The other day I woke up to the wet slap of our cat’s tongue on my face. And I started thinking: just when and how did this four-pawed invasion occur? When did I start sleeping on the edge of my mattress so our pets could sprawl out? How did that damn toy chest filled with squeaky rodents and rubber chew rings earn a prominent place in the living room? When did whole drawers in the kitchen, bathroom and pantry become pet product storage spaces? Why does the dog ride shotgun while the kids sit in back?
I used to believe that dog sweaters were silly and people who treated their pets like people were a bit out of touch. Then I met Carlo, a skinny black Chihuahua with ears like little teepees and a loud mouth like… well, a Chihuahua. He was not the first dog I ever loved, but he came into my life at a time when my heart was open — mostly because it was broken. With my two boys in tow, I’d finally garnered the courage to leave a toxic relationship and trade my snow boots for sandals in an entirely different state–a place I’d never even visited. It was bold as hell and scarier than anything I’d ever done (aside from marriage at 18 to a bad-tempered pretty boy).
I’d left a steady paycheck in healthcare to pursue a less lucrative career in freelance writing. Some nights I stared at the ceiling and wondered if it might come crashing down on me. The weight of everything from bills to broken toys seemed to loom overhead. But Carlo was a wonderful distraction. He demanded my attention, gave me a reason to step away from my keyboard and into the sun. With frequent walks and tummy rubs (his, not mine– ha ha), we both felt better. And sleeping alone in the dark was far less daunting with my little black loudmouth on duty.
What’s more, I was no longer consumed with cheering up my still-adjusting boys after longs days at their new school. They were happy to come home to Carlo, who seemed to hear the school bus from a mile away. Nose pressed against the patio door, he couldn’t wait to get a whiff of them, and they of him (little boys love bad smells).
But Carlo is not the only pet we’ve made a member of our family. We also have two cats that have claimed us. At 13 years old, Rocco’s the four-pawed patriarch here. I’d say he belongs to my son, but I think it’s the other way around. It’s amazing to see the way they bond. So in honor of the pets we love to love, here’s a little poem of appreciation.
The slap of his wet-gravel tongue on my forehead
pulled me from a dream.
I reached up and found him,
fingertips probing the velvet space between his ears.
the slow rumbling quake of contentment,
I speak back in smiles.
Have you loved an animal? Let your soul find a true friend in one today.
Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ~ Anatole France