Arts & Life

Pet Theories – Notebook, May 2011

Written by Steve Kennedy | Apr 15, 2011 6:43 PM

Pet therapy, from all I've heard, is a wonderful process with significant benefits. I have personally seen the ways in which many people deeply and spontaneously respond to the presence of animals, and I'm certain it sometimes even elicits healing effects that nothing else can produce.

By nature, I am not much of a pet person. I am especially not a dog person — and dogs seem to have a pretty high profile in pet therapy. Though I'm not sure that animals would be able to perform much therapy for me, I do hope that I have occasionally contributed to the well-being of various animals, at least inadvertently.

When I was in high school, our neighbor's cat, Tabby, gradually prolonged her wanderings into our yard to the point where we finally realized she wanted to live with us. I don't know what her problems with the neighbors were, we never asked, and she didn't volunteer any information.

The neighbors were good people, not abusive or neglectful, though they never tried to win her back, either. Their kids interacted with her during their visits to our house the same way they always had, and everybody was happy — well, except for Tabby on my brother's graduation day, who was not happy with the sight of him in his gown, raising his arms, flapping his robe and chasing her around the yard.

Tabby had three kittens, Sox (black with white feet), Snowball (all white) and Cinnamon (various shades of brown and orange), named after Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl," which was being played on the radio around that time. All of them became our cats, but only Sox outlived Tabby herself. As far as we knew, they were all emotionally stable.

I've tried to keep carnival-won goldfish happy, i.e., alive, with occasional moderate success, but fell far short of being the human therapist our beagle needed during the interlude when I lived more or less alone with him. My greatest service to him was to pass him on to a home where now, in his golden years, he gets that feeling of belonging to a "pack" that, in my stab at canine psychoanalysis, I theorized he always craved as the runt of the litter.

When my daughter and her best friend were taking piano lessons years ago, the piano teacher's cat would disappear the moment we walked into the house. Eventually, she warmed up to my daughter, who has a natural affinity toward animals, and sometimes when I'd come to pick up the girls, she'd be sitting on the couch stroking the cat.

The piano teacher is now my wife, and that skittish animal is now my cat. When we were first married, we could count on hearing a meow within five to 10 minutes of going to bed. "Here she comes," my wife would say.

This would be followed by the sound of running paws, a leap up onto the bed and an immediate bound, as if bouncing off the mattress, onto a ledge beside the window. There our cat would spend at least the first part of the night, either looking out the window, using that see-in-the-dark vision to spot who knows what, or sleeping on the carpet-coated ledge. It was clear she wanted to be with us.

As the cat got older and less spry, she stopped doing this, and we removed the ledge — though we still feared she would forget and jump into nowhere, but it never happened. Nowadays, she usually spends the night elsewhere in the house, and comes into our room and meows in the morning, sometimes much earlier than we would prefer. At first we thought she was hungry, but often when she did this she already had food.

Once again emotional needs trumped physical, and taking her on our lap invariably solved the problem, though we cannot always do that. Recently, she has been joining me in my chair for my morning reading. But we've noticed that she no longer hides when company comes. We are convinced she is making progress with some of her complexes, though she may still require additional treatment.

It is just another testimony to the therapeutic power of humans to positively affect the lives of animals. And if any animal ever desires to reciprocate, I'll do my best to oblige.

Published in Notebook

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