Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Animals enrich our lives

Left to right: Elizabeth and Sasha
The rain has been a welcome respite to everyone but Elizabeth, the ruling queen of our household. While Sasha remained content to warmly bask indoors, Elizabeth became restless and desperate to be let outside. She views the rain as a personal betrayal of infathomable magnitude.

Reading two books by Lake County authors reinforces the value that I place upon sharing our home with two cats -- even though dogs actually take the spotlight in "A Gift of Dogs" by Carolyn Wing Greenlee and "Darby's Story: The Life of an Adopted Dog" by Martha Steward.

Greenlee's book offers an insight into the complex bond between guide dogs and their human handlers. Each person who is paired with a dog must be able to trust the dog without any reservations.

Her book goes into in-depth detail through its series of interviews with people who attended classes with Greenlee at Guide Dogs for the Blind. While each person has a unique story, so too does each dog.

Radio announcer Steve Elias directed my attention toward an article in the New York Times (Oct. 6, 2009) about the benefits that a therapy dog has for a boy with autism. Parents and caregivers observed profound changes that were immediately noticeable.

Such observations, the article noted, are not new at Autism Service Dogs of America. As related by Pris Taylor, the organization's director, "Many children with autism can't relate to a human, but they can relate to a dog."

This statement mirrored my experiences with the beloved cats and dogs who have shared my life. My earliest bond of friendship was with one of two kittens that my father found in our vineyard and brought home to my sister and me.

While human interactions were inexplicably confusing, my cat Ozma always made sense and accepted me unconditionally. I filled several notebooks with stories about Ozma, about Trixie her littermate and additional made-up cats.

As I grew older, other animals entered our lives and home in turn -- all the way up to present day with Sasha and Elizabeth.

Nearly every family who has made a place for a cat or dog will have their share of stories about that beloved animal. "Darby's Story" by Martha Steward tells the story of a rescue dog, Darby, who shared Steward's home until his death at age 15.

"Darby's Story" advocates turning to animal shelters as an ideal place to find a companion animal. These adopted dogs, according to Steward, "are worth their weight in gold."

Sadly, the life of a shelter dog has too seldom a happy ending. According to statistics on the Web site of Lake County Animal Care and Control, among 5,318 dogs and cats impounded in 2008, only 2,058 were adopted and 312 were redeemed. The rest were euthanized.

If you would like to share your home with a dog or a cat, a very good place to begin would be to view the pledge on the Lake County Animal Care and Control home page. It makes clear that adopting an animal is not a casual decision but a commitment for the animal's lifetime.

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