crashing noise? It was an antique lamp that had belonged
to my parents. And Beau, my hunka hunka burning Siamese
love, had just sent it hurtling to the floor.
wanted to throttle him. After I saw the look on his
face, I wanted to pick him up, cradle him and tell him
not to worry.
in the contest of things versus pets, there is no
contest. The pets always win.
have only to look around Southern California to see
animals’ ubiquity, never mind their elevation, in our
culture: the dogs that seem to pop up in so many places
where their presence was unthinkable just a few years
ago, the cat cafe that lets you have a cuddle with your
coffee, the clothes and adornments with which they are
now festooned, making their owners look comparatively
it’s true that having a pet is like living with a
creature that is permanently 2 years old, it is also
true that once you welcome one into your life, you have
a new roommate that promises unconditional love and is
capable of enormous affection and of addressing, if not
always curing, many of life’s ills.
polar opposites may overlap on any given day in my
several decades of pet-owning experience.
part of the contract we accept when we adopt or are
acquired by an animal. In the U.S., 68 percent of
households own a pet, according to the American Pet
can promise you that 100 percent of those households
occasionally have some problem with their pets,
sometimes involving the destruction of the things you
have acquired that your pet has now made you disacquire.
they are only things. And things cannot greet you at the
door when you arrive home. They cannot kiss your face in
unfettered joy or sit with you when you are weeping
about one of life’s cruelties.
cannot make you howl with laughter at their antics. They
cannot keep you warm at night (OK, maybe a blanket can,
but blankets don’t purr.) And they do not stand by you
when it feels as if the rest of the world believes you
are lower than a snake’s belly.
of the great truths of life is that the opposite of love
is not hate but indifference, which is far worse. I’ve
known animals I didn’t love and that didn’t love me
but none that didn’t have an opinion about me nor I
about them. Indifference is an impossibility.
with the monkey.
found the monkey in a tree, and no, I am not making that
up. We lived in a place where finding a monkey in a tree
wouldn’t be completely unexpected, not unlike a man
becoming president who studied for his law degree while
he was in prison for killing his father’s political
opponent. (The place was the Philippines, where anything
could happen, including Ferdinand Marcos.)
wanted to keep him, but that monkey quickly earned the
title Worst. Pet. Ever. If he had papaya, he ate some,
mushed up some and rubbed it in his hair, and flung the
rest at us, sometimes worse.
habit helped earn him a trip to the security guards’
compound, where he stayed until his original owners
claimed him. The saps.
rest of my pets have been fully integrated, usually
fully functioning members of the household. I am always
surprised by the surveys, usually from veterinarians,
that ask, "Do you think of your pet like a member
of your family?"
always say no. Because they are much, much better than
some of my family members, and I would never think of
insulting my pet that way.
when it came to Beatriz, a lilac-point Siamese with one
we married later in life (my husband and I, not Beatriz
and I), he was not a cat person, unfortunate because
cats (two) outnumbered dogs (one). He doted on the
Dalmatian, who was sweet but no rocket scientist.
know," he finally acknowledged, "this dog
couldn’t spell ‘cat’ if you spotted her the ‘c’
and the ‘t.’"
Beatriz could spell a lot of things, figuratively
speaking, including "kidney disease exacerbated by
high blood pressure."
made my husband, Carl, her special project. She taught
him that no afternoon nap was complete without a cat
(preferably her), and that having a cat nearby made
reading the Dodgers’ box score less painful. (This was
when managers Joe Torre and then Don Mattingly weren’t
quite succeeding.) He came to embrace the notion that a
cat in the bed provided a physical and psychological
warmth unlike any he had known.
doctor kept a close eye on a blood pressure that
medication often failed to control. About 18 months
after Carl’s conversion to cat personhood, he had a
checkup at which his reading was normal.
doctor asked him what was different in his life. Was he
taking some off-the-books medication? Was he practicing
meditation? Had he taken a vacation?
he said. He was now owned by a cat.
doctor — now dead, by the way — was dismissive, but
science backs this up: Researchers at the State
University of New York at Buffalo found that owning a
cat or a dog reduced stress levels in people already
taking medication for hypertension.
the most amazing animal cannot stave off the ravages of
renal disease, but Beatriz did give us a gift that no
one else could: By her caring, unceasing love, she gave
us the gift of time — hers and, perhaps, ours.
Carl was dying, he asked that his ashes be mixed with
Beatriz’s when her time came and that they be placed
by our two favorite rose bushes.
little more than a year after his death and three months
after hers, Carl and Bea are together, just as they
saucer-sized blooms on that bush remind me almost daily
that love comes on two feet as well as four, and that
sometimes, if you’re very, very lucky, as I have been,