It’s Gotta Be Love

I had just come downstairs contemplating this issue’s theme of “Love and Relationship” when I looked over to our couch and saw something that very much reflected that theme. Our Basset Obi and our cat Diana were curled up together napping. A little while later I observed Lukas, our younger Basset, trying to invite Diana to play. Evidently cats do not interpret bouncing up and down and nose pushes as “let’s play!” Simba, our other house cat, later tapped Lukas on the nose, but it definitely was NOT about play; it was more about “who are you, what do you feel like?” Poor Lukas, he just doesn’t get “cat” language yet.All of this reflects the art of love and relationship between animals. While some would argue that attributing the emotion of love to animals is anthromorphization, we see evidence of it in our own family as well as the families of our clients. Animals do feel affection and devotion towards one another just as much as they do anger, frustration, and dislike. We see it between members of different species as illustrated by our cats and dogs, as well as between members of the same species.We also see that relationships between animals can be at the same time simple and complex. Animals are very much present in the moment, and take things as they are. They don’t worry about hidden agendas, ulterior motives, and other barriers to communication, trust and love. Either they trust and like each other, or they don’t. Over time they form emotional attachments, so that when separated they become agitated or depressed. Our horse Rohan visibly mourned the loss of our old horse Rusty after he passed over, and was lonely and unhappy until we were able to bring another horse to live with us. Watching Rohan and Stoker, a very dominant older horse, learn to relate to each other was like watching a ballet.Animals and humans also form relationships based on trust and affection. We learn to communicate with each other, we enjoy being together not only doing things, but also in simple companionship. Who hasn’t enjoyed a dog or cat lying on your lap as you read or watch TV? It’s a basic, simple closeness that says “I love and trust you”.Human – animal relationships are as widely varied as the individuals involved. They can be very complex as well, as there are a lot of barriers to communication in the relationship. Some of those barriers include different cultures, different oral languages, and different beliefs about the other being. For example, I don’t know of any human culture where two individuals greet each other by “sniffing butts” (dogs), or blowing in one another’s nostrils (horses). In many human cultures staring directly at another person whom you do not know for a long period of time may be considered hostile or very rude. Yet, this is what cats do when they are checking each other out. And while humans from one culture may have different gestures and beliefs, we generally do understand that bringing the corners of our mouths up and even showing our teeth while doing it is a friendly gesture. For chimpanzees, this can be a sign of aggression.How do domestic animals and humans manage to overcome such barriers to have loving, understanding relationships with each other? Simple – the animals make it happen in most cases. This is because animals generally form connections to others with their hearts first. Once the initial “checking out” is done (sniffing, posturing, etc), then most animals will make an overture inviting touch and connection. A dog may lean against your leg and look up at you in a trusting, open way. A cat may rub against you and purr. A horse may rub its head against you or nudge you gently with its nose. Even with animals that have had very negative experiences with humans can eventually make such an attempt providing the human is quiet, patient, and allows the animal to make the first move.As we approach the human holiday where we celebrate our heart connections with each other, please take a moment to honor and appreciate your heart connections with the wonderful animals in your life.Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Spring (it’s coming, really)!

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