By David Joel Miller.
What your pet can teach you about love.
Lovers and partners may come and go, a faithful pet is always there. Pets hear our tales of love lost and wait patiently for a pat on the head or a bowl of food. There is something about the way we love and are loved by our pets that transcends the turmoil of human existence.
Love from another human can be so conditional. Parents love their children when they are good, partners when they get what they want, but that dog or cat by your feet, they go on loving you in good times and bad.
Pets are role models for the way we should love because they love unconditionally. Notwithstanding an occasional poorly behaved pet, most of the creatures that share our lives continue to love us in sickness and health for richer or poorer even after the humans who had promised to do so have come and gone.
Pets are remarkably adaptable and accepting. They adjust to living in mansions and keeping company with their homeless human companions. They never threaten to stop loving us if they do not get a designer food or a certain toy that all the neighbor pets have. They patiently, or not so patiently, wait by the door for our return each and every time we leave.
There are of course great differences in the way pets show their affection for their humans. I have had the good fortune to share my life with more creatures than most. In my early years I had several dogs as family members. Calling them family members may seem strange to some of you, but they deserved that designation, having been more reliable in their friendship than most of my human friends and family members from those days.
In recent years several cats have agreed to share my home and life. The switch from dogs to cats was quite accidental. A cat somehow finagled her way into the family and gained first the acceptance of the family dog and then later my acceptance.
While the cats and dogs have certainly had different personalities, each and every dog or cat had some particular characteristics that made them unique. For the sake of brevity here I will leave out other creatures, though many other species also exhibit a fondness for their human family members.
Occasional a non-human family member has been poorly behaved, torn something up or used an inappropriate place for a bathroom. But all in all pets have been consistently more dependable and affectionate than many a human acquaintance.
There were some studies, way back when, which showed that having a pet in your life reduced loneliness and improved mental health.
One of life’s great tragedies is that our pets can be torn from us way to soon. Many a child’s first loss is a beloved pet. How that child responds to that event can set up a pattern of dealing with loss for the rest of their life. For many the first time death touches us is when a beloved pet passes away.
Not all losses of pets come by way of death. My first experience was a cross-country move when my child hood dog was left behind. So were my friends.
I know that some of these losses are unavoidable, sometimes we move into a living situation where our pet family members are not welcome. Divorces can sheer away the family pet along with a parent, a school and friends. Like all losses in life sometimes they need to happen. But we shouldn’t minimize the pain the child feels.
If you open your heart to a pet and let them love you, they stay with your forever in the places of your mind where you remember happy things. If only we could hold lost human relationships in that same place.
That person you loved and had children with, may not be in your life now, but there was something that led you to make a child with them. If only we could hold that memory of our child’s parent fast, separate it from the ex we are now rid of, we might find some of that unconditional love that our pets display.
The cruelest loss of all for many a person is when we reach old age. Partners are lost, along with friends. Children may move away or connections with family are lost. The one thing that remains is their pet. That pet may be a way to maintain a memory of their lost partner or children.
Unknowing or uncaring people have separated that senior from the last creature that regularly shows them affection. More enlightened agencies and providers sometimes see the benefits from keeping that person connected to the emotional benefits that come from sharing your life with an animal.
If only humans could love as constantly and unconditionally as our animal companions do then the world would be a better place.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books