Our dog Howie is at the vet today, for surgery. It’s routine (he was being neutered and microchipped) and the vet already called to say that he’s just fine.
I’m an animal person. I have friends who are afraid of animals of any kind, friends who are scared of dogs and friends who find cats to be evil. I have friends who think keeping pets in the house is unsanitary or weird. I have friends who are allergic to animals and consequently have never been able to build relationships with them. I accept these views, after all, they’re my friends and they’re entitled. But I have a hard time understanding.
I grew up with animals. A dog, then a cat, then horses. At some point I had a few fish, and in college I rescued a few mice from becoming a friend’s snake’s dinner. As a child I was fond of trying to catch frogs, salamanders and turtles. I wished for rabbits. I rode horses until the end of my high school years, and spent many of my days in dusty barns that housed not only horses, but the occasional goat, a wide variety of dogs, tough barn cats, and of course, (uninvited) rodents.
In college I knew someone who told me that his best friend, growing up, was the family’s collie. I laughed, but I also knew what he meant. As an only child, animals were — and are to me still — a source of companionship. I talked to them, and imagined that they could talk back. I loved C.S. Lewis’ A Horse and His Boy, because I thought my horse could talk to me, too. I considered my pets my friends.
And I’ve never been able to stand seeing an animal uncomfortable or ill. I hated (hated!!) the Lassie movies, with those awful scenes of the poor dog limping across some endless meadow to get home to help his boy master. I couldn’t (and still can’t, really) watch movies like that. Or read books like that: I hated Old Yeller. I hated Where the Red Fern Grows. The Red Pony — ack!
I should say that I’m not generally faint-hearted about blood or gross things — in humans. But in animals, even minor wounds make me queasy and upset. (What this says about me, in terms of my feelings about humans, I’m sure someone would have a swell time analyzing.) I have a tendency to put myself in others’ shoes, even when the “other” is an animal, and that means thinking about the fact that the dog (or cat, or horse…) doesn’t know what’s happening when he goes in for surgery, doesn’t understand. I don’t know, from a scientific perspective, how much dogs or cats or horses think or rationalize or feel. They can’t tell us how much pain they’re in. Despite wanting to communicate with animals directly, I cannot.
I haven’t had a pet in a long time, but already, after only two months, Howie has become a part of our house. He’s a friend who keeps me company during the day, who gets me outside (sometimes, on the fourth walk of the day, this can seem less lovely than it sounds), and who cheers me up. He makes me mad sometimes, but he also makes me laugh. His surgery was necessary, and I know he’s fine. But I’m not allowed to pick him up until tomorrow, so I’m thinking about him, because he’s no doubt sore and in a cage. I imagine that he’s wondering why I haven’t come back to pick him up, or why we’ve abandoned him to such an awful place. After all, he doesn’t know that I’m coming back, and I couldn’t tell him.