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Our pets connect us to the world
I tucked this letter away sometime ago, and now seems like a most appropriate time to share it with you. Dear Dr. Spiegel, I love your column. I have always had dogs: Sealyham, Irish Setter, and now Pomeranians. When my dog gets older I am going to get another. Can you write one article on people like me who find it hard to live without a pet? They give so much love and fun. Sometimes, of course, I am cross with them. Please address why we need animals? I feel you have good sense. Thank you, T.C., Wilmington
Dear T.C., I think you may have already answered the question yourself. To quote the Beatles, "Love, Love, Love." When you say, "I love your column," you are giving me warmth and appreciation, a sense of purpose and motivation, and the energy that is subsequently created from feeling alive and happy. When I write my columns with compassion and a desire to help (i.e., with love), I am sending back that positive flow of energy. It is all give and take... a constant flow of kindness, in the form of energy and ideas, that builds relationships, creates happiness, and makes us feel connected. All of this holds for our relationships with animals. But with animals there is an additional feature which makes them truly special to us. With animals we can receive an everyday level of physical intimacy that is largely lacking in our relationships with other people. You can stroke the warm body of your cat and get on the ground and wrestle with your dog. There is nothing that quite compares with the feeling of getting on the back of a big strong creature like a horse and going for a ride together. When we were infants, we were held body to body by our mothers who simultaneously nourished us with milk. As kids, we would jump on our fathers' backs and get thrown into the air only to be caught by strong and steady arms. As we grew, we would play tag and football with our friends; and we can't forget goodnight hugs and kisses. But things soon changed. Physical intimacy became associated with sexual behavior, and our society apparently grew fearful. To avoid the possible judgement of others, we have largely suppressed our instincts to connect with other humans through touch. And this, of course, is where non-human animals come in. They meet this need in a way that our culture is accepting of. And, still, there is more. Not only do animals allow us to relinquish our physical inhibitions, but they afford us the opportunity to be ourselves, fully accepted and free of judgement. In this capacity, they are divine. We all walk around trapped within our separate bodies, vulnerable to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Animals give us the opportunity to feel truly connected to nature, to the world, and to the forces which support and sustain us. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, may we all feel genuinely grateful for ALL of the life and abundant resources with which we have so wisely been provided. AND may we learn to sustain and nurture all of the lifeforms with which we share this world. In giving support to a woman who had just lost her nine year old American Eskimo dog, "Chooshla," I received this unquestionable bit of wisdom. I have often referred to people as "pet owners." But it is truly not possible to own another life. So be a "guardian," or a "caregiver," or a "companion," and return in appreciation, understanding and respect the many gifts they bring into your life. Let the giving flow and enjoy a happy and heathy holiday.