Last year, Buddhistdoor Global published an article on companion sentient beings, otherwise know as pets. The article struck a cord in me, because I am an avid traveler and I have often pondered whether or not it is right for me to take in a pet. That being said, my recent experience as a pet owner has taught me a lot about what it means to be a part of a community. Indeed, I discovered that the old proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” can also be applied to our companion sentient beings.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have grown up amongst animals. Some of my fondest memories as a child are lying around with my dog on his favorite carpet, and watching my cat “taking care” of the other dog by licking her ear clean (gross but cute). And as a young adult, when I came home from college during the summer holidays, the first thing I always did was run to the balcony and call out to my wee cat. We subsequently ran towards each other for the biggest and warmest embrace.
Until a few years ago, my passion for traveling prevented me from taking in any animals. It did not seem fair to do so if I could not guarantee that I would be living in the same apartment—let alone the same country—the next year. In his article, my colleague Raymond encourages us to empathetically connect with our animals and to ask: “How would I want a family to treat me should its members suddenly have to move to a new town? How would I want a family to treat me should I fall ill with a difficult illness? Most importantly, could I ever imagine a scenario in which I was benefited by being abandoned? The answer, of course, is emphatically not.”
What a beautiful way to treat our companion sentient beings! And while I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, a few years ago I took in a cat who, as it turns out, had a serious heart condition. Only three years later I left wee Precious behind, because she was too unwell to move to North America with me. So in many ways this is the story of a broken heart: Precious’ literal broken heart, my broken heart when I left her, and her broken heart at being abandoned.
And yet, Precious’ story also warms my heart to no end. Indeed, she gave me nothing but joy during the three years we lived together. Feeling tired after a long day? Pick up a piece of string and see how Precious brings out the playfulness in you! Struggling to forget your problems and ever-growing “to do” list? Take a look at Precious, lying stretched out in the sun without a care in the world, and see how she brings out the lazy in you! Sitting on that meditation cushion, repeating the same old angry scenarios in your head? Think of cuddling with Precious, and see how you suddenly notice the breath as it goes in and out!
More than anything else, my experience with Precious has strengthened my belief in community. I am ever grateful to all the friends who looked after her when I was on vacation, especially to those who experienced her ritualistic “wiping of the bum on the carpet”. And to the vets who took care of her physical needs despite her hissing and scratching (she always was a feisty one). And words cannot express the gratitude I feel towards my two friends who, when I found out Precious could not travel with me, took her into their home and looked after her—lovingly and unconditionally—until she died peacefully in their company.
With Metta to all!