I believe that love extends to animals. Until recently, I had what I like to call a multi-tiered understanding of love. It wasn’t so rigorous as to create a hierarchy for inter-human relationships, but it did create one for human-animal connections. What I mean by this is that I thought that the feelings I or others had for animals, specifically domesticated ones, could not be called love. If there was ever such a thing as a love survey, like the kind you might find in a grocery store for rating your service, with boxes and a blank space for notes, I believed it would go something like this: there would be categories such as romantic love, platonic love, familial love and other. I believed that the feelings that humans had for their pets were firmly in the other, not even worthy of the designation “love”, regardless of the precedent adjective. I believed love was something more rigorous than the human-animal connection. The recent pet food recall, and the unwitting participation of my cat, changed all of that.
She suffered kidney failure and in the end, she wasn’t recovering. I brought her home to die, and told her through my tears that I loved her. For the benefit of my husband, I tossed out the clause, “even though you don’t know what love is.” He replied, “what do you mean she doesn’t know. There’s nothing she needs to understand about love. She may not have language, but she knows what love is.” It was at this moment that I understood my relationship to her. She made me happy, I enjoyed sitting with her and occasionally I talked to her. I think that in this country, everyday life is fast spinning out of control through increased personal debt, fear and uncertainty. Peacefulness is now something to dream of, rather than a reality. We often focus on what are considered more pressing things–our families, health, and safety.
But as Hurricane Katrina and the pet food recall have shown, our pets are just as pressing as those important categories, and I would argue provide a key part of the matrix that makes up our lives and keeps us grounded as families and healthy as individuals. Pets are important. This is evidenced by the fact that some people refused to leave New Orleans after Katrina because they couldn’t bring their pets, and that many pet owners have spent into their savings or charged up their credit cards to stave off the effects of kidney failure from the recall. Maybe it’s a sign of the times—we’re an increasingly disconnected society with fewer friends now than 50 years ago. Or maybe it’s something more fundamental, such as animals needing the companionship of animals, irrespective of species. Whatever the cause, I believe now that love doesn’t have to withstand the rigors of logic. It doesn’t have to be reciprocated in the same way, articulated well or fall within human-constructed categories. It can be as simple as lying together on the couch, connecting through the comfort of a touch and easing the chaos that’s all around.
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