Companionship and Commitment: Human-Animal Bond

I am constantly amazed at how people function. We are a total mess of emotions, confusion, and yet, there is always a desire to attain perfection. When perfection is the ideal, you are left constantly unhappy, striving to please, aiming higher, and eventually at a loss. The loss is grand. It is the loss of the self. The loss of the simple things in life. The appreciation of all that you are today. All around me are unsatisfied and unhappy people. And it is not their fault. It is this society, this culture that demands, that expects, that tells you you are falling short, that it’ll never be enough, and worse, that you’ll never be as great as you’re supposed to be. Who gets to say what is perfect, what is great, what is deemed better than others? Why the constant comparison? Self-worth is derived from others, and yet they will always fail you. Why do we keep doing it, then? A bad habit. A dangerous addiction to perfection becomes a disease that eats away at you, until you no longer know how to function otherwise. Until the simple things scare you. Until quietness and stillness is uncomfortable. Until simple faith and trust is difficult to attain. It becomes difficult to believe in others, and in yourself. Where do we go from here?

Flake knows. Flake, my 14 year old Labrador knows better. She’s my best friend, and not just because she’s non-human. Quite frankly, because she’s not “human” she seems to have an advantage. She sees through people. Flake has been my companion for the past eight or nine years. This companionship has taught me a lot about trust, about friendship, and commitment. I am tempted to mention Donna Haraway’s “The Companion Species Manifesto” but this is meant to be a personal, rather than an academic post. (For more information see Haraway’s work on animal-human interaction).

When Flake first arrived, I was hesitant. I did not like animals, simply because I did not understand them. She was a terrified, traumatized creature, who would shake every time I touched her paw. She rejected human interaction, and would eye me carefully. Flake was paranoid, and rightly so. She had been abused in the past. People were cruel, and it seemed I could not change her perception. One day, after a long day at university, I came back home and sat next to her. She moved away. And, despite all logic, I knew I would simply have to speak to her in human language. I told her something along the lines of: “Listen, you and I, we have to be friends. You’re here to stay, and I don’t want to send you away to another family. You’ve had your share of disappointments. I’m not too happy about this commitment, but let’s just try.” And we did try. We ended up spending time with each other, and she ended up taking care of me. I ended up learning about commitment, about going home at a certain time to give her medication (she has arthritis), and waking up early for her walks in the morning. I learned that when someone (human or animal) puts their faith in you, you don’t let them down. You rise up to the challenge, if you are afraid of commitment or responsibilities. You get rewarded immensely: there is so much beauty in giving, in being there for another being, someone other than yourself.

Struggling with Multiple Sclerosis, shuffling feet out of bed, getting dressed with difficulty, working through it all, is no easy task. Add to it having another creature that demands and needs your care. I learned the art of balance. I learned how to communicate without words. When I am in pain, Flake will place her paw on my shoulder and stare at me questioningly. When I cannot get out of bed as early as she would like, Flake pretends to be asleep. She waits. She waits until I can. There is an unspoken agreement. Animal lovers will understand this, while people who don’t have pets will be skeptical. This is a companionship that rejects perfection. We are both struggling. She is growing older, is less capable of jumping around, and I am making peace with my own lack. But I have never felt judged or incompetent, except by humans. The cruelty is strange- human beings are strange. Mark Twain says: “‘Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.” And we inflict pain on each other by so many different ways. We ridicule, we mock, we expect perfection, we demand more of each other, and we let go when the pressure is too much.

Below are a few pictures of Flake, because I can’t help it.

And that’s all for now.


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