It seems fairly accurate to say that a great deal of people spend their entire lives searching for love. More importantly, they go searching for unconditional love. I have found it incredibly difficult to find that kind of love with other human beings. Sure humans can love one another, accept each others’ faults, but there are always conditions - some arbitrary set of rules they feel like they or the other person should live up to. Animals do not set these conditions or follow the rules of love. They simply love.
Having grown up with pets all my life, I have learned firsthand just how beneficial and important a role they have in our lives. To go even further, my mother always taught me that our pets are our family and that we should treat them and love them as such. I have lived with seven different golden retrievers in the last 19 years, as well as a rabbit, two guinea pigs, a hamster, two goldfish, and a parakeet. While I loved/love these animals and think of them as my family, I never truly understood what my mother meant until I adopted my first pet.
Last year, I moved nine hours away from home to go to college. I moved away from my immediate family, and the pets that I had lived with for years. It was the hardest year of my life, and not just because it was my freshman year of college. I found myself having more and more panic attacks, feeling more depressed and anxious than ever. At home, when I was anxious, I would simply go sit on the floor and one of my four dogs would inevitably come over and lay with their head in my lap to comfort me.
At some point during that first year of college, I started scouring the internet to find some way to have an animal with me at college, while still living in the dorms. Truth be told, I’d rather not be in a residence hall with my pet, but my school has pretty strict rules about where you can and cannot live during your first two years of schooling. It was at that time that I learned about Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). For anyone unaware, an ESA is an animal that provides you comfort and relief for a mental disability. So long as a licensed psychiatrist writes you a letter stating what your diagnosis is and that your animal has to live with you for your emotional needs, colleges will typically make the exception (with strict guidelines of course). The best bet is to register your animal as an ESA as this provides you with the ability to live in apartments that wouldn’t normally allow animals, as well as take the animal with you on domestic flights.
I seem to have deviated from the subject at hand. This is to write about why animal companionship is so important. Back in May of this year (2016), I adopted my first pet, a kitten named Vada. Vada was a sweet and fearless girl. She would wake me up every morning with nips at the nose and kisses. She would scale as high as she could and loved to play with my golden retrievers. Every time I felt distressed or anxious, she would come over and lay in my lap or force me to play with her, and it always relieved me of those feelings. I loved her like my own child and treated her as such.
Now I know that people may argue that dogs are better at unconditional love than cats are, but that is simply not true. You just have to work a bit harder to earn a cat’s love. Once you have it, it’s yours forever. I earned the love of my kitten. She eased my emotional discomfort and allowed me to love something that would love me in return without conditions and rules. She loved me because I loved her. But she was taken from me too early.
One morning, about two weeks ago, she was getting her exercise, running around the house and playing with the goldens. After about an hour, I would typically bring her back to my room and close the door. This was due to the fact that my grandmothers dogs also lived in our house and one of them was a known cat killer. For three months, my family and I worked diligently to keep my cat and her dogs separate. We would lock her dogs in her room or outside when the cat had free roam of the house. But that morning, my grandmother opened her bedroom door and let her dogs out without me knowing it while my cat was still running around. One of her dogs got to her and killed her.
The entire day I was inconsolable. I denied believing that my cat was actually dead. It wasn’t until we took her to the veterinarian to be cremated that I accepted the fact that she was gone. I was not only bereaved that my kitten was dead but by the feeling that I had afterward. I felt like I could never love another animal like I loved her. She was my first “baby,” the first animal that I truly connected with and felt like they were mine.
Knowing I had to get another ESA in order to function at college this year, I went to the Humane Society in my town the next day. Remember when I say this that I only had nine days until I left for college at this point, and I knew I would have to act fast to bring an animal with me. When I got to the shelter, I was immediately drawn to this small kitten with a tortoiseshell coat. I walked over to her and she pressed herself against the bars of her cage and started rubbing her head against my fingers and licking my hand. I watched as she did this and noticed her “missing” tail. Every other person who walked by glanced at her, commented on her tail and walked away to look at the other kittens. At this point, I went over to the desk and told the man that I wanted to adopt her and bring her home with me that day. I sat, filled out the paperwork, and walked out of there with my beautiful little girl Tillie.
Not only did Tillie help me with the grieving process over losing Vada, but she has helped immensely with all of my emotional distress. If anything, she has been a better match for my emotional needs, and I love her just as much as her predecessor.
Why is animal companionship important? Animals love. They give love like nothing else in this life. They can sense emotional distress (even if they aren’t trained to), and they will provide the comfort you need. Most importantly, they provide you with something to love and something to care about. They teach us to love. They teach us to love more fully and more kindly than we ever could without them. That is the importance of animal companionship.