Happiness Challenge Day 13

There is something therapeutic about animals. They love us whether we deserve it. We tend to look at them like little people even though we know their animals. We anthropomorphize them by  giving them human emotions and reasoning behind their antics. We call them our fur-babies. Some people go as far as to have birthday parties for their pets. We buy presents for them at Christmas.  I have friends that dress their pets up at Halloween. We worry about them if they’re getting lonely while we’re at work. Our pets are part of our family. Why do we attach to them so much? What is it about that little ball of fur that makes us turn into giggling little balls of goo.

I think it’s because they don’t expect a whole lot out of us. A belly rub here, and treat there, food in their bowl and a warm lap to sit on. That’s not much. But, they give us so much in return. They give us comfort, love, and companionship. They’re not judgmental. They don’t care if you put on a few extra pounds at Christmas. When your heart is breaking, they’re the ones by you trying to make you feel better. And they’re even there for you when you drop food on the floor. They’re so helpful with cleaning up the house.

We love animals. We love them so much we have a channel dedicated to them on TV. There are whole weeks devoted to animals. Look at the popularity of Shark Week.

Working in daycare, I heard very specific things repeatedly when I asked them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Policeman, doctor, firefighter, and animal doctor. Being an animal doctor would be the greatest thing. Helping people take care of their furry. feathered, or finned friends. I have several friends who are vets and dog groomers. I applaud the people who stuck with it after they found out what it actually entails. It’s not just doctors who deal with humans that have bad news to give. Vets have to deliver bad news, too. So, I give them a gold star.

When I lived in Philly, I had one of the coolest jobs I can say anyone ever had. I was an animal-assisted therapist. You might be sitting there wondering what that is. For the most part, my job was cleaning cages and feeding animals. But, there were times where I was able to take the animals on road trips with my boss, Marj.  We visited elderly and home bound people. It wasn’t physical therapy but more of an emotional therapy. We were reaching out to the community. People in those types of situations they don’t have a lot of people that come and visit them. They may have caregivers who are there to do a job. Their children will feel obligated to take care of their parents. And then there was us: me and Marj. Just visiting, letting them talk about the old days. Letting them show us pictures of their grand-kids. Letting them get a human connection while also holding a very fat rat named Homer. You might think some people would shy away from holding things like rats or guinea pigs, but Marj knew what she was doing. Marj understood their hands were a little too tired and not able to close around something as small as a hamster. Marj understood these things so she would bring out the rabbits or chinchilla or Homer.

Homer was one of a kind. As part of a displacement issue that we had while building a new community center, Homer wound up in the three-year-old preschool room. Three year olds do not understand things like diet, nutrition, and care of rodents. One day, as I was going around the building, cleaning up the cages and feeding the animals, I noticed Homer had taken on a particularly orange tint to his white fur. I called Marj to look. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. Over the course of several weeks, Homer progressively got more orange. It took about two weeks before I found out what was happening. I was running a little late with my rounds of cleaning and feeding. I showed up in the three year old preschool room just in time for snack. Snack that day was Ritz cheese crackers. You know, the kind with the orange cheese in between two crackers. The kids were taking turns dropping their crackers into Homer’s cage. That rat was loving life. He was living large and in charge. I had to explain to the kids orange is not a normal color for rats. And that Homer had a very special diet that he had to be on so that he could help the senior citizens. We had to buy a large ball for Homer to be placed in. I then put the ball on the treadmill in the fitness center. The senior citizens got a kick out of him running every day. He was their fitspiration. Too bad this was before Instagram and hashtags.

The senior citizens were no better than the three year olds. In our community center, we had the daycare, a senior center, an after-school program, and a teen program. We literally served the community in every fashion we could. So we had our senior programs during the day. During our relocation project of construction, the rabbits were located in the main auditorium with the senior program. Much like the three-year-old’s feeding Homer crackers, the seniors were feeding our rabbits. They fed them salad. Others would feed them crackers. Much like a kid who didn’t want to eat his dinner, the senior citizens fed the rabbits anything they didn’t want to eat from their provided lunch. This was not a good deal for me. One rabbit in particular, Milkshake, got very used to being spoiled. So, when we finally got situated in our new building, Milkshake went on an immediate diet. Why didn’t I tell the seniors to stop feeding Milkshake the way I did the 3-year olds. Because three year olds listen better than senior citizens. I’m not about to tell Grandma Rita she can’t feed it a rabbit if it makes her happy. I’m not that person. So, there we were, located in the new room. Everything’s nice and shiny. And Milkshake is mad at me. Her steady supply of food had been cut off and she was now on a strict diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables, her pellets, and a weekly alfalfa cube. No more crackers. No more cheese. She was  livid. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a mad rabbit. You might think it’s funny. Looking back, it is funny. It wasn’t funny at the time. I would take the rabbit out of her cage to give her an hour daily of exercise to work off some of those crackers. She would run around just fine until it was time to go back in the cage. She made sure I knew how mad she was and I was going to feel it. She would bite. She would kick. She would scratch. She was letting me know she was exceedingly unhappy with her. It took about a month to get her back to a healthy weight. I miss that rabbit.

Have you ever watched somebody as they talk about a pet they’ve lost? It really is like seeing somebody talk about a family member that they’ve lost. There’s pain and sorrow,  happiness and memories. And we can look back at smile at those memories. I have several animals I miss. If you grew up with a pet, they’re like your your brother or sister We’ve always had cats in my house. One day, after watching a special on racing greyhounds being retired and needing homes, we got a dog. We did not get a greyhound. We got pound puppy from the SPCA. Mainly because Mom wasn’t about to hand over three hundred bucks to fly the dog in. We were not dog people but I’ll tell you, that dog was the most loved dog in the whole wide world. She wasn’t a particularly smart dog. But she was loyal and she was good. She was a good girl even when she chewed the side out the couch and ate a whole coffee table. Even when she ran around the house, hiding from me so I couldn’t give her a bath, Alex the Wonder Dog was a great dog.

If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or you know me in real life, you know I have an obsession with corgis. I love corgis so much they drive me me to tears when I see them. I saw one at PetSmart the other day. It was getting groomed. I cried at the window. It’s not my dog. And I cried. I would do just about anything to have a corgi. I tried to take out a loan for a corgi. That didn’t work out for me. I had to buy propane tank instead. And now it’s 19 degrees in November. With snow. We’re trying to sell out house right now, so during the summer we sold our propane tank. Corgi versus heat. Cute and fuzzy, four footed low rider or not freeze to death. I’m still debating whether this was a fair trade off. My husband says I need to wait until tax season before we can get one. You better believe that pup will be the most photographed, tweeted about, recorded, and posted about dog ever.

There’s another animal that brings me to tears. Sloths. I can’t explain it. I have a thing about sloths. Sloths cause me to break down into tears every time I see them. Why I cry when I saw sloths I have no idea. But I’m not the only one. I’m in good company with actress Kristen Bell. Her reaction is exactly how I would react if I even thought there was a sloth in my house. I cried when I found out there is a sloth experience in Branson. I’m am just ninety minutes away from a sloth. One day, I may actually get to hold one. They make me so ridiculously happy. There’s just something about them: their demeanor, their sweet, little faces, and the fact that they just lay around so long that they have moss that grows on them. This is not just my spirit animal; those are life goals for me, people. I think it would be amazing to be a sloth. Maybe then I’d catch up on some of the sleep I’ve lost.

There is something about animals that makes us feel more human. I’m pretty convinced the only reason the internet was invented was so that we can watch cat videos all day long. Cats are amazing. I know I talk about Pooka trying to kill me but know she loves me. I love that cat. I have great crazy cat lady potential. So does the Bunny. She’s got a thing for birds, though. I could see her having both cats and birds as she gets older.

Animals touch a part of us that makes us want to care for them. They make us want to snuggle them. They bring out our inner Elmyra. If you don’t know who Elmyra is, look up Tiny Toons. That was an amazing cartoon and part of my childhood. Elmyra and her little hamster skull bow. Animals just make you want to squish them. You just want to hold them and squeeze them and squish them. They make you just want to take care of them. It’s one of the reasons those ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLachlan and Alyssa Milano are so popular. Whenever my cat refuses to eat a mouse, I load up one of those commercials from YouTube onto my TV and make her watch it. Just to let her know exactly how good she has it in my house.

Animals are something special. There is scientific proof that they help with blood pressure and anxiety. That’s why we’re seeing the rise in numbers of service animals and emotional support animals. They help they make it better. They help make the world a little less sucktastic. There is a truth behind the happiness of every wagging tail and every purr. That truth is they love us. Without question. Without fail.

So, for today, I will watch silly videos of corgis, cats, and sloths. I will play with my cat. I will rub her belly until she bites me. And I will give her special treats.

Today, I will play with animals.

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