Here’s the thing. When I left the East Coast, I left my family behind. While I’m still close with them, and visit frequently, the bottom line is that on a daily basis, they are not here. It’s the same thing with my friends. I have made deep, lasting friendships here in Alaska. But those friends don’t live with me. They have their own families and other friends. So as close as we may be, they do not share my daily life; they don’t define my daily routine.
But my pets do. Every day I wake up to my ancient dog padding over to the door to stare balefully out at the new day and wonder what happened to the night. He’s got something called canine cognitive dysfunction, the doggy equivalent of senility, and the pills he’s on help some but not completely. It takes him a while to recognize things, including me. He is easily lost. If he wanders out the front door and onto my neighbor’s driveway across the circle he needs to be guided back.
So every day I give him his pills, make sure he gets out a lot so he doesn’t have any embarrassing accidents and love him as much as I can for the time we have left together. And when I’m having a bad day, he’s the one who still curls up with me and nudges me with his nose to pet him. I like to think that he figures petting him will divert me from my sadness though I know that’s not true. The truth is that he figures nothing could be so bad in our lives that it would take priority over his cuddles. On some level, he’s right.
My birds also define my day. I lie in bed and listen to them stir in their covered cages and know that it is almost time to get up. They are my clock-less alarms. Soon after sunrise their mutterings will start (trust me when I tell you that you don’t even want to know how this plays out in the light of an Alaskan summer). Then will come some rustling of wings and feathers. Then, if I’ve still not stirred from my warm bed, they will start vocalizing to let me know that the day has begun and yet there is no fresh food in their dishes. Abdul, my African Gray, will call out “Good morning. I love you. Good morning”, in a more and more insistent tone. My other birds, not as verbal but equally vocal, will start singing/screeching their paean to the morning. Another day has begun in my life.
So lest there be any doubt in anyone’s mind, if a natural disaster were to occur here, it is highly unlikely I would ever leave my little family behind. And any rescuer who tried to force me out of my home without them would face quite a battle.
As I watched the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina unfolding, there were scenes of people being told they had to leave their pets behind. And all I could think was that these people were about to lose everything that was even slightly familiar to them and now they were being told they had to also leave the one last bit of comfort they might have – the furry or feathered little critters in their arms. And it struck me that doing that to them just compounded the cruelty of the hurricane’s devastation.
If you can’t take my pets and me, then don’t bother trying to take me. We’ll live or die together because they are my family and I wouldn’t abandon them any more than I would expect a mother to abandon her child because there was no room on the boat.
Now before that statement causes some people to go all atwitter because I am comparing my animals to a child, let’s get one thing straight. You don’t have to think the way I do and I don’t have to think the way you do. These are my animals and they are my family. If I chose to treat them in the way I would treat my human family, that’s my right. And if I chose to stay by them in time of disaster, that’s my right also.
Because, to be very honest, I don’t think I could live with myself if I knew I’d abandoned them to save myself. It just wouldn’t seem right to keep on living if I left them to die.
So when that big earthquake happens, just remember that if you plan to rescue me, you’ll have to take the whole package – five birds, an old dog and the lady who loves them beyond the power of words to express.