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Commentary: Learning About Life and Love (and Children) From Dogs and Cats

By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX –

Growing up, we had cats. Persian cats that clawed everything. Tomcats that ate my guinea pigs. Siamese cats that broke the crystal stemware.

I hated cats. Then, in the winter of 2000, in the icy New Years Eve, a small black kitten was trying to stay warm near my front door. After nights of placing him in a covered box crammed with towels, I bought a litter box and brought Carlito into my house. Contrary to excuses by indulgent caregivers, cats can be trained, in this case not to eat his natural prey, my parrot Percy. The maxim goes, "A house is not a home without a cat." Apparently cats agree. Carlito adopted another stray. Sammy became his cat, disproving the myth that tomcats won't get along.

Cats are good news, bad news. They can be left at home and not worry, but you can't take them places. That's why God invented dogs. My first experience with a dog was in the 1970's, when I was vagabonding across America. In Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, where I was napping, I found a whimpering furry stray I named Corey. Corey became my protector, guarding me as I slept by day in the off-the-highway woods, and hitchhiked in the cooler night. We were buddies and shared adventures! Once, we were thrown off the back of a logging truck in a dense midnight fog on the Northern California Coast at 60-plus miles an hour, hurtling down onto the asphalt (me) and through the tree tops to the rocky coast below (Corey). We both limped for a year.

Twenty-five years later, last summer, a small puppy was brought home by a neighbor where, like Easter chicks, it was supposed to be a plaything for the kids until it was too large, at which point they would dump it at the SPCA and get another puppy - again. This is sadly common, I am told. I began a campaign to get any neighbor to adopt the pubescent Honey, as the children on our street named her. No luck. So in the eleventh hour, I saved Honey. She was 20 pounds. A year later, after Parvo Virus ($1500), mange ($300) and being stolen (retrieved with the help of the inserted microchip, $65), she's my 65-pound hound. And like a boy with his bear, it's a better world.

Animals, like children, become cruel when mistreated or disrespected, and become happy, and loving when they're affectionately rewarded. When their sprit is honored, not broken. When they're taught to care. Honey recently adopted two orphaned feral kittens and raised them as her own. She wasn't trained to become mean. Watching her, I wish more men really did behave like dogs!

Absolutely, Corey was the perfect dog. But why spend $50,000 for a clone like that cat in Dallas? Honey proves there is always another perfect dog (or cat) needing love, and infinitely capable of giving it. As the man at the SPCA said, lamenting the thousands of euthanized animals each year, "Who knows what they might have become?" I know what we become when we befriend an animal: better people, learning about life and love.


Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas. If you have questions or opinions about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.