I believe in the power of the human-animal bond. That this bond has the ability to change lives and make them whole I have no doubt. It is a bond that can bring joy and strength and love to sometimes hollow and lonely lives. It is a bond that can ease pain and give hope. I have seen the power of this bond in its many forms and it amazes me the depth and breadth of its roots.
I suppose Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath really underscored the important role animals play in people’s lives. People refused to leave their homes and risked death to stay with their companion animals. Why? Because their cats, dogs, and other animals were more than just “pets,” they were family members.
I was a volunteer veterinarian at a rescue camp for animal victims of Hurricane Katrina. Every day human refugees of the disaster would visit the camp to look for their lost companion animals. Occasionally, there were reunions. The feeling of joy and pure relief at these encounters was overwhelming. People who had lost all their belongings were suddenly whole again after finding their missing companion. For it didn’t matter if they no longer had any worldly possessions, only that their family was together again.
At the clinic where I work I met a 75 year-old woman who brought her cat, Katie, in for her annual exam. Katie had seen this frail old woman through breast cancer and a fractured elbow. “She was there for me when I got out of the hospital and she knew not to lay on my hurt arm. I have no one else in the world except my Katie,” she softly uttered. “I couldn’t have made it without her.” Maybe she could have made it without Katie, but what a different experience it would have been.
Recently, a woman came in to board her cat, Marlin, at my clinic. I could see tears well up in her eyes as she began to leave and Marlin rubbed against her leg. I comforted her, letting her know we would take special care of her kitty. She began to tell me about her impending divorce and how she had to stay in a hotel until her house sold and she could afford an apartment. The hotel didn’t accept cats. For this woman, Marlin was her sole comfort and it tore her apart to leave the only being that brought unconditional love to her life.
It doesn’t really matter if there is scientific evidence that animals feel the same emotions as humans; if they experience the feeling we call love. It only matters how we interpret the bond we share with them. How this bond makes us feel when we look into their eyes and cry into their soft, warm fur. How we laugh at their antics and feel at peace in their presence. How they sit quietly as we share our innermost thoughts. It is these things that get some of us through the day.
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