For the Love of Animals

It is 6am. Oreo (pictured above) has stayed in his pen and not barked or whined since midnight. I am ecstatic. I jump out of bed, throw on my sweats, a hat, grab poop bags, house keys, leash and my phone. I don’t stop to use the bathroom (I’ve made that mistake before). I swoop up Oreo and make a mad dash down my five flights of stairs. And miracle of all miracles he pees AND poops outside as if on command. Triumphantly, we return to my apartment. 

Of course a mere 45 minutes later, when I take my eyes off of him for literally 5 seconds,(I swear!) he peed and pooped again, in front of the couch. Was that a gleam in his eye? Did he actually smirk? 

Anyone who has had a puppy, may empathize with my situation. Puppies are no joke. Oreo is my first puppy, and I am tired and annoyed. But then he snuggles up on my lap to take a nap, or wags his tail when I walk up to him, and I know I am in it for the distance. 

The benefits of being a pet owner is well documented. Decreased blood pressure, increased opportunities for outdoor time and exercise, increased opportunities to socialize, decreased feelings of isolation, as so much more. Pets are a love infusion and a sense of purpose. 

In 2001 I was living in New York City. I worked for an organization called Community Access supporting folks with mental health challenges to live in the community. A friend of mine who also worked at Community Access and I were talking one day about our own struggles and she told me that if it hadn’t been for her two dogs, she might not still be alive today. I thought at first that she was being hyperbolic. But as she spoke more about it, what she was saying was literal. Because she had to take her dogs out, because she worried about what they would do without her, because she loved them and they loved and depended on her, she made it through some very dark days and nights. That conversation for me was an ‘aha’ moment. Even though I was not a pet owner, something shifted inside of me and I understood the profound meaning of a pet relationship.

In my years working with people transitioning from the experience of homelessness to having a safe and secure place to call home, I have witnessed on more than one occasion a person adopting a pet. Often the cat or dog in the shelter no one else wants. The three legged dog, the cat with diabetes. One new tenant told me she knows what it is like to feel unwanted and unloved, and she wanted to help change that story for a pet that was suffering. 

This blog post is dedicated to love. The love of pet owners and their pets. The feeling of your heart swelling when you look at your furball and hug them to your chest. Who in these troubled times couldn’t use a little more love? I reached out to some people in the Pathways’ community and asked them to send me photos of their pets. People that are receiving Pathways’ services, board members, donors, and staff. The photos are not labeled. Just pets. Just love. 

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