Love Thy Neighbor As Thy....Pet
Lotsa Love, All The Way Around
Sacrifice, Loyalty, And The Need To Be Needed
I have a very good friend and neighbor named Tracey. She is a beautician, so as one would expect, she herself is beautiful--hair, make-up, nails, clothes, and jewlery are all perfect, all the time. Her home is decorated with warmth and style, immaculate and inviting. I, on the other hand, have spent a large protion of my life covered in animal excrement and other things that look, smell, and feel awful. My hair is wash-and-go, my clothes comfortable and easy-care, my home...well, it wouldn't surprise me to wake up one morning to find men in pristine white biohazard suits wandering around collecting samples. Despite our differences, or maybe because of them, Tracey and I are great friends.
I called her one day to invite her to a last minute party I was planning for a mutual friend. She, as good friends do, asked what she could do to help. In the course of the conversation, she wound up offering to host the party. I agreed that this would be a terrific idea, since I didn't really have time to properly disinfect my domicile. She put her hand loosely over the mouthpiece of her phone and shouted, "Hey, Jim! Kristie's having a party at our house! Wanna come?"
One day Tracey told me excitedly that they were getting a puppy. A labrador puppy, to be exact. I pictured a lively, un-house-broken, teething ball of hair and energy gamboling about in that immaculate house, and raised a metaphorical eyebrow (I'm not talented enough to raise an actual eyebrow, but I'm pretty good with the metaphorical ones). She had owned dogs before, though not while we'd been neighbors, so I kept my reservations to myself.
A few days after they brought the puppy home, it developed diarrhea.
Then it started vomiting.
It had parvovirus.
For those of you who have never owned a pup with parvovirus, I'll tell you a bit about it: parvo is a viral infection, which means that unlike a bacterial infection, you can't just buy the right antibiotics and make it go away. You can only try to keep the pet alive while the disease runs its course. It causes loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. Not just a little, either. We're talking nasty, foul, bloody stuff from both ends, several times an hour. Tracey was going to have a miserable little pup that just wanted to be held and loved, who would be covered in nastiness and reek to high heaven. The illness generally lasts about a week, usually requires hospitalization for IV fluids and injectable antibiotics (to prevent bacterial infections from joining in), and is often fatal.
Tracey was distraught. A sick puppy, a horrible mess, an expensive vet bill, and a guarded prognosis. What should she do? Should she take the pup back, since the breeder had given them a health guarantee? Or should she and her family fight for this pup?
I thought about my beautiful, very feminine friend with her immaculate home. I thought about all the parvo cases I'd ever seen. I thought about people.
"It will be a lot of work, trying to get her through this. There are things I can do to try to keep your vet bill down, including coming to your house to give her fluids and injections so she doesn't have to be hospitalized. But you will be cleaning up messes, and cleaning her, constantly. She will be demanding a lot of time from you. Your house will smell awful, and she may still die. But if she does come through it, you will have a bond with her that you wouldn't have otherwise. All the extra care you will be giving her will make you love her more."
They chose to keep Maggie, and I helped as best I could. She survived her battle with parvovirus, and was soon a very skinny but happy, energetic puppy once more. When I saw her a month later for her vaccines, her coat was glossy, she was becoming muscular, and she was almost too much for Tracey to handle. "You, know, you were right," Tracey panted, trying unsuccessfully to keep Maggie's feet off my chest. "I do love her more than I've ever loved our other pets, and I'm sure it was because she was so sick."
"Love thy neighbor as thyself." A passage from the Bible, not sure which chapter and verse, and frankly I'm too lazy to look it up right now. The thing is, we live in a nation with an incredible suicide rate that has been referred to as the "Prozac Nation". Almost everyone I know is taking some sort of medication, for depression or anxiety or both. "Love thy neighbor as thyself"? Maybe that's part of the problem.
I am convinced that God sent pets and children to teach us how to love. After all, He calls Himself our 'Father' and the first two tasks He gave Adam and Eve were to go make babies and to take care of the plants and animals He had made for them.
Why do we love our dogs, when they poop on the floor or chew up our favorite shoes? Why do we love our cats, who leave dead mice in strategic places and urine mark the custom-made livingroom drapes? Why do we love our children, when they talk back to us and have to be reminded of every task twenty times before it gets done?
The answer is that they need us. As babies, they rely on us to fill their basic needs, to keep them clean and fed, to play with them and shower them with affection. Their need, and their acceptance of what we do for them, makes us love them.
Maybe all of you have known this all along, but it only recently occured to me that we have to be willing to allow others to feel needed in order for them to also feel loved. I was raised as a Christian, and taught to put others ahead of myself. But when you always do that, when you meet others' needs at the expense of your own, you are never allowing THEM to put YOU first, and it creates a barrier. We accept this readily from our pets: the dog who offers you its belly to rub, displaying its willing submission; the cat that gives you that slow blink, and purs contentedly while submitting to your petting (with cats, the dominant one grooms and the submissive one accepts the grooming). Our children constantly seek our attention and approval, because their self-confidence and sense of security are dependent upon it.
This is what have I learned from a lifetime of observing people and their pets: The more you do for others, the more love you feel for them. The more you allow them to do for you, the more you feel loved. With your family and friends, it has to be a two-way street. Cooking a meal, folding the laundry, mowing the lawn, changing the oil in the car...all of these sacrifices of your time and energy demonstrate your love. Accepting the sacrifices that others want to make for you--breakfast in bed, a gift, a party invitation--this also demonstrates your love, and allows others to develop their love for you. Receiving, submitting to another's kindness, is an important requirement for developing unconditional love that our pets show us every day.
So forget loving your neighbors the way you love yourself. Instead, love your neighbors the way you love your pets: by satisfying their needs, and allowing them to satisfy yours.