Get a Pet and Start the Learning…

Tales of the Animals Part 2

Having a pet (or if you live in Berkeley being an “animal guardian”) is in my personal opinion one of the best ways to do some intensive learning about yourself, also perhaps growing and changing if you choose to use the lessons toward that end. There are the obvious lessons about responsibility and financial management, but there are also subtle lessons about prejudice, assumptions, relationships, kindness and cleanliness among others. If you have a pet (or an “animal companion” – again thank you to Berkeley) and you are willing to invest a little time in self-reflection it can be remarkably therapeutic!

Here is a lesson I am currently learning from my thirteen-year old cat: it is never too late to change!

Cats are not known for their flexibility. Of course there are exceptions, as there are with any thing in life, but as a general statement you can declare that cats like consistency in their lives; the food is where the food always is, the bed is where the bed always is, the people come and go in predictable patterns – these are the things that most cats seem to like. So ten years ago when we moved and the cat had spent her first three years in one home she did not transition well to the new home. It was after about two years and thousands of dollars in clothes, shoes and furniture that my husband said, “either find a way to get her to stop peeing on everything or she goes.”

The solution was Prozac after the vet diagnosed a feline anxiety disorder. Apparently this is common in cats. She took her Prozac every day for six years. Cats, as I mentioned before like consistency in their daily routines. Going to the vet is out of the ordinary and not liked for many reasons, so at eleven years old when it was time to go in for her annual exam and prescription renewal I asked the vet if we could just skip the appointment because she seemed to be in good health and absolutely loathed going to the vet, and at her age why torture her. Honestly it created a lot of stress for everyone in the house. The vet said no and thus research was done; thank god for the internet. We transitioned from Prozac, slowly, to Rescue Remedy (the animal version because the people version makes animals barf – more lessons learned), to nothing. According to the internet this is something we should have done a long time ago but I guess veterinary pharma is not all that different than human pharma in their quest for profit because no one had mentioned this to me in six years of kitty pill popping.

For the majority of her life Delilah (the cat) was either anxious and acting out or completely wasted on meds and lethargic. We took her off the meds, she had a good long time to adjust to the “new” living situation and she transformed. She has always liked being close to her people (when my daughter was in kindergarten she would walk with us half way to school and then sleep in the park shrubbery until we passed by on the way home), but now if you are not available to be close when she wants it she tracks you down and tells you all about her feelings. Loudly. She is also quite vocal about the kinds of treats she likes and when she would like to have them – often in case you were wondering. She has instilled terror in the dog that is ten times her size, and staked her claim to the giant dog bed in the yard that sits in the sun. She has taken control of her life, given voice to what she wants, and found a new way to actively engage with her people.

In cat years she is getting on toward 75. That’s not young by any standard and I think that as we age we sometimes have a sense of ‘oh, why bother changing now,’ I know I have heard that from a number of people in my life. But I am learning something interesting from this cat about why we should bother and it is a simple lesson: every day is a gift, every day has something to offer that may bring us joy and if the opportunity to start new, to start over, or to just re-engage is presented we should take it because today is the day we get to be exactly who we are.

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