By Lana Turnbull
Pets. They complicate our lives. They give us extra reasons to clean (lots of extra reasons). They disappear at the most inconvenient times when the last thing we have time for is roaming the neighborhood calling them. They can eat us out of house and home, or drive us crazy with their finicky eating. And yet…there is so much they bring to our lives.
I honestly can’t imagine living without a friend of the four-legged variety. Some people are cat people. Some are dog people. I always loved both cats and dogs… and horses, and rabbits, and birds, and fish and hamsters and goats, and once even an orphaned baby deer that my dad got permission from the MS Game and Fish Commission for us to keep. Granted it wasn’t until I was an adult that I actually got to have animals live inside the house. But once I let them in, that was it. If you have never had a cat sleep on your head or a dog that will pull cockleburs out of your shoestrings, you don’t know what you are missing.
I bring up the subject of pets, because we just lost a beloved fourteen-year-old cat. He was a sleek and lanky “panther-like” kitty with yellow eyes and a shiny black coat. I always imagined that he had come from a long line of Delta panthers, who over the generations grew smaller and domesticated, but who underneath still had the instincts of a wild creature. Losing him leaves an empty place in our hearts and in our home.
It reminds me of all the pets I’ve had and lost over the years and how from the age of five, when I lost my first pet, their losses have taught me about grief. They also taught me about unconditional love and gave me the chance to learn to be a mother of sorts long before I ever had my own child. They taught me responsibility, and patience (as well as impatience) and they taught me what it meant to have another living being depend on me for their care.
Yes, having pets makes more work. It costs extra. It can be inconvenient and exasperating, but it also gives so much joy. Science tells us now that having animals around can actually lower blood pressure, lift depression, improve heart rates, and give a sense of wellbeing.
As I contemplate our recent loss, I realize just how important these furry family members have been in my life and I’m thankful I’ve passed that down to my son and his family. While grief still stings every time we go through the loss of a beloved pet, I think it helps prepare us, as children and adults, for other loss we will face in our lives. Having pets softens us. It encourages us to open our hearts and share a connection with something outside ourselves. Does living with and loving animals make us more human or do animals remind us of what we as humans can learn from them? I don’t know. But I do know that we are truly blessed just by having them share our lives.