“It often happens that a man is more humanely related to a cat or dog than to any human being.” ~Henry David Thoreau
Of the many gifts that a Buddhist calm mind is supposed to confer on the practitioner, the belief that you will be loved by animal spirits has always been an active daily marker for me. I am sure that this is in part due to the amount of my days that are indeed devoted and surrounded by animals. In addition to my four children, I have long been the alpha female for my two dogs and at least one of my two cats. I have in my history also been a mother/caregiver to a rabbit, guinea pig, horse and various goldfish; not to mention one fairly brief stint when I collected farm animals until the baby goat population in the barn exceeded twenty.
Our family pets, including what others would call livestock through the years have been my animal totems, which have shaped my days and taught me as much about myself as any human relationships. My animals know me in a way that few humans take the time to look, probably because the pets are with me so much of my day. They rest by my side during most of the day, equally eager to join me each time I walk out the door or jump in the car.
At home, they are always attentive to what I am doing. Whether in meditation, or talking on the phone or writing, they stay near, a continuous barometer of my mood and ability to interact. They define life in the present moment and pull me back to the only space that has meaning in animal time. They love me and remind me how to let love be how I am, like the color of my skin.
My current canine companions, Coco, our Rhodesian Ridgeback who will celebrate her tenth birthday this month and Alie, our two-year-old Pomapoo are unlikely best friends. They each see each other as true reflections; Alie bold and big in her pint size manner and Coco, timid and mild despite her strong hound leaps. They make me laugh all the time. Walking them in the park never disappoints as they race around each other, with the deliberate near miss.
Most pets display so many humanlike traits and emotions that it’s easy to forget they’re not gifted with the English language. In the end, maybe it’s a relief to talk to a pet that can only listen; a trait that modern humanity often seems to lack. Regardless, if you pay attention, they do respond in their own way. I can’t imagine a life without animals by my side.