#129: Pets Teach Empathy and How to Live

Most people who live with pets are able to somehow communicate with them. It’s not difficult. They teach you: all you need to do is to recognize that there is a little person in your animal just as much as there is in you. That little person speaks a different language than you, but you can still understand them by not focusing on the lack of a similar verbal language but on their emotive language instead.

Animal languages are not that difficult to understand, because we speak them as well. All the instinctual noises, all the sounds we make naturally, all the gestures, all the feelings expressed – or not expressed. We just need to realize we are animals as well, and that our animal identities are very similar.

We express need, pain, apprehension, puzzlement, fear, hate; and we also express contentedness, closeness, safety, familiarity, relaxation and love. We don’t need language for these things. We need gestures, positioning, and the willingness to see the other as ourselves.

I know when the cat is hungry, and I know when the cat is just saying he’s hungry because, in principle, it would be nice to have food, but the dry food is less interesting than the wet food. I know when he knows that I know. I can see him pouting, reluctantly finishing off whatever leftovers there are, and when hunger really hits, the dry food will do. Not like that one was cheap. I know that when he sits near me, he expresses his love, and he knows when I do also. He knows when I talk to him, or even when I talk about him with him nearby.

All pet people who truly are their pet’s people, or more clearly, their pet’s human pet, all those who have accepted this will know situations like these. If you truly feel empathy, you discover that communicating with “your” animal is not that difficult; in fact, it may be more easy than with other human beings who typically don’t know what empathetic language is, or who don’t know how to make peace with their innate empathy.

I have been without pets for a while, after grieving – successively – the loss of a total of four cats over many years. The last one was hard, he was a kind cat, the kindest I have ever met. We got him when he was older, and unbeknownst to us, he had urinary problem, was in pain, no chance for recovery. You need to give you time to grieve. Now we have another rescue, and we are reminded that life without animals deprives you of your humanity, no, your animality.

It’s the simple things that matter. Are you my friend? What do you need? Do you care what I need? If you are not my friend, how can we work on it? Forget everything else. Politics, pandemic, petty squabbles, ambitions, retribution for things long past, just forget about it. Look at your animals. They are our best teachers. They teach us how to live, deep down, and with each other. Just be. Meow.