Creature Thoughts, November 2016

Note: Please accept my apologies for the lack of an October newsletter.

Why Do We Keep Pets?

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
— Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987)

As human beings, we often lose touch with the fact that we are, in fact, a part of the natural world. It seems to be easier to think of our animals as belonging to nature, than it is to think of ourselves as, well … animals.

The days that approach the end of each year–when life turns toward rest and sleep and the light gives place to darkness–often find me waxing philosophical. The losses I have faced in my life in recent years seem to have intensified this need to go within.

This year, I look at the world around me, and wonder where I have fallen out of step. Fall crept up on me. It seems I had barely seen the colors, snapped a few photos, and they were gone. I looked out one October morning to find snow falling, winter peeping around the corner, and wondered how I had failed to notice. How had autumn’s splendor come and gone so quickly? What happened to summer? Wasn’t it yesterday I was watching for the leaves to bud on the trees, and my lilacs to bloom?

We live in a world apart from nature in so many ways. We work at our desks, surrounded by possessions. For weeks on end the only connection to the natural world we experience is through a window. Time has marched on, leaving the human race behind. There was a time that we were part of the heartbeat of the earth. We altered our lives with the seasons. We planted with the warming spring, harvested with the autumn gold. We rose and slept with the sunlight, and our life tides cycled with the moon. Today, unless we are a part of the farming or fishing community, most humans pay no attention to whether the last frost has ended, or when the moon’s pull on the ocean is strongest.

For most of our species history, we had animals in our lives to help us survive. They provided food and clothing. They protected home and flock. They rid the grain of vermin. They were part and parcel of our connection to the cycles of nature. They walked beside us, our fingers and their paws intimately in touch with the pulse of the earth.

Today, psychology experts have various theories as to why we keep animals in our lives. After all, they can be a bother, a worry, and mean extra work and expense. We pay vet bills, buy their food, care for their illnesses. We have to walk them, clean their litters, muck their stalls. We change our lives around their needs, often setting aside our own conveniences so as not to inconvenience them. And then, at the end of their time in their beautiful bodies, they break our hearts irreparably. In a practical sense, we could live our lives without them. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?

Some experts suggest we keep animals for selfish reasons such as power, control and status. Others feel that they help our anxieties, keep us calm, and allow us to express emotions we otherwise wouldn’t feel comfortable showing. Some say they are a substitute for human children, for in many ways our pets never grow up (or at least many people treat them that way). Others think, in the case of animals such as horses, show dogs, etc, they give us a way to interact positively with one another, as well as provide an outlet for our need for sport and competition.

I believe that all of these thoughts are valid in some ways (and for some people), and that our reasons probably vary as much as we do.

However, I also believe that we humans have one need that runs very deep, which the experts fail to consider. It is a need that some people feel their entire lives, and of which they are never fully cognizant. I believe that somewhere, deep in our souls, we are still wild beings. We still feel, though rarely understand, the pull of the tides. The heartbeat of the Universe cries out to us, waiting patiently (and futilely) for our own pulse to fall in sync. Our animals haven’t lost that synchrony. We are often unaware of the anchor they provide. Through them, we experience brief moments of connection. We hear the pulse in our dreams. We feel their heartbeat and it pulls us deeper. We may not recognize the experience, or be able to put a name to it, but it is there. It is that undefined sense of wonder we feel when we bury our fingers into fur, connect to the vibration of a purr, or feel the rhythm of hoof-beats on the earth.

Our animals bring us home.

I give thanks, even through the heartbreak and tears, for all my pets have given to me. Most of all, I thank them for providing an anchor for my soul. I thank them for helping me to hear the pulse of the Universe, and know it for what it is. Maybe, just maybe, with their help, my own heartbeat will learn to dance in time.

News and Announcements:

There will be a holiday three-pack special again this year. The special of $10 off the regular three-pack price will be for the months of November and December, ending on January 2nd. Feel free to email me for more information or if you wish to participate.