There is this quote I’ve been seeing off and on for years – something about “Please help me be the person my dog [pet] thinks I am.”
I suppose the beauty of any quote is all in the mind of the reader.
I know it is probably supposed to be inspiring. But to my mind, every time I encounter this quote I somehow automatically feel worse about being me.
Like, “Why can’t I be that person?” Would it be so very hard? I must be a lazy person. I’m just not trying hard enough….” And all this followed, of course by a lengthy thought-list of all the specific reasons it’s never gonna happen.
I have had friends, heck, even family members, tell me I’m too hard on myself sometimes. Perhaps this also explains why, for decades and decades, I surrounded myself with a close circle of folks whose standards appeared to be even higher than those of my pets.
Not anymore. For the most part, those folks are all gone now and only the pets remain. Thank goodness.
Yet it hasn’t exactly taken the pressure off, at least internally. Far from it.
Then this morning something occurred to me. What if – just perhaps – I am that person my pets think I am?
What if it is just my own perception that is whacked?
Or – could it be – that my pets are simply loving me the way I wish I could love myself?
After all, in theory at least, I would be a much better person if I consistently saw myself the way they see me instead of seeing myself the way I see me.
The more I ponder this, the more I realize how much my perception of me and my pets’ perceptions of me don’t match up. In fact, if someone said to me, “That’s it; you have to choose. You can either see yourself the way you see you or you can see yourself the way your pets see you. Pick one or the other.”
I know exactly which one I would pick, as well as how long it would take me to decide.
Here is an example. This morning I woke up. I wasn’t in a great mood. I was mad at myself for avoiding a social invitation last night. Then I got mad at myself for not having more social invitations to avoid. Then I started to worry that I might never have any social invitations to avoid ever again (on account of how often I already avoid the actual few that come my way now).
This neatly segued into a too-comprehensive catalog of all the very good reasons I should just accept that I am always going to live and be alone (with pets of course), from the missing “small talk” file in my head to my absolute inability to refrain from showing pet pictures to absolute strangers to the documented fact that no matter where I am going, whatever shoes I pick are guaranteed to give me blisters.
From there, it was a short unpleasant hop to various other parts that don’t appear to be carrying their weight. Shoulders. Slackers. Thyroid. On vacation again? Tummy. Always has its panties in a twist. Left foot. If you say the word “plantar” one more time I’m going to….grrrrr.
So, okay. I was grumpy.
Now let’s turn the lens on my pet cockatiel, Pearl.
While I’m busy as usual tying myself in knots, he is busy as usual chirping sweetly every time he sees me.
Every time I disappear for even a millisecond, he turns up the volume on his signature “COME BACK RIGHT AWAY” shriek. I sit down and he samples my breakfast and then hops into my lap. He sings cheerily to me while my spoon hits the side of my fruit bowl. He asks for neck feather scratches. For the 10th time in 10 minutes.
Because I am the most wonderful being on the planet. I am his everything. He loves me.
He loves me in the way I can literally only dream of loving me. Why? I really don’t know. All I can come up with is that he chooses to.
In my last post here, I shared a sentiment I realize not all of you may agree with (which is perfectly okay, by the way). Basically, I said that animals don’t need people. But people need animals.
It is true that Pearl needs me. This is because Pearl was born and bred and imprinted and socialized right out of the egg to look to people for everything. Pearl was also nest-bullied and lost his left wing tip – the one that grows the long flight feathers – and three of his eight claws. So he would have been deemed unreleasable even if there was such a thing as a wild cockatiel breeding program. But when he came to me at five weeks old, he readily downed the baby bird formula I fed him and allowed me to wean him to seed and take care of him in every way from that day forward without hesitation.
However, let’s pause reality just for a moment and just say he rolled out of his egg into the nest of his wild cockatiel parents. He would be just as skittish around people as any wild animal would and he would remain that way for his whole life, happy and oblivious to any other option save living his free wild life.
Malti, my five-and-a-half year-old South American redfooted tortoise, was also born and bred and socialized right out of the egg to become a companion tortoise to people. And yet, when she came to me at five weeks old, she was still nearly fully feral. She was terrified (for the record, so was I).
Some days when we haven’t had much contact due to my work schedule or her nap schedule, she still returns to a somewhat feral state. Anytime she sees a shadow, even if it is mine, she reverts to the instinctive fight-or-flight cower of a wild prey animal.
When she was one-year-old, she escaped for six days. During this time we experienced what are still being called the “Memorial Day floods” – record rainfall that would more than drown a being as small and low to the ground as she was. During our time apart, Malti had to completely forage for food, water, shelter, everything on her own, even after never having had to do that before. Yet when I found her, she was damp and cold but otherwise just fine. She had done just fine.
Release me into the wild for six days and just see how well I do.
Bruce, my adult rescued 3-toed box turtle, came to me during that same six-day period when Malti went missing. He was rescued to me twice – each time, his rescuers thought he was Malti – no matter that I had posted pics and they look absolutely nothing alike. Anyway, the second time he was delivered to me, he had been picked up trying to cross the busiest street in our busy neighborhood and I knew it was just a matter of time before…well….let’s not talk about that.
Anyway, he has been with me for almost four and a half years now, and it has only been this year that he has finally decided to start to trust me. He now understands what his “lunch rock” is and that everything on it is for him to eat. He often comes barreling through his ferns when he catches a glimpse of me near his enclosure, and often he isn’t even hungry. He wants to play, to interact, to climb on my arm, to get neck pats (swoon).
But if he ever escaped, he would be off again in a flash, because he is wild right down into his soul. (The reason I don’t release him is something I have written about extensively elsewhere, including in this blog post).
My point being, I am very clear that, if the circumstances of our meeting changed even slightly, none of my highly domesticated trio would need me in the slightest and they likely wouldn’t be any the worse for it, or even aware there was anything amiss.
I, on the other hand, would do exactly what I did when Malti went missing – spend hours and whole days out scouring the area for my missing loves. Oh, and I would cry. Berate myself for not keeping a closer eye. Miss them terribly. Cry some more. Drink a TON of wine. Cry. Repeat.
So at least when it comes to me and my trio, I am very clear that our increasingly close bond is not at all a matter of them needing me, at least not technically speaking. It is a matter of them loving me.
It is a matter of them choosing to love me.
I am very clear here that it is a choice they are making. Bruce will hide under the plants I provide and swim in the pool I bought him. He doesn’t have to climb up my arm or let me do “nose boops” with him (uh-dorable). He chooses to do those things.
Malti will eat the food I offer (as well as the food I don’t offer). She doesn’t have to stand on my feet or cuddle on my lap (omg the cuteness) to get it. She chooses to do those things.
As I’m typing out these words, I look up and see Pearl perched at the tippy-top of his avian casa – an antiquated duct-taped structure I have tried to replace so many times that he absolutely refuses to part with.
He looks at me and rearranges his tiny feathery body into the telltale “Mom pick me up” posture I know so well after our nearly 21 years together. I reach out my arm without even thinking and he hops onto my fingers, then resettles into my lap to preen his feathers while I stand lookout for predators.
He doesn’t have to sit on me to eat or preen or nap. He chooses to.
When I head over to visit my folks (who live about 20 minutes from me) “our” three-and-a-half year-old standard dachshund, Flash Gordon, always knows I’m coming before they do. He is often standing at the back door or outside with his nose pressed against the back gate, long furry body already wriggling as he whines with excitement.
When I arrive, I am probably late, often stressed, irked about fill-in-the-blanks stupid Houston driver I encountered on the freeway. Flash doesn’t care. I am HERE! I am HERE! I am HERE! My folks tell me he doesn’t act that way for anyone else – even them sometimes.
He doesn’t have to do that – greet me like I am the Dalai Lama arriving to confer blessings and all-you-can-eat dog treats. He chooses to.
And do you know what the most amazing part is?
Not only do my pets choose to respond to me with such notably consistent, persistent, unconditional love, but they do so no matter what mood I’m in or how I feel about myself or the state of my personal world at any given moment. In fact, I am starting to become convinced they don’t even see it – whatever it is that I’m so down on myself about from one day to the next.
When they look at me, they see wonderful. They see straight through the dark clouds, the thick veil, the conflicted mind, the wounded heart and into my bright shiny soul.
I am beginning to suspect it is high time I start to follow suit.
With great respect and love,