I’ve been taking care of a lot of pets the past few months. Initially I was excited about this. Because I really wanted pets of my own again. So this was a way to experience them in the meantime.
But a surprising thing happened. I have found this work sometimes depressing. Because a lot of people take these beautiful animals and lock them up inside for their whole existence sometimes. Even literally in cages they refer to as crates. For hours and hours a day.
Then they medicate the shit out of their animals when the pets start exhibiting signs of distress. Always back to the physical instead of zooming out and seeing the bigger picture.
I mean these animals are domesticated wolves and cheetahs basically. Over centuries of captivity and breeding. They are meant to be leading animal lives. Not just animated stuffed toys ready at all times to provide validation or whatever else people want from them. They are animals first. Then pets.
It makes me so sad to see the state of them that I honestly am planning on fulfilling my current commitments and then either not doing this anymore or being extremely more selective about which ones I take on next.
Because just like with people, a lot of animal owners seem hell-bent on neglecting the emotional, mental, and social health of their pets. It’s probably out of ignorance. But if you look at these creatures out in the wild, this is not at all how they best operate – just isolated from their kind, eating grain, and having no exercise or stimulation. Ugh, even writing that makes me feel sad.
Forget the bigger picture that humans themselves are probably not even living the way that is best intended for us. Stacked up hundreds of feet into the air, jam-packed on top of one another. Yet completely isolated without much community to speak of. Eating copious amounts of chemicals. Poisoning ourselves as entertainment. And then wondering why we’ve all lost it. And trying to sedate those that have a problem with how things are deteriorating. Ugh.
My first cat. When I was a kid. We went to the local veterinarian’s clinic. They had cats available for adoption. We went in to look at them and one kitten climbed up to the bars of his cage and stuck his whole arm out between the bars. In order to interact with us. And I asked if we could get that one. Named him Paws.
Didn’t know any better. Never had an animal on this scale before. So I just did as I was told. But that eventually looked like letting the cat outside whenever he wanted.
And we lived on almost an acre. In a subdivision similarly split. With a lot of vacant land surrounding. Especially an empty lot next door. Which practically pretty much doubled our space. So our cat, Paws, would be out freely roaming a huge area. Acres. Up in trees. Hiding and hunting. He’d bring back birds and garden snakes. All kinds of things.
And he was such a cool cat. Without a leash he would follow us on our walks. Down several streets, multiple blocks. Or when we moved, he’d be up on the roof of our next house. Surveying the neighborhood for hours. Sometimes I’d climb up the tree next to the house and just chill with him up there for awhile.
But even that neighborhood was too small for him after being out in the country on acres. There was probably a lot less to hunt and not enough stimulation. Because he resorted to hiding in the bushes and running out and fake-attacking our feet in the morning when we’d go get the newspaper.
And did, God-forbid, he remain a sanitized museum-like relic? No, not at all. Once he got bit by a snake out in the country. Another time I heard him howling in the middle of night. Woke me up out of a dead sleep. Because it was a torrential thunderstorm and he was marooned under a car across the street. I had to run out in the middle of the night and coax him out from under the car and then take him inside the house.
And ultimately one day, years later in the smaller neighborhood, he just didn’t come back one day. And does that bother me? Sure, absolutely. I still miss him and am sad about that. Not knowing what really happened to him. Someone said he went under the house to die. Maybe, but I’m not 100% sure of that and am not buying it. He was healthy and that wasn’t like him. Was he a victim of foul play? I won’t ever know. And that’s hard.
But would I do things differently if I had him all over again in the same circumstances? No, not at all. Even in the smaller neighborhood, he had free range and would walk blocks with us. He would be roaming all the free space surrounding the house. He was living his best life. He was full of life. He had daily adventures and tons of healthy of personality. I’d say he was very happy.
And we never needed to sedate him into compliance for our comfort. In fact, the thing he hated most was going into the cat carrier in order to go to the vet. I always dreaded doing that to him for his vaccinations. He would fight so hard that sometimes it was a multiple person job. Or the one time he was fighting so hard inside the carrier in the car that he shit and pissed himself and then flipped the whole damn carrier over upside down into the floorboard. No real physical harm was done, but I hated putting him mentally and emotionally through that.
Not to mention the worst – when he had to stay boarded at the vet for weeks the time we moved from the country to the smaller neighborhood. He initially acted like he didn’t even know us when we finally went to break him out for good. I felt so sad and bad about that. It was necessary in many ways, but good God – I briefly saw a completely different cat than the one I’d known for years. Not in a good way.
But no, it must be purely physical when animals and people express their stress and sadness in ways that make us uncomfortable? Just sedate them and confine them even further? That’s what’s best, eh?
I’ve been taking care of some cats lately that are even as old as twenty years. And the owners of most of them just keep them inside. Doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just at most staring out the window. Day after day. It hurts my heart to see.
Maybe they don’t know. Maybe they think that’s what cats do. But even though my cat didn’t even live to be half their age, I think his quality of life was infinitely better and more fulfilling. He certainly seemed that way. Full of life. Running around. Super personable.
And in this age where we are even maybe unhealthily obsessed with youth. Where people feel ashamed to get their natural grey hairs. Where they contort their faces with plastic surgery to look like dolls. And won’t even post a picture without filters. Where we can’t even talk about death without getting everyone upset. When all of these things are perfectly natural and a fact of living this human experience. Not failures.
Maybe with all that, we miss the quality versus quantity of life issue. And I am fully aware that people are attached to their loved ones – be they animals or people. But what if you’re hurting the ones you love by not letting them go?
Maybe even keeping yourself caged up? For what? To avoid pain? If my life is any example, pain is going to come either way. So is loss.
My best friend and I first separated. And then he died before we fully reconciled. But do I have regrets? Not many. I completely embraced all the time I had with him. In the end we didn’t see eye to eye, but I don’t regret a minute I spent with him away from the rat race. I only wish I had more.
He always talked about how it was selfish for people to try to keep him “safe” by restricting and confining him in certain more immaterial ways. Now I get it even more. Both with pets and with people.
Maybe my best friend and I got along so well because we were kinda cut from the same cloth in that way. I always joke that I am going to roll into heaven looking like the last car in a demolition derby. And I’m perfectly happy with that in many ways. I don’t want to leave anything on the table when it comes to this human experience. I want to do everything there is for me to do. And that’s how my best friend was. He did all kinds of adventures just like me. Learning to fly planes, going to live in Isreal for a time, trying new businesses.
But people looked down on both of us. Because we didn’t tow the line and play things “safe” like everyone else. We make them uncomfortable with our lives. Stir up a lot of probably uncomfortable desires and questions in them just by being ourselves and minding our own business.
But I still wouldn’t want the alternative.
The absolute worst job I ever had was also the easiest. I was hired at Dell and initially given the job of taking care of an international shipping line. It was a big job. I had to do the work of several people. All on my own. While people on other lines around me seemed to be doing a tenth of the work for the same pay.
So one day I asked the boss if I could be switched to one of those “easy” lines. He said yes and gave me the job of putting stickers on computers as they came down the line. That’s all I had to do – just put a sticker on a box as it came down the line. For the same amount of pay as before.
I was so surprised by what happened! After no more than three hours, I literally felt like I’d rather die than keep doing that job. I am not joking when I tell you that I went desperately back to the boss with tears and BEGGED for my old job back. I knew that I wouldn’t even last the rest of that first day if they sent me back to putting stickers on the boxes. It was that boring. Speaks a lot to the human potential I think. That we don’t value our individuality nearly as much as we should.
Thankfully the boss listened to me and gave me my old job back. I was eternally grateful. Back to working more than almost anyone around me, but HAPPY. And I learned a great lesson that day. Just because something is less work or more “safe”, that doesn’t mean it is better.
As one of my real estate professors so often said, “More isn’t better; better is better.” Coming from someone who also lived a very full life with lots of risks and adventures undertaken. When others probably wouldn’t have followed suit. Another divine intersection in my life that I am mostly grateful for. Even if it didn’t end as I would have preferred. Just like with my best friend.
And that’s life. When you really live it. That’s what happens. It’s not at all safe. But it can be infinitely full.
I had very intelligent grandparents. One had been an actress even in movies. Then an airline stewardess. Where she met her husband. And then did the whole settling down thing. Which if the history I heard is correct, was maybe one of the worst periods of her life. If society had been more open-minded and accepting, I wonder if she would have done differently. Because she was much happier when she was out adventuring. That’s when I knew her most. When she would be constantly off exploring other lands and countries. I think that’s what made her happiest.
In her final days all that energy was sadly channeled very destructively in my opinion. Sure, she lasted all the way to 100 years of age. But she seemed completely miserable. Just sitting in front of the television for at least a decade. Eating the same foods – and she had the best; a fantastically expensive top of the line home for the elderly. But I think all that comfort and ease still was bad for her. Isolated in her little room. Completely in control and “safe” from the stress and dangers of the outside world. But it made her so ugly. She was hateful and neurotic. Even as they tried their best to sedate her.
Same with my other grandparents. Both extremely intelligent. My grandfather even had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Taught at the Navel Academy. Retired from two careers. Active in church service. And when did I see him deteriorate? When he no longer had all his house and garden work to keep him very busy. When he retired from his position at the church. When ease overtook him.
This person who had taught me how to measure the height of trees in the backyard of his beach house by using the shadow of the sun. Which was a magical thing to me when I was a kid. He grew up in Wyoming and lived in a literal mud basement “house”. Fighting off animals trying to kill his chickens. Then moved halfway across the country on his own to join the Navy. And it was painful to watch him lose it in his last days. Just sitting in complete ease but with no purpose other than staying around and doing puzzles. Here for those that didn’t want to let him go – understandably.
But I think there was a palpable relief when he passed in his late 90s. It was difficult for those that knew him at his best to see him go out like he did that last decade. What finally helped them be okay with letting him go.
Also interestingly during the times of isolation due to the Covid hysteria. And his wife of many decades a month or so later. A man who survived so much. Makes you really wonder if the loss of even what little community they had before Covid played a factor. That’s what I mean about quality versus quantity.
Sure they could be stuffed with medications to extend their days. But for what? My grandma was even given that choice on her deathbed. And she chose not to fight. Not judging her at all in that. But I wonder if she would have chosen differently if she hadn’t been so “safely” isolated away in her $900+K “independent living” apartment with the $3,000-$6,000 per month fees.
Not the money part. Just them existing like these cats and dogs I see couped up. Doing nothing. Day after day. At least my grandma had a reason to live when her husband was alive. She made him her work. And died only a month after he passed. Even though she had more family she could have decided to stick around for.
I know someone else. Whose husband passed more than a decade ago. She has a HUGE family. Literally dozens and dozens of immediate family. Siblings, cousins, nephews, nieces, children of her own and their children. All within driving distance. Many less than an hour or even half hour away.
But what does she do? Day after maddening day, she just sits in front of the television and drinks. Complaining about everything. Chiefly that no one cares about her. When that isn’t true at all. She just tapped out long ago and they probably can’t bear to participate in that anymore. They have lives they are actually living.
And she’d hate to hear me say this, but I think she’d grab her medications before anything else if there was a fire. She’d swear they are for necessary physical relief. But I think maybe even most of her physical pains are manifestations rooted in emotional and mental constipation. Aggravated by social isolation.
And she again has a great big house. Rooms she won’t even use for months. But for what? The whole place feels like a tomb. Depressing. She’s living the human equivalent of the experience of these cats and dogs I take care of whose owners just lock them up for the rest of their days. All in the name of “safety”. But at what cost?
I get so mad at her. Yes, she had a significant loss with her husband passing. I feel that. When I lost my best friend, the color still has not come back into my life. Five years later. But I can’t give up. Intellectually I don’t want to honor my love for him and all the wonderful times we had in that way.
Intellectually I know it does no good for me to put my life on permanent pause because I still miss him every damn day.
Intellectually I know that the population of this world is over seven billion people so statistically that means there has to be more people out there for me to have valuable connections with. Even if they aren’t the same as between me and my best friend.
Intellectually I know I just have to push through.
I can’t even dishonor myself and everything I’ve been through by giving up now. Even if I don’t feel like it, I have to fight.
Intellectually I know my happiness will return eventually. If I do differently.
So I fully embrace the grieving process. In order to get through it. So I don’t have emotional constipation.
So I can make space for new life, new relationships. We do this in the garden. We prune last year’s growth in order to make room for new harvests to have a chance.
There are no guarantees. Except probably more pain and loss. But what’s the alternative? No, thank you.
I believe in a God who is a lot bigger than that. Who has more for me than I can imagine. If I’ll just trust Them enough to let go of my agendas, narratives, and stories I tell myself. And be humble in the sense of acknowledging that I don’t and probably won’t be able to know everything. Or even enough to purport to be sure about the big picture and then operate accordingly.
I always hated when I heard people say this before, but maybe it’s more true than not – that we suffer more because of the way we choose to see what is happening. Like how many times have you worked yourself into a fit worrying about something that never happened?
And now ask yourself about your life as a whole. How much have you suffered because of giving into fear about things that never happened?
Pets die. People die. It’s inevitable. It’s the one equalizer among us. Why can’t we accept that? And live boldly. With dignity.
People always ask, what would you do if you knew this was your last day on earth? As if they are guaranteed tomorrow. When we clearly are not.
THIS is the only time you are guaranteed. Right NOW. That’s all you have.
And I don’t really care what you do. As long as you’re truly happy. Living your best life. As defined by you. Even if that means sitting in a chair watching television until you die. It’s not what moves me, but you do you.
I’m just asking you to be honest and intentional. Whatever it is. Whatever you choose. And for God’s sake – literally, don’t waste your time giving into fear. The only regrets I have are that I didn’t do more. Didn’t adventure more. Didn’t open my heart more. Etc.
It’s hard but I’m going to do my best to make the most out of what time I have left. To give my life the meaning I decide to give it. To not wait around for someone to save me from my miseries.
I think it’s a numbers game with the odds in our favor. The things that bring us joy have more power than the pains and losses. And the benefits of momentum are built in. If you can just find some hope, you’ll start moving forward. And as you fight, you’ll attract like-minded energy. And the result will be ever compounding. Then when the inevitable pains and losses hit, it won’t be able to take away everything you’ve got. There will be more and more left over to help soothe and restore.
And that’s a life I can look forward to. If any of it is up to me, I have to at least try. Choosing to trust that God is ever for and with me in all this. And you also.