THE LAST SLICE: Pets teach us life lessons and shed on the couchThe trials and tribulations of pet ownership - is it smart to have a pet?
By: By Jill Pertler, Living North Magazine
Statistics tell us that about 60 percent of American households have at least one pet. That’s the majority. Still, that leaves 40 percent of people who don’t have a Fido or Fifi living in their home. Some would say that they are the smart ones. There are a lot of logical and sound reasons to avoid pets.
Take allergies. Have you ever heard of someone being allergic to a human? It doesn’t happen. But people are allergic to pets all the time. Sneezing and wheezing are two very smart reasons to stay away from pets.
People without pets are never inconvenienced by a dog that needs to go outside (NOW!) or a sick cat with a hairball. Non-pet owners don’t lose sleep over an animal that’s run away or been run over. They don’t have to concern themselves with things like whether the kitty litter is located on aisle 10 or 11. They don’t have to clean up dog-stuff from the carpet or a trophy bird that their proud cat delivered to the front doorstep. They don’t know the significance of a warm dry nose and why it is never, ever a good thing.
People without pets can wear black anytime, anywhere and it will always look black, not black with a sprinkling of dog hair. They’ll have a real perfume scent about them, instead of eau du feline. Their shoes will be shiny and smooth, without any chew marks. People without pets fill their purses and pockets with things like wallets and checkbooks, not doggie treats or doo doo bags. They do not realize that the wagging tail of a Labrador retriever can be considered a dangerous and lethal weapon.
They live a life without restrictions. They are free to come and go as they please. They can sleep in on a Saturday morning and don’t have to worry about replenishing the food and water dishes. They don’t have to count the hours since they last let their puppy outside. They can vacation for days and weeks on end without worrying about pet sitters or kennel fees.
It’s clear that there are many good reasons to avoid pet ownership. A smart person would do well to pay attention and steer clear of the cute kittens in the basket next to the “For Sale” sign. Someone with half an ounce of intelligence would not even consider entering the animal shelter. A smart person would steer clear. A smart person would.
Sometimes smart is over-rated. Besides, I have a bunch of kids, so I threw logic out the door decades ago. I’m one of those parents who believe that kids should grow up with pets. You know, to learn about love, responsibility and that whole circle of life thing.
My family is part of the 60 percent of the population that must think twice before wearing black. We keep a roll of masking tape in the minivan just so I can de-pet hair the kids before dropping them off at school in the morning. When we ask for a doggie bag at a restaurant, we mean it. We know all about cold, wet noses and warm, sloppy tongues.
We know that when we call her name, our dog will come running. Her tail will be wagging with enough power to knock over a kindergartner and she will be as happy to see us as she’s ever been. Each time we return home, it is as if she’s seeing us for the first and last time. Her joy is overabundant. She loves us with her whole heart and then some. From her we have learned about loyalty, trust and unconditional love.
We know that when we call our cat, he may come, if he smells tuna. When he does he will arch his back and stick his tail up in the air in a manner that is so irresistible we will be compelled to pet him. He may saunter over to the dog’s dish and take a leisurely lick of her water – just because he can. If we are very lucky, he will climb onto our lap and press his paws gently back and forth in a kneading motion. From him we have learned that self-respect, esteem and confidence come from within.
And so it has been with each of our animals. Our first cat, Bogart, taught us that quality of life sometimes takes precedence over quantity. Another feline, Bacall, showed us that life’s no fun if you’re always afraid. A white poodle named Princess taught me that it never hurts to be cute and that the best place of all is sometimes right at home.
The lessons learned from our pets can even help us understand the order of the universe, or at least make us smile. The other day, my son initiated an important philosophical discussion.
“Why do dogs and cats hate each other?” he wondered.
“It’s how they are made,” I answered. “They are natural enemies.”
“Oh yeah,” he said with instant understanding, “just like the Vikings and Packers.”
Some smart people say logic dictates that pets are more trouble than they’re worth. They might be right. Then again, you could spend your whole life following the smart rules and never have the privilege of knowing what it feels like to be purred upon or licked awake. Pet owners know.
As for me, animals are part of my family. Whether that’s smart or not doesn’t matter much. What matters is that if you come to visit (and we hope you do) it’s probably best not to wear black.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning writer and author of the syndicated column, Slices of Life.