The Human-Animal Bond in Still Troubled Times

Today events on a par with 9/11 as well as devastating natural disasters worldwide assault us on a daily basis: How do these still troubled times effect the human-animal bond now? For many, the worldwide uncertainties of life highlighted by the attacks on New York City and Washington, DC in 2001 when I first addressed this topic made their bonds with animals more important than ever.  When we hear news that frightens or saddens us beyond words in the company of other people, we may feel obligated to try to express those feelings anyway, regardless how inadequate those words may be. If we’re among those who share our thoughts and feelings about the event, we gain comfort from this communication. But if the disasters are more political in nature and good manners obligates us to weigh our words carefully, the need to do so only may add to our own distress at such times. If our fear and frustration overrides discretion and we rant and rave to anyone instead, we must deal with the negative fall-out of that too.

But when we hear that same news in the company of  only the dog, cat, or some other treasured pet, a different scenario unfolds. Regardless of our age, sex, intellectual, social, or political status, we can express our innermost feelings honestly and unashamedly. Unlike with our human companions, we don’t need to edit ourselves for fear they’ll desert us for acting immature, irrational or weird at a time when we may need their support the most.

Regardless whether animals do this because they care so much about us or because the things that bother us hold little meaning for them, the fact remains that they do offer us this incredible service. So what if my dogs sleep through most of the sudden bouts of tears that came out of the blue following what–to me–is a horrendous event? So what if my cat gives me his, “Oh, no, not you again!” look when I pick him up and hug him while I listen to the news?

I used to envy those who could boast how their pets licked their tears or hovered anxiously when the owners experienced the least distress. However, as I face changes that have brought the fears and uncertainties that used to be confined to some distant there to even my remote parcel of here, I’m grateful that the behavior of my pets and the wild animals around me communicates a far more meaningful message: No matter how important we humans think we are and no matter how much havoc we wreak on each other, the overwhelming majority of the other animals who populate this earth are not impressed. “Life goes on,” snores my old dog, purrs my cat, and loudly sing the birds each morning . “Life goes on,” the chipmunks, red and grey squirrels, chickadees, jays, finches, hawks, eagles, wild turkeys, deer, fishers, foxes, coyotes, and bears, every other creature who moves about or soars above my land all communicate in their own way. “It’s not all about you.”

But while the wild animals may feel secure enough in their ability to cope without me or any other human, if for no other reason than because they have for thousands of years already, the seemingly oblivious response of my pets communicates a more powerful message I need to hear in troubled times: “No matter how bad it seems to you, I trust you to take care of me. That’s your job. That’s why we can sleep and purr and sing and make you smile.”

So even though I might want to watch or listen to the same gruesome news reports over and over again, even though I’d like to spend hours pondering all the “what if’s” and countless fears just waiting to take root thanks to my fertile imagination, I find myself  doing the walk-about with the dogs and cat and attending to their needs instead.  I find the strength in the peace and joy that comes from our bond with each other even in the midst of still troubled times.

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