Sunday, February 16, 2014

Heavy Petting

This post should have been titled "The Magical Healing Powers of Domesticated Animals" but it just didn't have the same Zing! to it so I apologize for using the snappier clickbait title that's sure to illicit page views from horny teenagers who just aren't quite ready to take their relationships to the next step.

The bartender from the kids' ski lessons, Brianna (who factored into the post So I Stopped Wearing Socks almost a year ago) suggested the topic for this week and after my fat cat ripped open my finger with one of his claws I've decided to run with it.

In spite of all the blood drawn "playing" with their owners, pets of all kinds seem to have magical healing powers for their humans that cure of all sorts of ailments, particularly depression. Now, this isn't a paper for a scientific journal or even a topic I've done any particular research for but it is somewhat interesting because I will swear up and down that I hate cats - but I'm not completely sure I do.

A little back story:

I never had a pet growing up but in my latter high school years my dad finally caved and allowed the family to get a dog. He was the cutest little red cocker spaniel and we named him Chester. In terms of intelligence, well, let's just say he was the cutest little red cocker spaniel you've ever seen. I was only home for a couple years before leaving for university and my pet days were over. Fast forward to the early days of marriage and my wife really wanted a cat. Through a strange sequence of events we ended up keeping a couple cats that we were only supposed to be watching for a couple months. Through other events I won't get into one of those cats is no longer with us, and after moving 6 hours away from home we ended up at the Humane Society picking up Oliver to keep the one cat we had left "from being lonely in the new house".

Oliver had a giant scratch on his eyeball when we bought him and while that may have made some of us feel sorry for him. What it should have done was make it clear as day that this little bugger was a scrapper. Nevertheless we have had Oliver since 2006 and most of our furniture and carpet is still in tact.

In 2011, having gone through countless Bandaids for fingers, toes, and feet that Oliver had "playfully attacked" I suffered a pretty serious concussion. So serious, in fact, that my doctors told me that the next head injury could be my last one. In spite of my desire to behave normally I still got to spend weeks on the couch staring at nothing but a blank wall in a darkened room.

There is one day in particular that I remember vividly (one of the very few vivid memories I have of that time) and it ended up being a good day, thanks to my vicious claw ninja cat. There I was staring at my wall for the umpteenth day in a row and I was feeling pretty depressed about the whole thing. The traumatic brain injury was taking its toll and my emotions were becoming more and more difficult to control. It was scary, and I didn't know when it would get better, if it ever would.

At that moment, just as the tears started to flow and blur the clock on the beige living room wall, my fat cat Oliver hopped up on to the couch; walked between my feet; stepped on my crotch - twice; kneaded my torso with his razor sharp talons; spun in two complete circles; plopped his hefty frame down with his little furry chin and smells-like-ass cat breath inches from face; closed his eyes; and started to purr. Suffice it to say this was not a common occurrence. In fact, in the 5+ years in which we had owned this cat he had never once shown me this much affection - and it was just what the doctor ordered.

It's funny how that seems to work out, and I don't mean funny "ha ha" or funny "strange" so much as I mean funny "interesting". For all the levels of intellectual complexity that humans possess, when it comes to empathy our little feline and canine friends have us beat a thousand times over. This is an area that has been studied many times over and the results are clear: having a pet is good for your health.

Having a dog was nice when I didn't have any responsibilities and there was my parents and siblings to look after it. As an adult I think it's just one big hassle. As for cats, I've never been a fan of their attitude or having to clean up their damn litter boxes. That being said, when the world looks like it's working against you both of those creatures will be by your side, no questions asked, and that can't be a bad thing.

Now, some two and a half years after that post-concussion afternoon, The Fat One waits patiently on the couch for my laptop to get put away and an episode of Breaking Bad to begin so he can assume his rightful position lying on my chest, purring. I only wish it weren't a coin toss over which end of his I preferred to have facing me.

~ Andrew

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