Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Gift Animals Give

  I try to catch CBS Sunday Morning every week. My Aunt, Martha, turned me onto quite a while ago, and she occasionally calls to discuss it, so we virtually watch it together. Today's show was near and dear to my heart, an entire episode about animals and what they bring to our lives.
  The most poignant excerpts of the show for me were the piece on "War Horse", the Tony Award-winning musical about the horses who served in World War I. The show stars remarkably lifelike, full-size horse puppets developed by Handspring Puppet Company in South Africa. Seeing the video from this show really made me want to go back to New York!
   They also showed the Animals in War Memorial in London, which pays tribute to the countless animals who have served and given their lives for humans with the simple and powerful inscription, "They had no choice."
   The interview with author Dean Koontz was also enlightening. He reminisced about his first dog, Trixie, a golden retriever, and said that, "One of the greatest gifts we receive from dogs is the tenderness they evoke in us." If you doubt that, tell someone you don't like their dog and see what kind of response you get!  ;)
I have a VERY similar photo of my old boy, Justin. Need to dig that up...
   In addition to the work for which he's best known, he wrote "A Big Little Life", a tribute to Trixie. He says she opened his "eyes to how much [I] started turning off the beauty of the world out of busyness." I believe that's very true, that animals force us to slow down and appreciate small moments which we might otherwise miss. He called Trixie a theophany; a entrance of God into his life. Companion animals are more than a little divine. I can't imagine coming home to an empty house every day. No matter how my day was, I have four little heartbeats eager to greet me every time I return, and that's something  you can't take for granted.
   He also said something else that I liked: "The imagination is a muscle... and the more you use it, the easier it becomes." I've always found my pets to be a source of humor and a springboard into my imagination. (Why did they do that? What are they thinking? What would they say?) As a creative person, having pets around seems to be a necessity.
   As a true pet lover, Koontz supports Canine Companions for Independence, who train dogs to help handicapped people live fuller lives. The ability to train dogs to this extent has always interested me immensely, and someday I'd like to volunteer for them in some capacity...
   The show talked about Duke University's Canine Cognition Center, which studies how canine behavior and intelligence can enrich human lives and the relationship between our species. And one of the dogs they showed when talking about canine intelligence looked more than a little familiar...
   They also showed Chaser, a border collie who lives with a researcher and knows over 1000 words—both nouns and verbs—that she has remembered for years. She knows specific names for each of her toys and can bring them, point to them, nose them, etc. Smartypants!
   Everyone who knows me knows I have a houseful of pets: the cats, Gypsy (14) and Atom (almost 13); and the dogs, Taylor (almost 5) and Aki (4). One of the great tragedies of companion animals is that their lives are so short. That's why they should be treasured so thoroughly for the unique personalities that they each have. And that's a big reason why I volunteer for the Humane Society and Shiba Rescue; because every pet and every person deserve a relationship as special as this. And when you save an animal and pair them with the right person, the joy is immeasurable.