Tuesday, December 12, 2006

People and their animals

Justin and I were talking yesterday about animals. He grew up never really having pets, while I grew up with cats and a few dogs. We have two dogs, Jordan and Haley, and if you couldn't figure it out, they are two of the most wonderful things to have happened to us in life. Yesterday, Justin walked out into a parking lot where several people had discovered a dog that had been hit by a car. The people were caring, and the dog's injuries did not appear to be life-threatening, although there were significant amounts of blood. All together, they were able to calm the dog down and get it to a local vet, where it hopefully was treated and reunited with its owner (the dog had tags and a collar, thankfully, although Justin infomed me that we would have had a fifth family member if that had not been the case). What touches me so, is that I know that Justin has learned about what it means to have a relationship with an animal because of our girls. I know that animals are special...for me, it runs in my family, especially in my mother's side of the family. My grandmother is the matriarch of all felines within a 5-mile radius of her home in Washington state. When I talk to her on the phone, she frequently fills me in on the animals - cats, dogs, squirrels, opossums, and birds in the neighborhood. We could talk for hours about the animals, their exploits, and our memories of pets that have passed away. Ever met a stranger that you somehow felt compelled to make small talk with? You may not have looked forward to talking to a stranger and coming up with something useful for the conversation, but when you discovered that you have an animal story in common...well, then that changed things, and it was fun to talk! Talking about animals lights people up.

For me, there is something really special about coming home and being greeted by an animal whose behavior makes you think you are the most important thing in their life at that moment. The routines that life dictates that ordinarily might be boring and monotonous are exciting when you have an animal who is simply overjoyed at the prospect of getting to do THAT again, even though it happens every day, at approximately the same time. Our dogs are emotional - we know when they're "happy" and when they'd really rather that we gave them full on attention. I'm a biologist, and I know that I am not supposed to go anthropomorphic, but they do have different psychological states that depend on environmental context...and I don't think there is too much harm in comparing those observations to basic human states, such as happiness, boredom, and contentedness. It's fascinating watching and learning from animals that we share our lives with.

If you have an animal that you share your life with, give them lots of love today and everyday!