Who Needs the Love?

We had to put our dog down a few years back. She was a little mutt—a Lhasa Apso/Jack Russell Terrier mix who was with us for maybe a dozen years. It all unfolded rather suddenly and took the air out of the room for a bit. I cried some tears of regret and sadness because I felt like it was my fault- I dismissed some warning signs prior to the day we took her to the vet for the last time. The ride home from there was predictably quiet. We told our kids, who were all grown and moved out but still surprised and saddened by the news.

I had no inclination to share my feelings in any kind of public way. If it came up in conversation, I would acknowledge how surprisingly intense the feelings were over losing a pet, an animal. But in the end, it was an animal, and not a child, or a close friend. We moved on with little lingering grief or regret.

We have a tendency to project when it comes to pets—we attribute human characteristics to animals who convey loyalty mainly because we give them attention, a roof over their heads and food and water in their bowls. We want them to be magical beasts, sent from heaven at some critical moment, who offer up quizzical or knowing looks. Who seem, to many, more like seers and sages than they deserve credit for.

We buy into and support the multi-billion dollar industry that has arisen around pet food and toys and vet care and which preys on the human soft spot for something cute and furry. It’s not much of a stretch to think that dogs and cats get treated better than humans. They are the cause du jour, the focus of painfully sappy commercials, near and dear to many a heart, but I wonder why. People will say it’s because animals can’t advocate for themselves, but I think it has more to do with the fact that humans are a more complicated and unpredictable species who are just too difficult to work with, and aren’t as good at returning the love. Dogs and cats are just easier, in so many ways.

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