There is an attitude among some that animals belong outside, not in. There was a time when human animals dwelled outside along with the fur-covered ones. Wild animals started joining humanoids around the fire for warmth and shared food and, likely, companionship. In present-day terms there are seemingly more animals living indoors than there are out. (And, come to think of it, there are now the homeless people who live on city streets and under and around no-man’s-land leftovers created by roadway ramps. In some bizarre through-the-looking-glass sense, the homeless and domesticated animals have traded places. And, too, we have created a new category – of homeless animals. It always surprises that we are the ones making the decisions for all of nature.)
So, the question begs: Should animals of the furry variety live in with us? “Yes” is the answer. Having enjoyed the company of all sorts of nonhuman animals – from chameleons, birds, turtles, mice and hamsters to cats and dogs (a delineation of species or size rather than one of favoritism) – my sense is that other creatures complete us. They are our evolutionary link; since we have removed ourselves largely from their milieu and, at the same time, have destroyed their native habitats, it seems only fitting that we should invite them in to dine with us, even sleep with us. In my experience, other species help us to feel more human, in the sense of finding our place, not in the sense of feeling superior. They are sentient beings who connect us to the real and wild parts of our makeup, which we have deliberately chosen to ignore or suppress, real and wild not being synonymous with uncivilized.
Living with other animals, whether four-leggeds or not, isn’t always easy: there are the bodily fluids; the flying fur, as well as the tumbleweed variety, and dander – an issue for many; the possible incursion of fleas and ticks (perhaps a tradeoff for other pest-control management); food and utensil differences (maybe not for every household); walking and/or litter-box tending; allowable permissions and training for household behavior; grooming; health check-ups; and dreaded disease processes, and eventual death. Except for the fur, all easily apply to humans as well.
If you allow it, the place that other species make is in your heart, first. Even some of the most stand-offish people can be opened up by a smiling tail-wag or a purring cuddle, an eye-blink kiss or a nuzzle. Just as Ms. Dickinson observed that hope has feathers, it can have fur as well, since the resilience and adaptive natures of nonhumans keep them solidly in the moment. There are voids left when those interactions disappear from our lives with them. There is something in them that reminds us of us, like a mirror, but in a smaller body covered in hair. And they are the third element of hearth and home. They fill out the empty spaces by finding their spots – sometimes in your path, other times in lovely corners you had never really noticed. They are adaptive even if you aren’t, they can teach you to slow down and just be. Humans seem to have lost the ability to simply exist, and to not worry about what it means, or who might not approve, or whether it is in any way productive. The relationship between human and non- is one of mutual learning and understanding. The furry ones find their place with us and we with them, we envy their superior senses of sight, sound, smell and who knows what else. They envy our opposable thumbs, which enable us to open cans, and our ability to light warming fires. As inequitable an arrangement as that may sound, it is a win-win.
Given their druthers, would other species of animals rather be with us than not? You would have to ask one of them. Once ensconced, they appear to enjoy themselves thoroughly. And so do we. They make a place a home, a home a place. As remarkable as they are in so many respects, finding their place seems to come naturally, and their sense of place is contagious – infectious, really. They can symbolize home and they are at home, curled up and warm and content.