Those of us who love our pets often pretend we are only joking when we say we do not trust people who do not have dog (or cat) hair on their clothing. I will tell you truthfully, however, that I always trust people more if they do show signs that they live happily in close proximity to an animal friend.
Perhaps a person can be decent without having loved an animal and been loved or, at least, trusted by one in turn, but I believe that living closely with animals that are not human makes us better as humans.
Caring for animals is what gods are made of. In the Christian tradition, humanity’s dominion over the beasts is often emphasized. What I always wished had been emphasized more was the fact that the God of Genesis who gave us this dominion had also pronounced all creation as good. In my belief this dominion we were granted was a test of our godliness and not, as many have taken it to mean, a license to be cruel, neglectful, uncaring, and especially not to feel ourselves so superior as to feel we matter so much more to the deity who created all creatures. It was an order to treat creation as God would treat it, with heavenly love.
I do not write this as an environmentalist, though I am one. I write on a more personal level. I can’t tell how I first felt this way; I have simply always felt this way.
It was a concern for my mother when she would have to look for me among the dogs, cats, or other animals of whatever relative we were visiting. I found their companionship much more peaceful than the rough and tumble competitiveness of numerous cousins and siblings.
She worried that I was somehow a social misfit, and that worry has often influenced my behavior. I sometimes don’t mention my two big, slobbery dogs or my five hairy demanding cats when I feel someone may think of me as “one of those.”
She was mostly annoyed, however. My two sisters and I were so close in size that as little girls we had colors of sweaters assigned to us so mother could tell whose was whose. She didn’t need to do this for me. Mine had telltale signs other than its red color: teeth marks from rowdy puppies, pulled threads from the kittens’ claws, dirt from their paws, and hair from my constant cuddling and holding of all creatures I could find.
I have not changed in this regard. There I was on the steps of the marvelous archaeological museum in Istanbul last summer holding and petting the stray cat who was there to greet us. The guard came to try to warn me that it was dirty. I said, of course, that it didn’t matter to me. I was enjoying its company immensely, missing my own cats so far away.
I write as a best friend of all my beloveds: my dogs, cats, gerbils, calves, chickens, horses, guinea pigs, turtles, hedgehogs, etc. I miss all of them who have passed. I thank all of them for what they gave me, an understanding of what is important in this world: life, since they live and matter more than a little hair on a dress or slobber on a counter.
By watching them and putting up with their dirt, hair, slobber, and often destructiveness, we learn the joy of living each single day and enjoying the tender mercies around us, the pleasure of new aromas, interesting sounds, new tastes–companionship and love without condition.
The growing animal rights movement encourages me to believe that more and more people are like me than my mother suspected. In this movement supposed enemies find common ground, as in the joint efforts of Lebanese and Israelis for the displaced and endangered animals during their stupid human war. To me, this movement is really about helping people understand that liberating animals from suffering is liberating humans from selfishness, pride, and hatred.
It’s about learning to live together with differences and with an understanding that the birds of the field have—the universe is abundant; it will provide our needs, though not necessarily our prideful desires.
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