my friends Bucky and Billy. She is a ball of energy. When you walk into their home, she wags her tail so hard that she literally forms a "u" with her body. Life is a full-contact sport for this dog, whether she's encountering friends, passers-by, squirrels or birds. But when Billy was in the hospital, she showed that other side. When Bucky would come home from the hospital at night, Banjo didn't throw herself at him or climb all over him, as is her custom. She curled up with him in a quiet kind of solidarity. Likewise, when Billy came home, she stayed by his side. I've seen this with my cats too. When my father was ill some years back, I would be away from home for days at a time. ZsaSu's standard behavior when I returned from an absence would be to position herself about four feet in front of me and then turn her back. She would follow me from room to room, for several days, to repeat this snub. Floyd would commence the Floyd Lovefest, which involved draping his 20-pound self around my neck or shoulders. This was endearing, if somewhat uncomfortable. But when my Dad was sick, they were different when I came home. They would position themselves at each side of me, nuzzling my arm or offering gentle head butts. I felt comforted and I believe that real comfort was being offered. When Floyd died, Snowcone became a lap cat, something he hadn't done before or has since. A lot has been written about the relationship between people and their pets, and about how much we humanize the behavior of these animals. But I believe that when you make a dog or cat part of your life, while they can never understand the realities of your world, they do know the essence of you. And when you're hurt, they feel that pain and offer their own kind of solace. My friend Linda used this quote, from an unknown source, as part of her e-mail signature. Linda was a great dog lover, but I believe this holds true for cats as well: It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.

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