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Friday, May 6, 2016

Gray Matters: Pet people

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My present location has brought me face-to-face with situations that are relatively new to me--the relationships between pets and their human companions.

In the past, my special neighbor, Helen, had her well-loved cats. Marcus' famed drug-sniffer, Shiloh, lived nearby, and the owners of two striking Samoyeds had moved in across the alley. But here, I am having the eye-opening experience of getting to know folks who seem to be as concerned about their pets as I am about my kids.

As I have told you in the past, I had lots of pets growing up on the farm, but all were barn residents. I spent hours in the hay loft with the kittens and even more time with my dogs in the yard or, especially in winter, prowling the farm fields.

Our kids had more pets, of greater variety, than you can imagine. Beyond dogs and cats, they ranged from pigeons to horses, and everything in between. Still, the menagerie remained outside, or, in extremely rare cases, in the basement. So you can see why I was ill-prepared to eat an evening meal with people who share a total devotion to their cats.

One woman, who had recently been hospitalized, spent the entire hour detailing her joyful reunion with her cat, down to an explicit description of kissing it and having it lick her face and neck repeatedly. Frankly, I was scarcely able to finish my meal as her ecstatic recital went on. Our other dining companion, however, totally understood and shared her enthusiasm.

Last evening I ate with a couple and another woman who were equally enamored with their dogs. In both cases the canines were aging, having lived well over the expected life-span of their breeds. The pathos as these folks shared their concerns over how they could possibly handle it when the time came for the inevitable parting was something else!

I may be wrong, but I feel this passion is a fairly new phenomenon here in the United States. A good many years ago when my husband and I visited in Germany we were amazed at the number of dog owners we saw. Beloved pets accompanied their masters everywhere. I will never forget one very small man on one end of a leash with a huge Great Dane on the other.

We laughingly wondered just which was the leader. Now it seems the pattern has taken over in this country, and I continue to wonder why. It's been suggested that, with the deterioration of the nuclear family, a pet could be filling the need for love and companionship that is somehow lacking.

From a child's viewpoint, perhaps the warmth and complete attention, which a single parent is sometimes too busy to give, is provided by a pet. But these are issues for the sociologists and psychologists to consider and they still don't help me understand why some of us feel so strongly on one side of the matter while the rest are just as adamant on the other.

I'll let you know when I get it figured out!