How our pets help keep us sane.
I’ve been working at home for about 10 weeks now. The only problem is my cats.
I’ve set up a quiet bedroom workspace beside a bright, beautiful French door.
The cats believe I am sitting here to serve their needs—all day. They go in and out of that French door.
And in. And out.
Now for anyone familiar with cats, this is a thing. They do not quite know what they want during any given moment. But whichever side of the door they are on, it is the wrong side. Ultimately, what they want is the door wide open so they can come and go as they please.
Hmmmm, seems like there is some cosmic lesson in there for me during my time of quarantine.
I, too, feel like I am always on the wrong side of the door these days. Just let me out. Or in. I’m not quite sure which!
I vacillate between being satisfied and incredibly grateful to be at home with my family. And being impatient and distressed about the state of life right now.
Finding Our Groove at Home
So a few weeks ago, I was looking for something to help me stay centered at home and found “20 Ways to Be Happier in 2020.” I contemplated the writer’s suggestions: move, sing, dance, and explore new places, among others. And I realized, that in some capacity, I’ve been doing many of the things on the author’s list … with my pets!
Now don’t laugh, but my dog and I kind of have a nightly dance party in the kitchen while I’m cooking dinner. He loves it when I put on some tunes and we bounce around.
I call it “woofies,” and he knows what it means.
Each morning, I also go on short walks with my small horde of cats. They love to explore and check out the large field across from our house.
And much to my husband’s chagrin, I sing every day to our pets. In fact, I have a special “kitties and doggies” song I’ve been singing off-key for decades.
Without a doubt, I know that my pets are making this at-home experience more palatable.
Animals Giving Us Sanctuary
Like you, I’m one of those people who needs pets. I get lonely without them. I miss their calm and bright energy, their unconditional love.
I’ve felt this way since I was little, and I seemed to have passed this trait along to my boys. The phrase “animal lover” doesn’t quite capture how important these little beings are in our lives.
We have more pets than we probably should. But my boys are notorious for finding injured babies at the lake near us that other people have dumped.
Throughout the years, I’ve nursed numerous animals back to health, and in the process, I become very attached, so we keep them. All of them. Honestly, at this point our house should be considered a small sanctuary.
What Can Our Pets Teach Us?
As I was pondering all the ways my pets are helping me stay sane at home right now, I posed the question to my coworkers, “What are you learning from your pets while in quarantine?”
Everyone quickly piled on with comments and photos galore. I loved it! It was clear how much joy, love, and peace people feel when they talk about their pets and furry friends. And many had clear lessons that they are learning from animals.
These were simple, but deep and philosophical ideas:
- Stay in the moment
- Take lots of naps
- Drink plenty of water
- Jump around and have fun
- Go with the flow
- Find your sunbeam
- Take time to run
- Be loyal
These deep thoughts stuck with me. We really can learn so many things from the animals around us.
Here are a few more things I am learning from my furry friends:
Take Care of Yourself
I’ve noticed my capacity to do all the things that normally make me feel better right now seem harder, such as eating healthy, exercising, turning off the news, and meditating. But I’m trying to take cues from my pets. They do an excellent job of honoring their physical needs.
My cats meow until they get fed. My dog barks if he needs to go outside. They verbalize their physical needs, and it helps get those needs met. I’m trying to get better at doing the same.
They also nap. And nap. And nap. No shame. No guilt. Just hours and hours of uninterrupted rest.
There have been times when I was just physically and emotionally spent since this all began. I had no more energy to give anyone. So, one day I verbalized that I was just done, and I went to bed at 5:30 p.m. It was foreign to me, but I followed my body’s cues and responded with self-kindness.
And while I can’t nap during the day like my pets can, I am trying to get better at taking breaks, walks, and sitting outside in the sun, so that I’m not quite so drained at the end of the day.
Greet Life with Enthusiasm, Love, and Gratitude
In their article, “Love,” Richard and Mary-Alice Jafolla describe unconditional love as “Christ love … love for the pure joy of loving.” They say our ability to love in this way is a gauge of how we are letting God express in our lives.
Our pets are in a constant process of showing us how to love unconditionally and to stay in the moment no matter what is happening. And for me, this pure love does feel like God expressing in my life.
Take my dog Tucker, for instance. He loves life when he gets up in the morning and when he goes to bed at night. There has not been a time in 10 years when he wasn’t happy to see me and show me exuberantly how much he loves me. This unconditional love creates a warmth and trust between us that I’m so grateful I get to experience.
I can sense his gratitude for me, and it reminds me to be grateful for all the beautiful things in my life, even when life is hard.
Rev. Charline Manuel writes in “The Art of Gratitude”: “Act as if you expect to discover something to be grateful for in everything that comes your way.”
I think even right now, we can find something to be grateful for each day. And that one thing each day can change us. It can open our hearts and minds, so there is less room for worry and stress, and more room for love and enthusiasm. Just like Tucker.
Find and Enjoy Your Pack
I think now more than ever, people are realizing how much we as humans need community and meaningful connection in our lives. I’ve overheard so many people who believe themselves to be very introverted say, “I’m not the introvert I thought I was. I miss my family, friends, and coworkers!”
Peggy Treiber, in her piece, “Jesus Needed to Make a Human Connection,” wrote about the need that she believes even Jesus had to find connection. “He needed his friends to help him in his work, to trust him, to respond … What he most needed them for was to demonstrate this: Despite any outer appearances, our many hearts are united in a holy bond that can never be torn asunder.”
And now that I’m home with my animal pack 24/7, I see how connected they are to each other too. They play together. They sleep together. They eat together. They greet each other with kisses and gurgles. And they are constantly romping or cuddling. It seems to me, their sense of community with each other and with our family is crucial to their whole well-being. Their pack is tight.
I know how much I miss all the normal ways of creating connection in my life: the afterwork happy hours, dinners with my mom, drop-in visits with coworkers. So, until we can resume normal life, my tribe and I are doing our best to stay connected through technology—Zoom calls, FaceTime chats, and texting.
I’ve had a running text thread with a couple of girlfriends for weeks. We just catch up on what has happened that day. How we are feeling. What dumb thing we did or said. I’m missing their physical presence but know that our connection is just as strong as the pack of cats sleeping on my bed right now. Our pack is also tight.
Don’t Forget Each Other, Even When You Are Apart
Tucker isn’t quite right if one member of our family isn’t at home. He barks and looks out the window until we are all together again. Then he can relax. He is loving all of this together time.
But just like my boat was rocked a few months ago, his boat is about to sway too. My 19-year-old son is preparing to venture out on his own for the first time in his life … in the middle of a pandemic. (I’m fine. It’s fine. Everything is fine.)
Last night, we were discussing whether he would take his cat with him. And he said, “No, she’d miss her kitty pals too much.”
I was grateful he is putting his elderly cat’s needs before his own. But I also thought how strange it will be for our pets when he doesn’t come home each night from work, especially Tucker.
Life Will Be Different, But We Will Be Okay
Tucker and I will miss my son living at home. We will miss that connected, safeness we feel inside our little home tribe. But I know that even now, life has to go on. And it should. He’s 19 and itching to start his grown-up life. And I can’t blame him.
I have a feeling Tucker, the cats, and the rest of us will all be leaning on each other a little more in the coming weeks.
Whenever change and upheaval occurs, I know I can rely on the continuous warmth and support of my pack.
As always, I am grateful to have my furry family, who knows how to show a girl love and how to find happiness, no matter what.