Creature Thoughts, January 2015

Out With The Old

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We’ve all done it many times (some of us more than others). We watch the clock tick down the hours, minutes, seconds on the night of December 31st. The ball drops, we count backward from ten to zero, and then the bells ring, the confetti flies, the horns blow, and Auld Lang Syne begins to play. We pull the old calendar off the wall, hang up a new one, and everything changes.

No, not really. Most of the time the only thing that visibly changes on New Year’s Day is the picture on the calendar. In our very human minds, however, with our very human concept of time, a New Year means new beginnings. It’s our annual do-over, our chance to start again. We make resolutions with the firm determination that this year we will do things differently. We’ll lose weight. Well stay in closer touch with family. We’ll stand firm in front of the boss for that promotion we surely deserve. We’ll get out there three days a week and jog. And we do it. We really, really do just what we say we’re going to do.

It usually lasts about a week, because, well, you know — we’re human.

Our pets, bless them, aren’t. What do our animals think of this whole “Happy New Year” thing? Not much, to be honest. It’s not one of those holidays where new toys and treats are distributed, after all. They sense the excitement and, sometimes, trepidation of their human family members, and might wonder briefly what all the fuss is about. New Year’s Day, however, is pretty much like any other day in the cold of winter (or heat of summer if you’re in the southern hemisphere) to them. They wake up, they have a nice pee, eat a lovely breakfast, play for a little while, and many of them finish that up just in time for their mid-morning nap.

Every day is a “Happy New Day” when you’re a dog, cat, bunny, bird or horse with a loving home and devoted human slave force, after all.

An animal’s concept of time is not based on calendars and clocks, nor on days of the week or whether February has 28 or 29. To an animal, time is about energy, rhythms and cycles. They’re aware of the strength of the moon and how high the sun is in the sky. They know when their tummies say it’s time to eat, or when their inner sense of connection tells them Mommy’s on her way home from work.

Helping my animal pals to understand our concept of time can be an interesting challenge. With a little work, for example, they can relate to “how many day/night cycles” before their family arrives home from vacation, though it’s best to start counting when there aren’t that many days left to count. I know one family of kitties whose mom often goes away at Christmas time. One of the three, in particular, is quite talented at keeping track of numbers from four down. He became even more adept at this after he himself had to have a leg amputated a number of years ago. Suddenly, the difference between “four days” and “three days” was very clear to him, and he will always compare days to whether or not they have reached his own number of feet.

Many animals also seem to fairly-well grasp how long a car trip will take, if they have something familiar to compare it to. “It takes a little longer than going to Grandma’s house” is something many dogs and cats can understand, while telling them “about three hours” will not mean anything to them at all.

But New Year’s Day? Changing the calendar from one whole year to the next is a big deal to the human animal. To our pets, however, it’s just another day to wake up, to wag, purr, whuff and nicker hello to their humans. It’s another day to love and be loved.

To animals who are loved by caring humans, every day is a Happy New Day.

And In With the New: A great New Year’s Resolution would be to bring more “Happy New Days” to animals who don’t yet have their own special human. Support your local shelter, rescue group, or animal sanctuary. I know many of you already do this in some way, of course, and for that, my heartfelt thanks.

Happy New Year!

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