Strengthening Relationships with the Help of Animals
By Allen and Linda Anderson
A letter sent to us by one of our readers amused us. Jan told us that a relative of hers had made “loves dogs” a prerequisite for having a serious relationship with the next man in her life. Jan’s relative met a suitor through an online dating service. He seemed to fit the bill, and their match was made in dog heaven. For those of you who don’t know, dog heaven is otherwise known as dog park. This is where city dogs run and play like crazy with other dogs while their adoring humans observe and visit with each other.
The man whom Jan’s relative fell in love with decided to prove his devotion to dogs by surprising her with a unique setting for declaring his intentions. He got down on his knees (in the woodchips?) at the dog park the couple frequented with the woman’s pooch. There, he proposed marriage and presented her with an engagement ring. This was done in front of all the dog-loving witnesses at the dog park. As you can imagine, the woman and her dog immediately accepted his proposal.
In our online newsletter, Angel Animals Story of the Week, we have often shared
other stories of how the bond between humans and animals helps to strengthen
relationships among people. An especially touching story by P.S. (Paul) Gifford
that we published in the September 23, 2006 issue brought back memories for many
of our readers of “cat ladies” who had filled the neighborhoods of their
childhoods with love of animals.
THE CAT LADY
Although I happily call southern California home now and have done so for almost two decades, I was born and raised in Great Barr, Birmingham, England. I was born (literally) in a nice house, in a most respectable town in the mid 1960s. It was the sort of town where all the neighbors knew everyone else’s business, back doors were never locked, and neighbors often unexpectedly walked into each other’s homes.
Since I was eleven years old, the only family left living in our house was my dad and me. My siblings, being several years my senior, had left. Some might feel sorry for my for not having a mother around. But they shouldn’t. In actual fact I had not one but three mother figures. The first mother was my wonderful Aunt Olive who lived three doors down. She always took time out of her busy day to check in on me. The second mother was the next-door neighbor, Gwen, who owned the house between my aunt’s and ours. Gwen made the best apple pie I ever could wish for. And finally there was my other neighbor, Audrey, who was the neighborhood cat lady.
I am quite sure the neighborhood where you grew up had such a lady, as surely every neighborhood does. She was the one who took it upon herself to take care of as many strays as possible, as well as giving a home to several of her own.
Audrey’s cats were divided into two categories: first, there were the house cats. These cats, all purebreds, lived within the walls of her home, almost as cat royalty. They were her pride and joy and boy, didn’t they know it! They would strut around the house with their chests puffed out and noses up high. They allowed Audrey the pleasure of waiting on them hand and foot. Second, there were Audrey’s outdoor cats. These were of a completely different category all together. They were the random strays and feline neighborhood misfits. Some lived there permanently, and others still were just passing through.
Now, as an inquisitive young eleven year old with a love of animals, these stray cats were the ones who caught my curiosity and captured my imagination. I can recall with vivid clarity one hot summer back in the mid-seventies. I was a boy scout at the time and rather proud of it. It was bob-a-job week.
To explain to those of you who are not familiar with such a thing, this is a term for a fundraising event. For a few weeks every summer all the boy scouts of England hit the streets, knocking on doors and asking for a job to do. They were paid the traditional bob, which is five pence, or hopefully a few pennies more.
There I was, all proud in my boy scout uniform — my shorts and green shirt
neatly pressed with merit badges adorning my sleeve, scarf around my neck. I
knocked on Audrey’s door with high hopes. In a few moments the door swung open
to reveal Audrey grinning at me from ear to ear. “My goodness,” she declared
while still smiling at me, “aren’t you a godsend? I am up to my eyes in it!”
I was quickly ushered inside, and she securely closed the door behind me. “Where should we begin?” she said as she bit her bottom lip thoughtfully. “Ah, I know, you can help me with the dusting!” With that she dashed off only to return moments later with a pink apron and a feather duster.
Before I could argue, she had me dressing in a pink apron, which naturally had cats on the front of it, and holding a feather duster. “Follow me,” she commanded. It was then that I noticed about a dozen eyes studying me with curiosity. These were some of the most beautiful cats I had ever seen, and I could not wait to scratch a few ears, rub a few bellies, and get to know them. It seemed every direction I turned, I discovered another cat looking at me with inquisitiveness.
I spent the next hour dusting away. I dusted on top of wardrobes, bookcase shelves, and dozens up–on dozens of cat ornaments. All the while Audrey’s cats watched me suspiciously. They never once came to me, despite my best efforts, but were always there.
Finally I had dusted to the satisfaction of Audrey. After I drank a glass of fizzy lemonade and ate a slice of pie, she informed me it was now time for the garden. Cautiously I peered out the window at the army of cats who seemed to be patrolling the back garden. One black tabby appeared to be the largest cat I had ever seen. I was convinced that he must have been crossed with a leopard or something. “Will I be okay?” I nervously inquired.
Several minutes later, I was outside with the misfits. I have to confess, unlike the inside cats, whom I could not wait to play with but never had the opportunity, I was nervous around these cats. But it was the funniest thing. Instead of them being suspicious of me, they did the exact opposite of their inside counterparts. Within moments I found myself sitting on the grass and playing with them. And that big cat, well, he was the friendliest of the lot and wouldn’t quit trying to get me to pet him.
All the while, Audrey watched on in bemusement. I must have stayed there the
entire afternoon. Before I realized, it was time to go home next-door and have
my tea. I never did get that gardening done for Audrey. But I did get twenty
pence and another slice of pie to take with me. More importantly I went away
with a valuable lesson: You cannot judge a book by the cover, and that goes for
I went back to play with those cats on a regular basis. I remember weeping a few years later as the big, black tabby needed to be put to sleep.
I still make it back to England quite frequently. My older sister and her husband are living in the house presently. And as for my three mothers? They are all still alive and plodding along quite nicely! Olive is as sweet as ever. Gwen, who is in her 90s now, makes the best apple pie in the world. And Audrey, yes, she has a house and garden full of cats. So I dedicated this story to Pauline Dewberry — another cat lady.
What are animals contributing to the important relationships in your life?
Allen and Linda Anderson are the founders of Angel Animals Network and authors of New World Library’s two new books, “RESCUED: Saving Animals from Disaster” and “Angel Horses: Divine Messengers of Hope” (the latest in their Angel Animals series). Subscribe to the Angel Animals Story of the Week at www.angelanimals.net
Visit their new website at: www.rescuedsavinganimals.net
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