“Love stinks.” – The J. Geils Band.
Basic survival instincts send an animal away from something that causes pain. We flee fire. Dogs cower from raised hands. We are programmed to avoid pain; however, in the case of love, we actively seek out something which can cause us tremendous pain. Why?
You might make the argument that we risk the pain of losing friendship because the benefits from the friendship make the risk worth it. The sense of community and the support of friends increases a person’s chances of survival and even quality of life. But pets? Cats? Dogs? What do we get from them?
I was upset when Blu disappeared; but, I was gutted when my sister found his body under the house. This is the second of my feral colony that has chosen to die at my house rather than wandering off, as animals so often do. The White Queen died at my back door and is buried in the back yard. Sunday, Blu joined her in the little feral cemetery. I cried all day over this cat I’d never even petted. Why? Why was I so upset?
Three of the kittens of the feral colony are in my house (Wallace, Link, and Lucy); but, the colony was much larger than that. At one time, there were 14 of them. Of the eleven who lived outside, only The White Queen let me pick her up, pet her and brush her – she loved a good brushing! Twin lets me pet her from time to time, but only with one hand and only scratches around the head and neck. The others observe a strictly No Touch policy. But I continue to feed them, talk to them and, yes, love them. Why? It’s not like they give me anything.
Or do they?
MANY years ago, before I realized that he was Jerry Springer without the folding chairs, I watched Dr. Phil’s show. A broken clock is right twice a day and even the doctor was right at least this once: we engage in behaviors because there is some kind of payout in it for us. After I’d fed the ferals for a few months, the man I was seeing told me that I was going to have to stop feeding them – they were just costing me money. (He was right, it was a little tough on my budget; so, I rearranged some things. I continued to feed them, but he’s not around anymore. Draw your own conclusion.) It’s a real honor to me when these feral animals allow me to approach, verbalize to me, or even just blink slowly at me acknowledging that I am not a threat. After much contemplation, I think that my payout is that they trust me. And, in trusting me, they somehow validate me. The trust they give makes me want to be the kind of person who deserves it. Like Helen Hunt to Jack Nicholson, the cats make me want to be a better (hu)man.
Maybe that’s the payout for love – that it makes us want to be better. It makes us become people we like more. It makes us worthier in our own eyes. In the end, though, as I sit here with a dog at my feet and cat hair on my shirt, I’ve concluded that it doesn’t matter Why we love. It only matters That we do.