More often than not, I look down at one of my three pets and get completely overwhelmed with love and affection for them. They are all so cute, and I *literally cant even*. Does this ever happen to you? If you have animal companions in your life, I'm certain you've experienced that rush of 'cuteness-overload' and all you can seem to do is squeeze them and smother them with kisses. I'd say this happens to me at least every few minutes whenever they're nearby. I can't get enough. Sometimes I think I'm an anomaly - maybe I just love animals too much - but then I realize the lengths all of us go to protect, care for, feed, pamper, shop for, and entertain our pets and I remember that I'm not alone. Perhaps our expressions of love are a little different, or our attachment-style to our animals is different, but one thing is certain: WE LOVE OUR ANIMALS.
For me, I'm lucky to have 3... well, 4, kind of. We have Lucia, our sweet and brilliant rescue mutt who works as a therapy dog by day with J (he's a therapist); Elliott, our first baby, a diva, cunning and intelligent, and a total prince (and my furry soul mate); Hugo, the sweetest, most gentle, and most well mannered young man you’ll ever meet; and Bailey, my family dog who lives with my parents and is so, so old and deaf and nearly blind but still is full of life and sass.
I’m always amazed at how much personality they all have. If you have pets you’ll agree - they are all unique souls, with needs and wants and so much individuality. They make you laugh and they warm your heart and if something even slightly bad happens to them, it hurts you at your core. They are fully-realized beings, with souls and love and feelings and personality and so much cuteness. I don’t know about you, but nothing can cheer me up more than the look on my animals’ faces whenever I walk through the door. (Even if I've been gone for 30 seconds, they still act just as excited when I come back as when I've been gone all day. Its the best.)
My furry companions are my daily reminders to be loving and compassionate to all beings. They are fully accepting of me, unconditionally. They have no ego, they are made entirely of light and love. They live in the present, they don’t hold grudges, they expect nothing and give themselves entirely to you with nothing but awe at your existence. They have no flaws, they can do nothing wrong. Humans do not deserve animals; we are not worthy. Animals are our greatest teachers. They teach me to be my best self every day.
I have my animals to thank for helping me wake up. Just like these 4 critters, I’ve learned that other animals, yes even the ones I don’t have close relationships with and ones I’ll never meet, are just as complex and full of life as my own. All animals have personalities, feelings, families, the capacity to feel fear and pain, joy and security, and they attach to their loved ones much like we do. Just because we don’t see it, we don’t meet them, or because they look and communicate a little different from us doesn’t mean they don’t experience life in all the same ways that actually matter. A few days ago, Lucia was walking around with a limp; perhaps she had a swollen ankle or something (she's better now, don't worry) and watching her walk around in pain absolutely broke my heart. As I saw her suffering and feeling a bit helpless to ease her pain, I reflected on how suffering is such a universally relatable concept and that even though my ankle didn't hurt, I could still feel pain for her, I could suffer for her, and I could feel a desperate urgency to remove her pain quickly. These feelings are known as compassion and empathy.
Most of us have the capacity to feel compassion (the ability to feel for another being) and empathy (to put ourselves in another's shoes) unless we are sociopaths who lack these capacities all together, in which case it is advisable to seek help. For most of us however, we are born with these innate abilities and as a species we have been able to survive in large part because of those abilities. And yet most of us live our lives participating in what many would consider to be extremely sociopathic behaviors. I lived like this too, for something like ~25 years! I knowingly and willingly participated in a system that forwent all sense of compassion or empathy, in order for me to get what I wanted. I'd call that a little sociopathic, I admit.
I have a really big heart. I care deeply and intensely about my friends and family and I do everything in my power to protect and love them every day. I adore my non-human animal companions with every bone in my body. I try to be a good person. But how could I have lived a quarter century participating in acts of cruelty that were so far removed from my values, my sense of self, my heart? I'd say it was a stealthy form of brain washing, marketing, outdated cultural norms, and worst of all habit that kept me living in a bubble for so long, thinking I was a good person but not living as such, and being blind and okay with it.
But having pets most of my life created a small crack in that bubble that grew over time until one fine day the entire thing shattered when I looked down at Elliott and Hugo and suddenly understood. They had been waiting for me at the front door as usual, and I came home from work and saw their cute little faces staring up at me, meowing with joy that I had returned. These creatures love me no matter what. Here I am getting ready to roast some chicken for dinner and yet the idea of any harm coming to my critters is unthinkable and sickening. Why are my animals special? Just because they're mine? Do other animals not deserve the same compassion and empathy that I show these critters, even if they're not 'mine'? We all know pigs are smarter than dogs but why do we not care about their wellbeing, if surely their capacity to feel pain, love, fear is equal to or even more complex than my darling Lucia's. Surely turkeys have to be smarter than Hugo, cows more loyal than Elliott, and in many ways most animals must be smarter than me. If I've allowed myself to live as a fool for this long, there is no doubt animals have a greater consciousness than I do. So what gives me the right to determine their fate? Who am I to decide who lives and who dies?
Who knows how many animals I caused to suffer and die during my life, but its a miracle to me every day that my animals still forgive me for it. They think I'm amazing, no matter what stupid lies I buy into, no matter what I do wrong or do right, they do not care. They are the embodiment of grace. If you're religious, maybe you can see your God in animals. [I'm not religious so I prefer 'source' or 'the universe']. If we could all see what they teach us and learn to live our lives according to the lessons animals gift us with, we would all be better for it. As I'm sitting here writing this, I have Elliott sleeping 5 inches from me on the empty half of the desk in the little ray of sunlight entering the room. He is reminding me to rest, to indulge in sunlight while you have it, and to be loyal to the ones you care about and keep them close, for life is short and time with loved ones is even shorter. Hugo is in the back corner of the room, hunting bugs and chasing things only he can see, reminding me to follow your truth with undying faith and determination, no matter how elusive or seemingly unattainable. And Lucia is sitting at my feet, staring at me with her big brown eyes, wagging her tail literally every time I speak or even remotely look in her direction, reminding me that I am loved, I am worthy, and someone out there thinks I'm the fucking shit.
Animals are our greatest teachers.
We do not deserve them and they love us anyway. The best thing I can do to repay them for their love is to take good care of the ones we've rescued and invited into our home, and live the rest of my life mindfully choosing the more compassionate path for all the other animals I cannot rescue and care for directly. Its the least I could do for them, and such a huge step for opening my heart to see a better, more authentic life.
Thank you, my loves, for holding up a mirror and teaching me how to use it. I see myself now, thanks to you.