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Friday, August 09, 2013

What is the animal thing all about?

My childhood dog was a dachshund named Rudy. He arrived as a puppy when I was about 4 and departed when I was in high school. Family lore differs on whether he was A Good Dog or A Difficult Dog -- he barked with religious devotion at the mailman and bolted long and far on the rare occasion he got loose -- but I loved his presence. He was reliable company, and he made our family dog people.

One afternoon when I was perhaps ten or 12, a neighbor's tabby cat wandered into our rock garden. It curled around my legs and allowed me to pet it, and when it didn't scurry off in reaction to my attention (that was the kind of behavior I'd come to expect from my friends' cats), a felt a strong affection bloom inside my heart. Surprise, surprise. We were dog people, but a sudden fondness for a cat somehow had found me. Day after day, I hoped the cat would return to our yard, which it did with a frequency that annoyed my mother. I don't remember admitting to her that its visits pleased me.

Today, we still know dog people and cat people. More and more, though, thanks to the interwebs, we know seriously dedicated, almost bent animal people. More and more of us ARE such folk, encouraged by advertising and Facebook posts and just a general trend that feeds our pro-beast leanings. More of us joke (sort of) that we get along better with animals than with people. More of us actually do.

I'd like to think the zoophilia signifies an element of pure human goodheartedness. Maybe it does. It seems to me, though, that all our swooning over coats and beaks is as well a symptom. For those of us who find cultural gyrations spinning just a few hundred rpm's too fast, a beastly presence supplies calming influence. Office drama and family trauma and the straight up insanity of politics at every level -- well, it's all just a bit much, isn't it? It's weighty and frustrating and dispiriting, and for this we have an antidote in the form of a garden cat.

Or in dogs sleeping on tattered couches.

Or in videos of big burly men singing puppies to sleep.

Or photogenic lizards.

Or poignant journalism about places that care for orphaned elephants.

Most dog people will tell you that man's best friend offers unconditional love. True enough. Many cat people will tell you more or less that their cats allow them to share space with them, and that this, combined with their cat antics, is somehow pleasing. Whatever else these creatures bring to our lives, they deliver simplicity and straightforwardness and innocence -- qualities that eclipse whatever sins they commit by way of dining-room puddles and wrecked upholstery.

Our devotion to our pets, and our fascination with the rest of Noah's menagerie, is telling us something. Our world has gotten hard and fast and stupid, even as it has become wildly interesting and efficient. We are full of love, yes, but we are also looking for rescue from an environment that moves too fast and unpredictably.

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