The gift of a loyal pet
By Rose McCormick Brandon
When my daughter Melody was 5, she prayed every day for a
cat. So I found a breeder and made plans for her to choose a proper kitten.
Before our appointment day arrived, a stray orange tabby showed up on our back
deck, scraggly and scarred like a street fighter. Melody welcomed him as a gift
from heaven, called him Debbie and moved him into our home. He never overcame
his prowling ways but he bonded with our family and became the first of several
Since the day God gave Adam the joyful task of naming animals,
people have bonded with them. Dogs and cats are favored as pets, but horses,
birds, reptiles, fish and assorted farm animals also connect with people. Ants
don’t rate high on the scale of preferred pets but they have admirers too.
Imprisoned during the Second World War, Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Into my
solitary cell came a small busy black ant. When I realized the honor being done
me, I crouched down and admired the marvelous design of legs and body. … It was
the beginning of a relationship.”
Veterinarian Mike Hord of Val Verde Animal Hospital in
Lavista, Neb., says, “God has given us a directive to care for animals, but
their value in our lives goes far beyond that. Studies are proving that
relationships with animals are good for your health.” One study at the State
University of New York, Buffalo, showed decreased blood pressure readings in
patients who adopted a pet.
Hord, a graduate of Evangel University and member of Glad
Tidings Assembly of God in Omaha, Neb., believes everyone benefits from interaction
with animals but says it’s most evident with the elderly.
Linda Henson, activities assistant at Maranatha Village
retirement community in Springfield, Mo., says, “Eyes light up when the pets
arrive. Some, who might not talk to people, talk to the animals, and I notice
residents are calmer and happier after a pet visit.” According to Henson, the
reason is simple. “There’s no need to prove yourself with animals. They accept
you the way you are.”
Whatever your choice in pets — furry, scaly or feathery
— their friendship may be linked to better mental health. Janice Lewis
tells how working with animals helped her son, David, after he quit university
and returned home in a depressed state. “An opportunity opened for him to work
at the local shelter. David poured his heart into caring for lost, sick and
abandoned animals, and it was healing for him,” Lewis says. A year later, David
returned to school and graduated.
Dr. H. Norman Wright, author of A Friend Like No Other,
says, “An animal wants to connect with you regardless of your circumstances.
They don’t talk back, criticize or give orders.”
This quality in animals produces many “God moments” for pet
therapist Ramona Furst as she and her dog minister to psychiatric and
palliative care patients in North Bay, Ontario.
“One day I watched in horror as my usually well-behaved
Libby lifted her front legs and chest up and onto the bed of an older woman,”
Furst says. “Tears trickled down as her crippled fingers nuzzled in the dog’s
hair. Seeing this, the woman’s daughter said, ‘Mom hasn’t been able to show
emotion for over a year due to a stroke. I had lost hope.’”
From pets, children learn important life lessons like
responsibility and compassion. When our English bull terrier, Daisy, gave birth
to seven, our three children adjusted their schedules and shared the workload.
Eight weeks later, when the pups left for adoptive homes, the kids shed tears
but also felt relieved to wave goodbye to an all-consuming project.
A parade of pets has blessed our home — some blessed
us more than others — but each one has needed care. That means investing
time and money. They repay us by becoming confidantes, allies and playmates for
the kids and adding a lot of personality to the family.
Statistics prove pets are valued family members. According
to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, pet owners across the
nation spent an estimated $43 billion in 2007 on food, vet care, medicine and
assorted services — almost double what was spent 10 years ago. Some pamper
pets with Christmas presents and birthday parties, take them to weddings and
include them in family photos. A growing number of pets end up with funerals
and burial plots fit for humans, which brings us to what we fear most about
building close ties to animals — their loss.
When our brawler, Debbie, died, Melody needed two days off
school to recover. Her 13-year-old friends came by to offer condolences. She
cried when they said, “We’re sorry your cat died. The whole neighborhood will
My husband dug and marked a grave in the backyard to
acknowledge our affection for a tomcat that insisted on becoming part of our
family. Assorted hamsters, an iguana, fish and a beloved dog have followed
Debbie to our private pet cemetery.
Melody thought she’d never love another cat. I waited a
month, and then took her to visit two elderly spinster sisters who fostered
strays in their century-old house. From the approximately 20 cats that had the
run of their place, another orange stole Melody’s heart. Some experience longer
grief periods than others after pet loss, but people do recover and invite
other animal friends into their lives.
Randy Alcorn, author of the recent book Heaven, says,
“Animals aren’t nearly as valuable as people. But God is their Maker and
through them He’s touched many lives.” Letting an animal touch our lives can be
a healthy and positive experience. Most pet lovers agree that losing a pet is
not as sad as never having one.
“We have a lot yet to learn from animals,” says Hord. He
cites recent study results showing animals can detect the onset of death and be
alert to some early-stage cancers. “But what’s most important is that we, as
Christians, respect them, care for them and enjoy them because they contribute
a lot to the quality of our lives.”
ROSE McCORMICK BRANDON writes from her home in Sault Ste.
Marie, Canada, where she lives with husband Doug.
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