A pet is one of those words like "lady" that has a patronizing, old fashioned air to it. Once an animal enters you life it is not the local rep from the petting zoo, it is a full fledged family member. He or she is your animal companion. No animal was born to live with a human. Centuries of adaptation were necessary. Nevertheless, we live in a rough, sometimes cruel world, one that is less accommodating to an animal that is not attached to a person or a family. So, in a way, all animals are rescue animals, whether you bought him or her in a pet shop, or found him in a shelter, or you discovered the animal looking lost outside your door. The shelter animal does make one feel more virtuous, but setting one free from a puppy or kitten mill is just as noble. The act of adopting an animal does does not just rescue the animal; it often rescues the human who does the adopting. Science has proven the life enhancing properties that an animal brings to its human companion -- not just adding to better mental health but to physical health as well. Walking your dog for a mile or more may be better than any gym exercise -- not only does it strengthen the legs but it can aid the heart -- in all ways.
One of our best cats was called "Broadway" -- not for the Boulevard of Broken Dreams in the West Forties, but for the Main Street of Saratoga Springs NY where my son who attended Skidmore found the lost cat. Broadway was no fan of dormitory life and he came home with my son for a college weekend, and stayed on with us in NYC and in Bridgehampton, LI, until we took him with us on a move to LA. He was clever, affectionate, and playful (the cat and my son) and my younger son claimed him as his own. He lived with us for a few fine years -- polite with the other cat -- the regal Turkish Angora Whiskers -- eager to shed his feral past but addicted to the great outdoors -- always ready to roam the farmlands that surrounded our house in Bridgehampton. After we moved for a decade to LA I believe he climbed the back of a pickup truck that a gardener had in our driveway and he disappeared for awhile as he explored the wonders of that city. We had long given him up for lost when, amazingly, after a few months living rough he returned home for at least a year, and then sadly became the victim of a hit and run car in front of our house. My fourteen year old son returned from school, found Broadway, and was bereft. We had a discussion about death and the lives of those we love, animal and human, a hard lesson to teach or learn, and gave Broadway a proper burial, as we celebrated his peripatetic life. He was the last animal that we ever allowed to roam free -- although I believe he enjoyed his days of freedom as much as the security of living with a family. Perhaps it was his early life on the streets of that college town that made him such a world class explorer.
The hardest part of taking on an animal companion is the losing of them. At least forty years have passed since I had to bring my seventeen year old schnauzer Gus's life to a close - and the memory of that still remains vivid and painful. Of course the hard ending is outweighed by those soft memories of life with a wonder dog - your animal companion never dies in your mind. As an agnostic I don't have much faith in heaven or hell - life on earth is all I believe we have - but I would not want a heaven in which Broadway and Gus were not there to greet me. Not to forget the still living Sam the Lab, the long gone but wonderful scrappy Max, Whiskers, and the numerous animals that shared our lives. And if there is such a place with those great companions waiting for me - I am well prepared for it if they will have me. I am not fussy. I don't need feathery wings or a harp - just some of my old animal friends who once occupied the empty spaces in my heart.