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THE MOST SOCIAL OF OUR PHYLUM
January 2, 2004
 
"Can Dancer spend the night?" I asked my daughter. Dancer the Dog was with us for New Year's Day. She likes to sleep over.

"We don't have any of her food," Q says.

But Dancer had some of the ham. Just a little. And some of the cats' food, the conquest of which she seems to regard as some kind of victory. The thrill of the chase, I think.

In the course of New Year's dinner, Dancer went out to pee about seven times: it was a good evening. And later on, after my daughter went home, when Q came back from brushing his teeth, ready for bed, there were three of us waiting for him: me, Kate the cat and Dancer. Dancer takes up all of Q's side of the bed.

Sleeping with animals: you either like it or you don't. To me, there is nothing better for a chest cold than a nice cat poultice, nothing more soothing for a broken heart than a sigh from a concerned dog. All of our ancient ancestors slept with their newly domesticated dogs and cats, I suppose. Kept them warm at night.

We're animals, too, of course. Mammals. Furry, in varying degrees, and warm-blooded. We need one another to keep warm. Highly social mammals, the most social of our phylum: our young die if they don't have someone to hold them and cuddle them, even if they have enough food and water and are adequately warm. It's not enough. They need company.

It is not good that the man should be alone, God said, thinking out loud. When God thinks out loud, things come into being. It is not good that the man should be alone, God said out loud, and human fellowship was born. Immediately, we became unable to live without it. And when we lose it, when someone who has been ours for a long time leaves this world, we feel for a time as if we had died, too. Or as if we might. Or even as if we wish we could.

The little animals in our lives ask for their dinners. They ask to go outside. They make a mistake and pee on the rug. They get sick and have to go to the vet. The stuff of life unfolds in their short lives, and we accompany them. The people ask for things, too. Harder things. Loving them is more complex. They make mistakes, too, and forgiving them is also more complex.

That's it, we say when a beloved pet dies, I'm never getting another dog. It hurts too much when they die. But later on, a little puffball make his appearance, or a stray cat shows up, and love begins again. Love transforms endlessly, it seems, independently of our assessment of our own capacity to love again. We're better at it than we thought. We have more of it to give than we imagined.

Perhaps it is not entirely to us.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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