Our love of pets shows us it’s not just our animals that need us—we need them.
Marielle Argueza here, thinking about all the fond memories I’ve had with animals. I grew up surrounded by animals on a rice farm, so as kids, my siblings and I had plenty of wild things to keep us company. From chickens and carabao (a kind of water buffalo) to pigs and goats…hundreds and hundreds of goats. There were some dogs, but as far as I remember, they were stand-offish, and really my dad’s pets.
When I moved to American suburbia, I had a plethora of fish. I once had a bunny and some parakeets. But it wasn’t until I met Kelly the black labrador that I knew the difference between a pet and just being surrounded by animals.
Kelly was a whip-smart trained hunting dog. But her “killer” instincts were rarely on display, overshadowed by the traits we saw more often—her kindness, her propensity to steal chicken drum sticks, and an immense amount of motherly love. She once helped foster a litter of a dozen abandoned kittens.
Perfect as she was, we had an inkling that Kelly was abused in her former life. She was disciplined, but she’d find the nearest corner to hide in when she knew she did something wrong, or when she’d hear yelling. But I also think whatever she went through in a past life endeared her closer to us.
When any of us would get yelled at or cry, she’d come to us in our distress. She just knew. That empathy I saw in her made me think we need our pets just as much as they need us—a message that also comes through in this week’s Pet Issue, which features stories of readers and their pets.
Enter Lulu, the pitbull-boxer mix that my sister rescued from a bad living situation. When I first met Lulu, I was in college fostering her. Like Kelly, her sweetness came out—you could tell from her buggy eyes. But it was almost always obscured by her immense nervousness. She never barked. She didn’t run up to me when I got home. She was scared to eat in front of me. She didn’t like men. Once when I came home, she peed all over my pillow. Another time I found her on the roof.
If I learned anything from having a sweet dog with a previous life, I knew I had to be patient. I knew I couldn’t lose my temper with her. I knew that before blaming her for mysterious things around the house—like a tumbled trash can, or black fur on the bed—I looked to my own behaviors first. I didn’t close the lid on the trash. I didn’t close the door to my bedroom, despite the strict no-dogs-on-the-bed policy.
With time, Lulu, like Kelly, blossomed into who I think she really always was. Just another dog who wanted to have good walkies, a steady supply of treats, plenty of soft surfaces (even if it’s the dirty laundry) to lie on, and to just be there for their human. Lulu still has some quirks. She gets scared by loud passing cars. She hates peeing in the rain or in front of other dogs. But mostly she just lies around in blankets. And when we do need a good cry or someone to talk to, she’ll come sniffing and try to push her head through my elbows, revealing all her kindness in her big buggy eyes.
-Marielle Argueza, staff writer, email@example.com