The Complexities of Animal Relationships
By Allen and Linda Anderson
We have often wondered what our cat Cuddles thinks of our loving, protective relationship with our rescued cocker spaniel Leaf. Sometimes, she looks at us quizzically when we praise Leaf for behaviors that come second nature to her.
We give Leaf positive reinforcement when he goes to the back door and squeals to be let out to relieve himself. “Oh, Leaf, good boy. You told us you have to go.” Cuddles watches us with an expression of amazement on her face. Her world of fastidious kitty litter use and personal cleanliness, with a ritual of fur licking, is beyond a dog’s world of housetraining.
Belly rubs - After watching Leaf roll over on his back to beg for a tummy rub, Cuddles tried the maneuver to see what all the fuss was about. She found having us pet her belly to be of absolutely no interest or pleasure.
Leaf’s bed - Cuddles sprawls out on Leaf’s bed at night and manages to keep him off of it until she moves away. Is this a power struggle or is Cuddles trying to find out if she prefers Leaf’s bed to hers? Actually her favorite bed is ours. She sleeps curled up against Linda for most of the night.
Leaf’s water bowl - Cuddles rarely drinks out of her bowl. She makes Leaf sit and wait un-til she finishes using his bowl before he can get a drink.
Leaf’s chew toys - Cuddles never understood this concept of chewing on a toy. She watches Leaf with an expression that says, “How disgusting!”
Chasing a ball - After observing Allen bounce a ball for Leaf across the hallway, Cuddles tried to chase it a couple of times. “How boring,” she said and wandered off to lick her paws. Leaf and Cuddles have a relationship that allows them to live peaceably (mostly) with each other even though it’s obvious that they’re both baffled by their differences.
Who Decides What the Relationship Will Become?
Humans tend to think they’re the only ones in charge of forming relationships with animals. But when someone lets an animal exercise creativity and free will, that respect can pay off greatly in the formation of a relationship that benefits both of them.
Christine O’Connor sent us the story below about her relationship with her dog Sadie. Christine works in education as a teacher and college advisor in Colorado. A big believer in the healing power of animals, she volunteers for Canine Companions for Independence. Her story beautifully portrays that when people allow an animal to have a say in what kind of relationship to have with a person, miracles can occur.
In December 1997 I suddenly decided I wanted another golden retriever. Our family’s first one passed away six months prior, and I had just graduated from college. Soon, I met four-month-old Sadie who greeted me with one giant jump for hello. Truthfully, I was a bit naive to the responsibility of being a dog mom, but we learned together and enjoyed our evening walks on the trails around our town.
Sadie was three years old when I began to realize how smart and intuitive she was. I herniated a disk in my back that summer, which left me temporarily partially paralyzed. After three days in the hospital, I was allowed to go home with a walker. Some walking ability had come back, but I could not put any pressure on my knee or I would fall over.
Observing my walking patterns, Sadie would automatically adjust to whatever pace I was exhibiting. She never needed to be told to slow down. After my surgery and through a long recovery, Sadie was my ever-faithful companion.
Part of my physical therapy was to walk on the local high school track. At first a half-mile was excruciating, as my feet would go numb and hurt. I often walked with Sadie off leash, as it was easier, She would hover close, never letting me leave her sight.
When I started to get tired, she would take the lead and continually turn her head toward me in a swaying motion. She would look at me and then at the stopping point. Her eyes had an encouraging tone to them and I knew she was telling me I could do it.
Sadie always smiled and wagged her tail when my task was completed. She would also lick my legs in a massaging way when they hurt. Sadie knew they were bothering me and that her licks made my legs feel better.
Slowly life became normal again, as I healed and returned to work. However, one day my back went out. In an effort to stretch and relieve the pain, I laid down on our living room floor where I became stuck. Unable to push off a table or other furniture to stand up and minus my cell phone, I sat, trying to decide what to do.
That is when my unofficial helper dog appeared. Sadie had already determined that she was going to be my “table.” In her doggie language she communicated we were going to work through this together. Who knows how long I would have been there had she not volunteered her help?
I enjoyed our life together. Sadie did many things that made me wonder about her hidden intelligence. Sadly, I lost her over a year ago to a brain tumor. It’s our evening walks I miss the most.
What have animals taught you about letting relationships form naturally and respectfully in ways that benefit everyone?
Allen and Linda Anderson are authors of a series of books about the spiritual connection between people and animals. They have designed a writing course to help others learn from their fifteen years of publication. Visit www.allenandlindaanderson.com to check out Woof, Meow, Write, Publish: Writing about and Animals for Love and Money. Subscribe to the Andersons’ free, online newsletter at www.angelanimals.net and follow them on Facebook and Twitter @angelanimals.