Diamond-Cut Life

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Do Pets Raise Our Quality Of Life? Part 1 of 3

December 20th, 2012 by Alison · 12 Comments · home & garden, lifestyle

Diamond-Cut Life is about having a rich quality of life — different from ‘standard of living’, which is defined by income. Today’s topic, part 1 of a three-parter that will go into January, was suggested by friend and DCL reader Dana. Dana feels so strongly that pets improve our quality of life, he is challenging me to end my petlessness. cat

Never one to ignore a friend’s impassioned cry, I asked my friends on Facebook to weigh in with their pet experiences, and to advise me on whether I should get a pet. I received impassioned responses.

 Thea writes: “If I came home with an axe in my hand dripping blood, the cat would be just as glad to see me as usual. That’s unconditional love. Knowing you, Alison, I think you’d really like a pet.” (Um, I’m pretty sure Thea’s not hinting I’m an axe murderer?)

From Barbara in San Diego: “I would do anything for my cat. But dogs are too much work, they are like permanent toddlers. Sorry, cats rule!” Tess in the United Kingdom, also a cat lover, notes, “The purring mechanism is comforting and really quite an extraordinary invention.” Of dogs, she says, ”Many dog-owning friends tell me it really doesn’t work for the dogs if you’re out at work all day.”

Allison H., who works from home and has two dogs (including Sufi, pictured), writes: “Dogs are not possessions and you can’t treat them like house

Sufi, rescued from Beirut in 2007

plants. They are family members. People who share homes with dogs will have their lives change because of it. You must consider them in decisions and plans; they are loving, conscious, feeling and thinking beings who are different from us, but not so much… They are impacted by everything their humans do, directly and psychically. When their people thrive, dogs thrive; when their people suffer, they do too. The connection forged between dogs and their people goes beyond our left-brain explanations.” Dana notes of dogs that he got tired of picking their poop up from his wet grass in Seattle. On the other hand, “A pet can really make a house into a home . . . they help us leave our work at work. I do get a kick out of watching folks picking up their dog’s poop…always crosses my mind, ‘who’s really the master?’”

Jim M. writes rhapsodically about our connection to our animals. “They are a life dependent on you, and a mirror on your personality. They develop the gentleness and routines that you set . . .  We have had dogs, cats, bunnies, chickens, and even a goat, and each species has a range (of personality and behavior). We create an environment of great love, activity and a bit of chaos when we cohabitate with other animals. There are expressions I’ve learned - full languages of gestures and sounds - to interact with them, asking / listening to the response / demanding a yield to the greater world’s schedule and needs. Overall, keeping a pet is a nice window to how we manage relationships. Crossing species is just an interesting twist.

Christina states, “Pets give lessons on what is important in life-napping, eating, cuddling”.

 Melissa was one of the only two friends who cautioned about the expenses of pet ownership, including vet bills. She said, “I think that owning a pet can certainly enhance life, but I don’t think you won’t have a perfectly good quality of life without one.”

But Jen sees it differently. “I grew up on a hobby farm . . . it is part of the flow of my life to have animals in my living space and I would feel a large empty space without it. One of my very favorite pets was a guinea pig named Sunny. She would whistle and squeak when she wanted some food or attention and purr and coo when we cuddled her. Very lovely warm presence.”

Only one friend I polled was not over the falls for his or her pet. Barbara from Portland told me matter of factly, “I never liked this dog much, anyway” (and her dog, a mild-looking mutt, was even sitting right there, listening). FYI, I know Barbara to be deeply kind to people, though never gushy. 

Juliet from Edinburgh, Scotland: “Dogs are great for helping you get regular exercise. Cats are adorable but bad for the local wildlife.”

Allen challenged Dana’s assumption that I don’t already have what I need. Allen is friends with my husband, Thor. “You live with a Norse god, why do you need a pet??”   

But Kathryn, a bold spirit in Beaverton, Oregon, would have me fling myself into pet ownership. “Go for it! Having a pet these last four years has added much laughter into my long work days. It’s been grand - even with the extra work that having a ‘special needs kitty’ involves. If the time feels right enough for you - go for it!”

Jen says, “Having a pet isn’t really a rational thing- much like having children, or a spouse. Nothing can really prepare you for it, it is completely what it is as far as personality and needs (from both parties!), and yet we do it anyway.”

 I love Jen’s emphasis on irrationality in matters of the heart. My heart beats with hers on that. Part 2 of this series, sometime in January, will be about dealing with the deaths of our pets. Are pets worth the pain we feel when they go and die on us? If you’d like to contribute to that topic, or give me further advice, please comment here. FYI, my husband is allergic to cats. So, I don’t have that option.


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12 Comments so far ↓

  • Lyndell

    They are worth the pain of losing them.

    Mourning the pets is similar to mourning people. With some the hurt is deeper and goes on for longer (my beloved cat and my mother [oh, how she would hate this comment]), and some it’s easier to move on (our dog, Larry, who we had for a short while before her untimely demise, and my sweet Uncle who was always kind to me but I didn’t see very often).

    They are just like any other being that we interact with. More trouble than they’re worth sometimes, but they somehow make life richer. Their passing affects us. And we continue to tell their stories long after they’re gone.

    • Alison

      Lyndell, thank you. I plan to quote you. And it makes me smile when you say your mother would hate your comment! I think that sometimes pets/animals help us to break the rules that we are needing to break — or, they break them for us, leaving us relatively innocent.

  • Barbara

    I didn’t comment when you posted on Facebook, because I have such mixed feelings about pet ownership that I never could quite decide how I’d council you. I was glad to have pets when my kids were small. A series of hamsters, goldfish, hermit crabs and, finally, a cat helped make our house a home. Now, though, the children are grown and well launched in their independent lives and yet the cat remains. At a stage of life when I’m thoroughly enjoying the freedom of an empty nest, I have to admit that I rather resent the duties of pet ownership. Perhaps if he were the cuddly sort of cat prone to fits of purring, I’d feel differently. Good luck with your decision about pet ownership - glad you’re thinking it through before jumping in!

    • Alison

      Barbara, I am so glad to hear someone say they resent the duties of pet ownership. It’s especially refreshing from a super-nurturing, love-the-world teacher like yourself.

      I too would have a problem with a house pet that wouldn’t cuddle with me . . . just as I would with a boyfriend or husband who wouldn’t cuddle with me. Really, what use is an animal or man like that!?!?

  • Dana Whitson

    Alison, I really thought a cat (well, 2 cats) was the way for you to go. Cuddly when you want but independent when you’re busy. But alas, the Norse God rules that option out!
    While dogs are great too, that decision is much more complex. As was pointed out, dogs are like toddlers and do insert themselves into your daily activities. I have concerns if you are gone all day (or several days) about how fair that would be to both Thor and the dog.
    Maybe we should work up to this and start with a…fish. ;)

    • Alison Wiley

      Dana, I really like your empathy (for both humans and animals) and the direction of your concerns. Cuddly and independent cats would have worked, yes, but for the Norse god.

      Still, I think you are selling me short here. I really think I can do better than a fish. Let’s keep working on this.

  • Dana Whitson

    Ok, maybe reptiles, birds or small rodents. Actually, the guinea pig idea is interesting.
    I’m curious to know Thor’s views on the subject…a dog may still be in the running!

  • Colleen

    I’d like to chime in briefly (I’ll write more later) as the co-owner, with my husband, of an 8-dog sled dog team and 3 pet dogs. (We just lost one of our retired sled dogs earlier this week, and we are missing her dearly in so many ways.)
    Despite the deep pain of loss, dog ownership is a joyful existence. Note I say “existence” and not “experience”. I vote YES, hands-down on existing in this state of joy and caring. I also believe that owning TWO dogs are easier than one — for them, and for you. But sometimes, yes, it’s hard work. Dogs don’t ask for much, really. But if you aren’t open to embracing the work, and you go into it expecting everything to go perfectly, or to have the same day-to-day life as your petless life, you’ll likely find yourself prone to resentment.
    We’ve never resented our 12 — now 11 — dogs. Have we felt tired sometimes and needed a break? Yes — that’s why every year we spend the money (it’s, ahem, a lot of money) for someone to care for them for at least 1 full week while we get away for a petless vacation. And even then, we miss them (a lot) when we are gone. :)

    • Alison

      Colleen, spending time with your huge-hearted dogs has been my main connection to animals for the last seven years. Your term “embracing the work” of dog ownership is what leaps out at me as being the key, operative thing. You and Thad truly embrace the work.

      I’m eager to see (and publish) what you’ll write about the late Bev and the experience of putting her down. See you later today for our hike in Forest Park.

  • Mick Wiley

    I agree with Tea. Dogs are so playful & happy to see you. It doesn’t matter how much you screwed up. They are the best example of unconditional love out there. Al, would you & Thor have enough time for a dog?

    Personally….I’m not into cats. They strike me as arrogant royalty compared to dogs, who seem like loving kids.

    • Alison

      Mick, I love your imagery of arrogant royalty versus loving kids. Yes, I can see the entitled aura around cats. But, felines clearly have a devoted following. In answer to your question, no, Thor and I don’t spend enough time at home for a dog, plus we don’t have a fenced yard for one, either. We’re really not qualified to do a canine any justice.

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