What People can Learn from Pets and Animals

It’s hard to imagine life without some furry companion in the household. My family has always included some sort of pet, and I think every animal in our lives has a lot of wisdom to share with us.

 Cats can teach us many things about an independent spirit, and facing life’s challenges with confidence. One of the most uniquely feline talents I’ve yet to master would be useful in all too many occasions:

 1. If you don’t admit you’ve done something embarrassing, you haven’t.

 Our first family cat, Smokey, had this technique down pat. It involves a number of steps and some complicated strategizing.

Say you leap elegantly from the top of your special cabinet perch onto a nearby shelf full of nicknacks, which turns out to be not quite as solid as you’d calculated. Falling to the floor, with the shelf and all its contents following, you manage to land on your paws. It takes you a few seconds to fully recover your cool, but if nobody saw you, you’re home free.

Unfortunately, there’s usually some human around to catch you in an embarrassing moment. You see a suspicious twitch in the corner of her mouth, indicating a laugh is building – and at your expense! What do you do now?

Simple – you stare your unwanted audience down. Dare her to laugh at your clumsiness! This usually works, but if laughter ensues, just shake yourself off and go about your business as though nothing happened. Falling to the floor was your intention all along. Broken vase? I don’t know anything about a broken vase.

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Dogs have quite a lot to teach their humans about courage, loyalty, friendship and living in the moment. But I think you’d have to agree, no species knows more about getting the most fun out of whatever is readily at hand (or paw, in this case), which brings us to our next lesson:

 2. Anything can be a toy if you look at it in the right way.

This is the prime directive for all dogs, and they spend most of their lives honing their fun-seeking skills. When I was in my teens, our family dog, Skippy, discovered my favorite sweater was perfectly designed for playing tug of war. But apparently only the right sleeve was suitable for this game. Within a few days, he’d stretched it out to what he considered its proper tug-of-war length, and amazingly, it managed to hold up for more than a year before the sleeve came off.

Of course, I could no longer wear the sweater in public, but that’s a small price to pay for so many hours of entertainment and special dog-human bonding. You don’t need expensive toys to amuse yourself. The simple things in life are the best.

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My guinea pigs and rabbits have taught me many important lessons, too – about living with grace, celebrating life’s little pleasures and the unexpected treasures one can sometimes find hiding inside empty cartons or behind a sofa. But here’s one of the most valuable principles of life they shared:

 3. Things are never so bleak that a little cheerful chirping can’t make them brighter.

 My first little (accidental) family of guinea pigs (I thought I had two females) specialized in this. The babies were born when I was suffering from the worst flu I’ve ever had (it later developed into pneumonia). I barely had the strength to stand long enough to heat up a can of soup.

Lying on the sofa, feeling thoroughly miserable, I heard some tiny little chirps that were distinctly different from the two adults’ usual hearty vocalizations. I dragged myself into the kitchen in time to witness the most amazing event, as four brand-new little critters entered the world. Their 6-month-old mother carefully licked them clean, and they proceeded to rise on their tiny paws and skip around the cage, exploring everything.

Within hours, I could see each little fluff ball had his or her own unique personality, and within days I had a full chorus of cheerfully chirping piggies to greet me every time I got up in the morning or returned to the apartment. It is absolutely impossible to feel sad or depressed in the presence of singing piggies.

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Finally, all of the pets I’ve known over the years have shared possibly their most essential secret to a happy, fulfilling life:

 4. Doing nothing at all is sometimes  the most productive thing you can do.

 Creative lounging, you might call it. It’s a special form of “living in the moment” to be able to sit quietly for hours contemplating the universe. Their stressed-out humans can multitask, work ridiculous hours, overschedule every free moment of their lives. But when my rabbits tuck their little paws under them in the classic sphinx position, the worries and annoyances of the world simply disappear.

When they’re rested up they’re ready for anything life might throw at them—a tasty lettuce leaf, a game of tag, a quick dash around the room. Then time for another refreshing nap. Life is too short to fill it up with “important” activity. Our pets know instinctively a little slacking never hurts.

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Someday, I hope to master all of the valuable lessons my pets have shared with me. But I’m only human, so it may take awhile.