My sister’s cat Mercer has been sick and suffering for a while lately with some mystery malady, and his symptoms have thus far refused to explain themselves to his faithful veterinarian, so we’re in a watching, waiting and hoping phase. It’s sad and frustrating, and poor Mercer needs some serious respite from his ailments. I’m afraid I haven’t the skill to give him anything more palliative than the occasional pettings he allowed me to give him while we shared living quarters this summer. So I send out this little ditty to bring him good vibes of well-wishing long distance, as it stars the two most faithful fellow fur-babies who live or visit in his home, Ruffian the cat and Basil bunny.
You know that I love animals, however dilettantish my adoration may be. I have never owned (or been owned by) pets, I know nothing of animal biology, and I’m not even all that outdoorsy, so incidental or casual contact isn’t an obviously automatic occurrence. Yet they provide, when they do appear in my life, a sprinkling of the most welcome kind of seasoning, the salt and pepper if you will, of my days.But you also know how attention works: when something is in mind, it can seem to be everywhere. The minute I think of animals, I tend to keep my eyes open for them wherever I go, because just seeing them makes me happy, lightens my mood, warms my heart. ‘Therapy animals’ are actually all animals, for me, whether trained or not, in immediate proximity or not, because just thinking of them cheers me and actually seeing them is a delight. That makes it worth my while to really, actively look for animals whenever and wherever I can. The wonder of them, the distinctive characteristics each has, their habits and hijinks, and their inherent beauty, all fill me with pleasure. That’s a lot of sunshine.
Off she went to see the market, basket full of goods and greens,
And the fond companions with her came to see the market’s scenes,
Prancing, dancing, baying, barking, nipping at her head and heels;
By the time they neared the city, all beset by crowds and wheels,
She her petticoats beribboned had all stained and soiled and torn;
Hat askew and heels unbuckled, basket broken, cob and corn
Strewn, her lettuces and flowers flung amain, and so she sat
In the rutted road’s dry scours, in the dust, and that was that–
No point now to going onward to the market if she would,
Dog and pony show now ended (at the least, that part was good)–
Then the animals felt sorry for the chaos and the mess,
Made a show to make her cheery, give her back her happiness.
Nothing mended for the market, recompense for not a sou,
But she smiled at how they capered, no more anger and to-do,
And they picked up, swift and swishing, tails and coattails all a-sway,
Backward home, though she was wishing it had gone another way;
To the market back, tomorrow, she would go to sell her wares,
But avoid her current sorrow,
Locking up those pranks of theirs!
I suppose it’s incumbent upon me to state clearly that I do understand that a lazy and fearful person like me is unlikely to plunge into newness and adventure, no matter how alluring the topic or event. Not that you didn’t already know this about me from any number of previous confessions and revelations in a related vein. Yet while my lack of courage and spirit will undoubtedly hound me for the rest of my days, I’m happy to report that I still manage to grow and change over time, if perhaps more slowly and accidentally than others do so.The ancient adage that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is ridiculously pessimistic, if you ask me. I’ve known plenty of senior citizens to avidly pursue and conquer all sorts of new skills and knowledge, and I’m working my way toward being a bit of a Grandma Moses myself, being ever hopeful that at least by the time I hit my eighties I might also hit my stride in whatever turns out to be my life’s calling. But beyond vocation or avocation, that tired and cynical aphorism also assumes that we can’t just continue to better ourselves once we hit a mythical age barrier. What an unpleasant and unproductive idea!I much prefer the concept of discovering what we are capable of learning, accomplishing and enjoying for the first time (or anew) and embracing it at whatever pace suits us. While others are busy jumping through hoops of flame and running obstacle courses and playing catch with other dogged devotees of the disc, if all I can do is learn to Sit Up and Beg, then at least I’ll get some handouts from wiser, more talented and skilled beings. Could be downright fun, and I’ll lap it right up I’m sure. It certainly beats sticking forever to the one trick I’ve known best since my youth, Rolling Over and Playing Dead.
For a universe where we’re all so hung up on our status, image and importance, the world as we know it is also the locus of a truly great leveler: fun. Very rare is the person, however high or low in the hierarchy of social or political or religious or educational import, who doesn’t relish laughter. Fun, and the love of it, are boundary-resistant. Childlike happiness should know no limits.
I know the little tale attributing to Queen Victoria the remark that ‘We are not amused’–a condition she can easily be forgiven for bemoaning, even if it was ostensibly because of someone else’s attempts to convince her of his own divergent sort of hilarity. Throughout history, contentment has been best enjoyed when it’s pushed to its jovial limits by gently encouraging frolic and humor, curiosity and amazement and amusement that can be shared. The current culture oughtn’t to hold anyone back from being pleased and entertained any more than these should be constrained by one’s politics, nationality, gender, tastes, age or any other facet of personal identity. Joy is joy, no matter what your nature or your preferred brand.
So I, for one, think it’s a good idea to cultivate smiles and laughter and playfulness as assiduously as I can. If I can share it with others, even better. If others can contribute some fun to the cause as well, we might be able among us to create a contagious stream of happiness that can expand further and further yet. Doesn’t that sound worthwhile, now, really?
Cats are nature’s hate-seeking missiles. If there’s a houseful of guests, only one of whom dislikes or is wildly allergic to felines, everybody knows that’s where the household cat will make a speedy beeline and glue itself to the ankles of whichever sufferer would rather the cat were somewhere about a thousand miles away. As it happens, when they choose to do so, cats can also sense affinity. Some are so quick to attach to the humans who will indulge their every whim that they must probably have a sense transcending the dimensions we with our merely mortal five senses perceive.
In both, I have seen parallels in human form. There are some who manage at every turn to recognize quickly and attach themselves instantly to others who will love and appreciate them and all their gifts—and some, conversely (or perversely) who have only the knack of finding and sinking their hooks into people who would rather they were about a thousand miles away.
The Duchess was inordinately fond of animals. Though her courtiers would never dare say so to her face, they imagined she ought to have been born a zookeeper, or at the very least a farmer. This idea was strengthened, especially, by the fact that it always fell to the housekeepers and servants to make the palace tidy enough for Her Ladyship’s dainty passage through life and to freshen the air when the royal menagerie had pranced, prowled or otherwise paraded through its rooms and left unseemly gifts along the way. The Duke, who was as allergic to all things animal as the Duchess was attracted, considered for some time whether he oughtn’t to have a team of expert taxidermists and artisans solve this problem once and for all, creating a large display of preserved zoological beauty that might be both lower maintenance and less powerfully scented than the living creatures populating his estate indoors and out, day and night.Unfortunately, the Duchess’s sisters who lived in the east wing of the palace did not support the Duke’s enthusiasm for the design, making noises of disapprobation at least as loud as the Duchess’s favorite dogs’ barking or donkeys’ braying. Perhaps, the Duke thought, he had been a little incautious in discussing this artistic concept with his secretary while within earshot of the sisterly ladies-in-waiting, for they both appeared quite ready to dash off squealing with rage to their unsuspecting sibling, or at the least, to imitate the household fauna in some other impolite fashion.As it fell out, the Duke, however incautious he may have been in heat of the moment, was not without the wit born of hard experience. Working swiftly with his retainers, was able to resolve the situation quickly and suitably merely by shifting the subject of the new art to a slightly different one featuring the Duchess and her sisters. As an added benison of this resolution, it was discovered that he wasn’t allergic to winged or four-legged pets after all. The palace staff found maintaining the menagerie surprisingly less onerous afterward as well, even with the added curatorial duties of dusting off the Duchess and polishing her sisters from time to time.
What Comes Naturally,
But I have to Scold You, My Pet
I know you only meant to make
A dandy first impression
By killing this whole crowd, but Jake,
Behold my grave expression–
For it is impolite, I think,
And maybe even naughty,
Recruiting everyone in sight
To play the role of Body–
Your nature calls you to the task,
I knew from your first GRRR!—
But some restraint gets less complaint
Than utter massacre.
I thank you that you rout the moles
And rodents by your labors,
Dear Jakey Boy, but next time leave
Your teeth out of the neighbors.
Thanks to my handsome and perspicacious canine pal Rumpy over at rumpydog.com I was reminded again when I last visited his site of the complicated and, when it’s well-managed, fantastic relationships between animals of the human and non-human kinds.
The notion of animal rights and their humane treatment was enough of a fledgling concept in the broad public sense when I was a mere hatchling myself that it was represented in all of its wimpy glory almost exclusively by the catchphrase Be Kind to Animals. It’s not that no one had given a single thought to the necessary deeper commitment to conservation or species protection or rehabilitation or research or any of those other lofty and positive things, but they weren’t as widely recognized and commonly discussed as they are now. Does that mean we’re good at this stuff these days? Hardly. Progress is slow. Still, any progress is better than none, and gives me hope that we can continue to learn from each step forward.
I myself make no pretense of being an animal rights lobbyist or animal care practitioner of even the most minimal sort. I haven’t been a biologist, nor have I ever farmed or been a veterinarian, or even, save in very brief intervals with housemates’ companions, shared my home with pets. My entire personal contact with animals beyond any local wild critters has been limited to meetings with so-called ‘domesticated’ animals–those whose lives and well-being are dependent upon the other humans who house and keep them in homes, on farms, and in zoos. And I must admit that I have always relished these times of interaction. Most of all I enjoy it when the animals, whatever their sort, are appropriately respected and properly cared for so that they, in turn, are healthy and content to do what comes naturally without being aggressive, destructive or self-destructive, because they don’t need to be in order to get along in life.
I wouldn’t have the remotest chance of saving a species, even a single needy animal, other than by means of supporting others in that work. I am, in fact, an omnivore, far from being a vegetarian or vegan; I don’t lobby actively for animal rights (or anything, being far from a political animal myself) and have no skills whatsoever in caring for animals. All I can say in my defense is that I think I understand pretty clearly the animal participation in this world of ours that makes the life of even a human like me with my exceedingly limited contact not only so much better but, frankly, possible. And I am beyond grateful for it.
This other bit of useful wisdom with which I credit my uninformed self could be simply translated as a recognition that the phrase Animal Rescue, commonly used to describe the magnanimous salvation of non-humans by humans, is more aptly applicable when used to describe the opposite. They save us.
The green earth that provides for our survival could never do so without the animals that keep its lovely recycling services operational. Animals, even those domestic beasts treated the most kindly, account for a large slice of the labor force that keeps our world operating on a practical basis. Animals act as medical and physical guardians and assist persons with sensory deficits or health challenges to let them live in a world that’s not otherwise adjusted to meet their needs. Animals have been and are part of police forces, search and rescue teams, security operations, transportation teams and more; they contribute to all kinds of research and behavioral studies and provide wool, fur and hair used for a wide variety of woven, filled or lined coverings, many of them over long productive lives.
Top of the list, if you ask me is companionship and comfort. These are the characteristics that we admire most in our fellow Homo sapiens. We look for warmth and unconditional acceptance from friends and loved ones and even from acquaintances and colleagues, and many kinds of animals willingly give us these in return for very little demand on their part as well. This gift alone makes me grateful for animals as much as all the other great treasures with which they grace our lives.
For all that I’ve had little animal presence in my life–or possibly, because of that limitation–I learned very early that each happy time spent in the company of contented, healthy animals makes me feel immediately new-and-improved. I don’t know if other folk would confirm that I am any better than I was before, but I feel better inside. It’s as though every five-minute increment in company with animals makes my blood pressure drop, my spine straighten up and my mind clear of unhappy junk and fill with peaceful, more meaningful, more creative things. Suddenly, thanks to having a goat come up to me in a field and beg for a good head-scratching, I’m thinking the sun got brighter and my lifespan just got extended, stretched another two days’ length or so; because a dog lay quietly by my feet while I was taking care of the day’s correspondence I gained not only the direct warmth of him against my shins but also, the warm glow of his trust and calm confidence in being around me makes me feel more trustworthy and confident myself and strengthens me to get my task wrapped up well and swiftly.
What I take away from this contemplation is twofold: I sincerely believe that I must do any and every small thing I can to improve the lives of animals by avoiding thoughtless approaches to them and simply by treating them appropriately whenever the opportunity arises. And I need to learn from them as well. I know I can benefit from being more, if you will, ‘beastly’ in this way–by approaching life a little less cynically, not thinking of the rewards I expect or desire in return for my actions but rather of the pleasures that being kind, just, helpful, hopeful or appropriate can give me in and of themselves. If the very act of making others happier can make me happier, how could I not love that? Seems to me like we can all benefit from ‘behaving like animals’ in this sense.
A wonderful daily photography blog, PhotoBotos, just published the spectacular photo that won the prestigious National Geographic contest in 2012, and besides being a truly distinctive and powerful photograph of a gorgeous tiger, the image marks a significant story (included in the post and comments) regarding people’s contentious attitudes toward others of the human animal when it comes to how we treat non-human ones. I find it sad, surprising, maddening and poignant that sometimes those who are sincerely motivated by a desire to protect and conserve wildlife are so unwilling or unable to see a need to extend the same courtesies to their fellow human creatures and the animals whose lives intertwine in less wild circumstances with theirs. It’s just possible that we ought to be learning better–as creatures with the ability to consider the needs of others in a supposedly rational way–to rescue ourselves and our fellow humans before we can more truly accomplish the care of and respect for other animals. They enrich our existence without any particular expectation in return. Imagine the possibilities when we do the same.