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What our pets can teach us about love, comfort, and joy

What our pets can teach us about love, comfort, and joy

Through the ups and downs of life, they’re always there for us.

"My dogs taught me about unconditional love. And the cats, well the cats taught me that unrequited love isn’t always painful."

Do you remember your first romantic heartbreak? Of course, you do.

If you’re a starry-eyed dreamer like me, you were probably practising your new signature, as you imagined the two-and-a-half kids, the three Labradors, the wonderful family trips, you and your beloved dancing in the refrigerator light in the middle of the night, and causing mayhem on cruise ships after you’ve retired.

And when my vision of my future came crashing down around me, I found comfort in the most unusual person.

Tiny was a petite, fluffy tabby who was smitten with a German exchange student friend of mine. She showed up in his yard one morning and that was it. She made him hers. When he had to return home, he asked me to take care of her.

Tiny then became my ‘big breakup’ cat. She purred up a storm right next to me while I was chain-smoking and cry-listening to Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, deep into the night, for months.

This was my first big love, and it came crashing down like most of these supposed ‘big loves’ usually do.

I often think about that time. Tiny was probably the main reason why I didn’t do the things my wounded brain and heart willed me to do. I made an oath to take care of her and if I hurt myself, she would be alone.

She’s the cat I shared my last can of tuna with on those broke days before payday. Luckily for us, both our stories have a happy ending.

When we look at pictures of our son or try to remember when he first said certain words, did certain things, or first saw various wild animals, all we need do is figure out which pet we had at the time, and we can pinpoint the month and, roughly, the date.

Or we could dig out his baby milestones book from the box in the garage, but we never do that. ‘Guess the pet’ is more fun and brings out great memories.

My next pet was a white-and-grey fluffster cat we adopted soon after our son was born. Nala was an archetypal cat in that he completely ignored humans, except for my son.

Thomas called him his brother. Nala was there when he first started rolling over (very concerned, and tried to nudge him back to being on his tummy). And Nala was there for the crawling and baby cruising stages.

As soon as Thomas pulled himself up against a piece of furniture, Nala would dash to his side and make himself a feline safety net. These special moments are forever stashed in my memory bank.

He hated hearing Thomas cry, so you can imagine how bad sleep training went. He would jump on my chest and ‘smack’ me with his paws to get me to go fetch the wailing Thomas.

Thomas is a strapping 14-year-old now, with no issues, so I think that pet food was worth the eye-watering price.

After my husband was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease in 2012, we had to downscale drastically and move from a double storey house to a single storey house and start afresh, again.

Once we settled in our new home, I felt our family felt a bit ‘dead’. I felt like we needed more life, but another baby was one of the things we had to let go, so I started looking at dogs.

Violet and Isabella, also known as Izzy, joined our family a year later via a rescue agency and even though my husband was not on board with adding more souls to our already rickety vessel, Thomas and I overruled him and our journey with our dogs began.

Elton says he was very much not impressed with what he perceived to be an extra burden initially, but if you had to look at him and ‘his girls’ now, there is an unbridled joy when they see him in the morning, and when he comes out of the shower.

On his bad days, when he can hardly get out of the bed, they are right there with him, guarding him and loving him so hard.

These girls came into our lives at a time when we were faced with my husband being given three years maximum to live, and I needed to feel in control of something. Having pets and the routine of walkies, feeding, washing and grooming was soothing. My sanity lies in routine.

I sometimes feel like they’re the other women in my marriage. Seriously though, pre-Covid I was relieved that they were home with Elton while I was at work.

Even though they couldn’t really call for help, I knew that if he fainted, from lack of oxygen, they would literally lick him to life.

When he’s napping on the couch and his breathing falters, they rush to his face and start licking him to ‘revive’ him.

I know people look at me funny when I refer to my pets as people, but they have really been peopling.

At my lowest lows (break-up, terminal diagnosis) and my highest high (pregnancy, new baby), they were right by my side, supporting and comforting me.

My dogs taught me about unconditional love. And the cats, well the cats taught me that unrequited love isn’t always painful.

Loving a being that only acknowledges your presence when they have a need (scritches or food) is not that bad. Because when they do come in for love, you feel like you’ve won the love lottery.

They make our lives so much more joyful, and seeing their ridiculous joy (yes, even the cats) when we get home is one of the best feelings in the world.

Rochelle Barrish

Change expert, Rochelle Barrish, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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