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How Do People Live Without Pets?

We live in a plague year, the likes of which this country hasn’t seen in a hundred years, and perhaps the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since the Middle Ages and the Black Plague. Life has been difficult, and the stress is endless, as is cabin fever. We will be wearing masks for the foreseeable future. We will fear contact with our fellow humans for the foreseeable future. The question I find myself asking, over and over, is how people without pets are making it.

My dog, Fiona, a Doberman, and my cat, Melonbelly, a Munchkin, make me laugh daily, in a time when laughs are few and far between. Just this morning, Melonbelly had the bright idea of making herself invisible to humans by hiding behind a windowed door, as if she could see us, but we could not see her. The minds of cats are unfathomable. But she’s always there, ready to cuddle up, to sleep right next to my head at night, or on my chest if it’s available. If I wake up in the night, she’s a constant comfort.

Fiona is the best dog I’ve ever had, and I’ve had just about every size, shape, and breed of dog imaginable. She’s smart as they come, understands all I say to her, and is hilarious. She loves to watch horse racing on television with me, as she grew up among my horses, and knows what they are. She just doesn’t know how they get on that little screen or where they go when they race out of the picture. Fiona will run to check the windows to the yard, to see if horses have gone there. Like me, she misses them.

Because we live in the middle of nowhere, on dirt roads, with each house on a couple of acres of land, one day, when we were on our walk, Fiona and I encountered two humans riding horses. She turned into a statue of a Doberman, stricken at this blast from the past. For the next few days, we had to stop and stare at that particular dirt intersection, as if we could will the horses to appear again. We both tried to no avail.

Every day at four o’clock, Fiona gets a Greenie and the leftover canned cat food from the morning, which she devours as if it’s the finest caviar. She knows when it’s four o’clock, just as she knows when it’s between five and five-thirty AM, the time we used to get up to begin our horse chores. She still insists on breakfast at that time, as if, like the horses in the road, our own horses might return one day. Fiona used to have match races with the last filly I bred, Dora, racing her just outside the paddock fence while Dora was just inside. Those were good times.

Having a purpose, any purpose, in life during times like these is important, and our pets give us that and so much more. The comfort of their presence ironically reminds us what it is to be human, to care for others, to keep a schedule, all of which are important during times like these. We are more human because of our close association with animals. We are kinder, more considerate. Trust a human who doesn’t like dogs? No way. There is something wrong with that person, without doubt—something lacking in his or her humanity. Our pets give us so much more than we give them.

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