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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pet People

Someone that I know through social media made a post a few months back that has had me thinking ever since. Okay, well, not non-stop, but it planted a seed in my mind that has been growing ever since. This friend has spent several years living with an adorable-looking wiener dog, and has posted many pictures of the dog in its natural habitat. The dog came into her life with her husband, and many of us have enjoyed seeing her "living the dog's life" and looking wienerdogcute as she did so. Now, the post this dear woman, S, made that gave me such food for thought had to do with said dog, H. S admitted that she has never been much of a dog lover, nor has she ever really been a lover of pets in general. 

As I recall, S did not make any judgements for or against pet lovers, just admitted that she will never really be one. Her focus is more on her relationships with other people, and on improving herself as a person, and I completely respect that. I imagine that there might be a person here or there that might have issue with what she wrote, but I could understand how living with an old, and as S described her, self-entitled dog might be a challenge even for a dog lover. H doesn't really care if she pleases anyone. She wants to sleep, covered up by a human with a blanket, be fed home-cooked food, and get up at three in the morning to be let outside. When she comes in, no matter what time of day, she expects a treat. She doesn't show much, if any, desire to give affection to humans, but wants and expects them to cater to all of her needs. As a self-admitted dog lover, I know that living with H would make me crazy, but S seemed to do it with a great deal of grace.

What made me think so much over these last few months was what S said about not ever really having that love for pets, but focusing on her relationships with people. (By the way, if you are reading this and read her original post, please forgive me if I remember any of it incorrectly. Human memory is fallible, and the error is all mine.) It made me think about a person who was a part of my life for many years, a person, who although now deceased, still haunts me in many ways. Alice was my legal guardian, along with her husband, who was my mother's cousin. Alice loved animals. During the time that I lived with her, she had numerous cats, and one dog. He was the first dog I had ever lived with, and his name was Sam. Before I knew him, I was afraid of dogs, but he was A Good Dog, and I think he sensed the kind of interaction I needed. 

After Alice sent me to live with Gram, she continued with her obsessive love of dogs and cats. I often joked with Gram that Alice had broken many a child's heart by kidnapping their beloved pets. I'm serious! A couple of years after Alice discarded me, she and Bill had a home built on their one-hundred-plus acres of land in a more rural area. When Alice came into town to do her shopping at the larger stores here, she would routinely pick up dogs and cats in her travels. I have no doubt that many of them were simply minding their own business in their own front yards, but she decided that they were strays because they weren't in a back yard or tied up. More than once I came home from school to find out that instead of taking one of the dogs to her hundred acres, she left them with Gram. It took getting to the point of having six dogs at once for Gram to finally be able to say no to Alice "giving" her any more dogs. 

Although we did the best we could for them, I don't think the dogs had the life they deserved. Some of them would fight terribly with one another, so they had to be kept in separate parts of the house. When you have that many pets, they don't seem to get all of the love and attention that they deserve. They became more of a chore than a joy. It wasn't until we were down to one dog, Lucky, that I realized how wonderful living with a dog could be. He had always had a wonderful personality, and I had always loved him. But it was great to be able to just enjoy a dog's company instead of being overrun with such an excessive number of them. I hope that doesn't sound as bad as I am afraid it might. We had more dogs than we could handle, and it was very stressful. In addition to that, we also had a neighbor who called the police and said that we were violating local laws by having too many pets. Gram could easily have been subjected to huge fines, or even incarcerated, all because of the pets Alice thrust upon her.

At her home in the country, Alice had a couple of outbuildings and kennels housing all of the stray dogs and cats she acquired. She had all of them neutered, and she cooked huge pots of warm food for them every day. And she was always on the lookout for more of them. Aside from the aforementioned stress and fear of the law, her passion for pets didn't actually harm me in any way. But I often wondered why I disliked cats so much and resented all of the dogs she foisted upon us. It took years for me to realize on a conscious level what was the root of my problem. It was because, with all of her kindness to these animals, I realized an awful knowledge about her that was hidden deep down in my mind. She cared more about these animals than she did about children or any other people. And especially that she cared more about cats and dogs in general than she ever cared about me.

One of my very intense and oldest memories of Alice had to do with her cats. I was still asleep in bed one morning when someone grabbed me by the ankles, pulled me from my bed, and dropped me on my head on the floor, yelling at me all the while. I can't tell you what was wrong, but the gist of it was that she felt that I had neglected her cats. I wasn't even awake yet and I had already done something wrong. I remember another occasion when she had run out of cat litter and had me digging up dirt in the back yard by a shed and storage area. My fingertips were cracked and bleeding from dryness and the cold weather, but that was never noticed. The cats had to be taken care of, and that was that. 

I also know that she would never have harmed a helpless pet, and I respect and admire that. But I also know that she would have willingly beaten a child to death if they made her angry, especially if the child was me. Although, as I tried to joke with Trent, that I would have made her even more angry by dying and creating more of an inconvenience to her. If you think I exaggerate, let me share this brief example. She once got angry because she didn't like the way I pronounced something. She made me get down on my knees in front of the chair she was sitting in and repeat what I had said over and over again. This was done in front of her daughters, and Liz and Gram, because we were getting ready to drive out to their piece of land in the country for the day. When she said that I could stand up and get to the car to leave, she delivered a roundhouse blow to my face that made me bounce off the sharp corner of the kitchen wall. Dazed, I went out and got in the back of the car, where Liz started screaming. There was blood running down my face from a gash in my head. Alice was furious that I had delayed her trip by requiring bandaging. She cursed at me the entire time she gave me first aid. She also told me that I should tell anyone that asked how I was hurt that I fell down. The girl next door, bless her heart, said she knew I didn't fall. But I was afraid to admit it, and argued that she was wrong.

After the years away from Alice, and away from the situations she created, I have learned that I am, indeed, an animal lover. Although they aren't my favorites, I even love cats. Dogs that I have never seen before will come up to me and lick my face, and cats that never socialize with anyone will seek me out and enjoy my attention. I have had my hands licked by both wild mountain goats and wild wolves. I am the person that will go to your house and get down on the floor and have giggles with the dogs. But I am also the person who will get down on the floor and have giggles with your children. Every child, every person, every pet, is deserving of love and safety and caring. Yes, I am a pet person, but I am also a people person.