[Warning: Serious post ahead.]
I love animals. My family loves animals. Most people I know (with a few exceptions) love animals. Yet somehow I missed how common the connection is between humans and beasts, that is, until recently. Or maybe I just never thought about it before.
I’ve had very little get-up-and-go lately (I think I’m fighting a sinus infection), so I’ve had the television on more than I usually do. When I have the TV on, I prefer to watch something pleasant and relaxing with a bit of humor, so I’ve been streaming Nat Geo Wild’s The Incredible Dr. Pol. This reality TV series follows a country veterinarian, Dr. Jan Pol, and his team as they help animals large and small in central Michigan.
It’s sort of a modern version of All Creatures Great and Small set in the USA.
The thing that amazes me, episode after episode, is the depth of bonding I see between people and their critter companions. Male, female, rural, urban, young, old, rich, poor, round, thin, educated or uneducated, liberal or conservative, manicured or unkempt, well-dressed or sloppy, tattooed or unadorned — none of the usual things by which we tend to judge people matter when it comes to bonding with animals.
If I were a betting woman, I’d wager that connections between persons and their critters is universal. It may include different animals of varying purposes (livestock, working, service, companionship), set in various environments (urban or rural, indoors or out), but the connection is there. This mutual love for our animals demonstrates a commonality I hadn’t thought much about; it reminds me that I and other people are more the same than we are different.
I wonder, in our sharply divided country, if remembering what we have in common would bridge our differences or at least allow us to treat one another with kindness and respect, even if we strongly disagree on issues (whatever they may be). Maybe it would allow us to have honest, civil discourse.
I mean, don’t we all feel joy and heartache? Don’t we all desire good lives and quality relationships? Don’t we all want to love and be loved?
We all rejoice at welcoming new life; we all grieve our losses. We find some level of joy, pleasure or amusement in seeing baby animals frolic and play or upon hearing young children giggle with abandon. We want the best for our young, even if our definitions of “best” aren’t the same, and we hope to leave future generations (both human and animal) with a better world and healthier future, even if the means to those ends don’t agree.
Our commonalities tell us that we, people in general, are more alike than we’d care to admit. We share much in common, even with those who dwell “across the aisle” from us. Our deep (and nearly universal) connections with our animals reveal this to be so.
No matter who we are or what we believe, if we’re human beings who welcome animals into our lives, we love and connect with our critters, just as our opposing-viewpoint-neighbors do with theirs.
So maybe the next time I’m tempted to think negatively about someone I see in the news or read about on-line, I would be wise to take a moment, breathe, and then look at Merlin or Chessie or another of my canine crew. They can help me remember that that person, the one I’m about to disparage or despise in my heart and mind, is loved and needed by some person or some critter, just as I am by my family and my canine kids. That same person feels emotions like joy and sorrow, just as I do, when we snuggle a grunting puppy or ease a beloved pet out of this world and into the next.
That person, though I may reject his position on an issue, is a person of full personhood, just like me, with inherent dignity, value, and worth. As a fellow human being, if nothing else, he is worthy of my appreciation and respect because we are both human.
And if that person happens to be one who includes animals in his life, he is likely bonded with his animals every bit as much as I am with mine. At the very least, we can share that connection.
That alone may be enough to get me to step back and see things more clearly. It might calm my judgmental heart and diffuse my reactionary animosity.
And if looking into the eyes of Tuc or Chessie or Pinot or Merlin doesn’t get me to see that person with an appreciating-our-shared-humanity perspecitve, then at least being with my canine kids will lower my blood pressure.
What I’ve seen recently on dozens of episodes of Dr. Pol, and what I’ve experienced in my own life, is that this compassionate, loving connection between us and our animals is real. It’s tangible. It’s universal.
And that connection with animals, I’m beginning to believe, can make me (us?) more human (in the best sense of the word).
But only if we allow it to.
And even if my connection with my critters does nothing else, it still makes my world a better place: it keeps my heart soft and compassionate, helps me maintain a sense of humor, encourages me to see the rest of the world through a postitive lens, and it motivates me to believe the best about others.
It’s not a bad way to live.
It’s certainly better than the alternative.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go snuggle with Merlin or be pawed at by Pinot, or get slobbered on by Chessie and Tuc. I could use a dose of wigglebutt optimism today.
And maybe I’ll be able to watch the news tonight without blowing a blood vessel.
But maybe it will be so.
Until next time,