When I was little, I had a pet fish. I also had a pet frog, which, I think, died after jumping out of its bowl and down the stairs into the basement. I never had a dog or a cat, though my grandmother had a dog which died when I was little, and I recently had a beta fish, named Mr. Limpet, which died after going strong for around 3 years. When I was in Buenos Aires from February-June, my host mom had a dog (named Morita). My hostess was a serious animal lover: she rarely prepared meat (proof that not all Argentines eat nothing but beef) and got terribly angry once when she once saw a pigeon with a plastic bag around its neck. Buenos Aires, incidentally, has a vibrant animal rights movement: actually, the McDonald's on the corner near my hostess's apartment had "murderers" ("asesinos") written over the advertisement on its window.
Being from Quincy, Massachusetts, I became familiar with the strength of public outrage over animal abuse through the furor over the infamous local "Puppy Doe" case of a monstrously abused dog. A few years ago, I heard a friend saying that, in her Catholic high school, she had been distressed, right after her pet died, to hear a teacher say that animals do not go to heaven as humans do because they lack the souls that we have. At the time, I thought that her adverse reaction was a bunch of sentimental nonsense; now, after seeing the sincere love of my Buenos Aires hostess for her dog, I have a newfound ability to appreciate an affectionate companionship between an animal and a human. (It helps that I have a good amount of friends with pets as well.)
I am not sure how I feel, philosophically (and theologically, I suppose) about the rights of animals and their implications when it comes to animal testing and organized mass slaughter to feed enormous amounts of people. (I do not consider it an insignificant coincidence that the founding work of Latin American short fiction was an Argentine story comparing political brutality with the slaughter of animals.) I have not gone vegetarian, and I do not plan to soon. I do suppose, however, that the relation between humans and animals is just one more thing that must be continuously examined as we human beings go forward into the future; after all, as the contours of society change via globalization, everything everywhere is worth talking about, and, in a way, must be talked about. Whether we're thinking about human-animal interconnectedness via evolution in the manner of Darwin, or we're simply reflecting that all organisms and all things are interrelated (cue Disney's Pocahontas and the "Colors of the Wind"), it's a good thing to return in the first place to the common observation that being an animal lover is, indeed, a sign of a good heart.
Oh, and as for the feline cover photo: I was in a production of Cats during the summer before my senior year in high school. As those who know me well are very aware of, I'm a big T.S. Eliot fan. Eliot is justly recognized as having, through his poetry, said quite a bit about what it means to be human in modernity. The trailer for the new Cats movie has bamboozled some people by the way it combines the animal and the human. Well, in a way, that's sort of the point, isn't it?