Each time I walk into my apartment—even if I’ve been gone for less than a minute—my three dogs leap on me, kiss me, lick me, wag and bark, and show me their chew toys.
I find it inspiring: Life throws a lot of junk in your direction, so you might as well get your kicks when you can. Now I try to acknowledge every small-but-happy event (my kid’s half-birthdays, good doctor’s visits, even when a mosquito bite stops itching) with at least a cheerful word or gesture. I believe that if dogs could speak, they’d say, “You should have a cupcake for that.” That’s a worldview I can get behind.
About a decade ago, I suffered the two greatest losses of my life in quick succession: My sister died of breast cancer, and my marriage ended.
One lonely night when I was experiencing the worst of my grief, my two cats got on the bed and snuggled up to either side of me. They didn’t make a sound; they just stayed there, so close that I actually felt embraced. That was such a powerful lesson in what truly gives comfort. I have never known what to say to a friend who has a terrible illness or who has lost a loved one, but my cats taught me that I don’t need to say anything at all. What matters is showing up.
My wife and I once had a parrot named Chicken who had a really small brain. And yet Chicken took great pleasure in humanlike activities, such as rearranging the cupboards. She was so clever—as most pets are. If you observe them, you’ll be reminded that even though people are smarter, we’re still just animals with all the same emotions, like anxiety and joy.
Nicholas Dodman is the director of the Animal Behavior Program at Tufts University, in North Grafton, Massachusetts, and the author of five books, including The Dog Who Loved Too Much.
Cats are quirky, independent thinkers. Some people don’t like them for this very reason. But I find that quality enormously appealing. I respect each of my seven cats because they are so true to themselves and resistant to outside influences. In my opinion, it would be preferable for politicians, in particular, to behave more like cats, who just do their own thing, and less like dogs, who clamor for affection and acceptance.
Betsy Alexander is a Philadelphia music teacher whose YouTube video of her piano-playing cat, Nora, has racked up more than 19 million views.
You know that expression “They fight like cats and dogs”? In my experience, it’s not necessarily true. It’s quite surprising how animals of different species (cats, dogs, birds, you name it) can be friends—as long as they are raised in a warm and loving environment.
In my work, I bring home baby birds almost every night. Our dog Spinnaker, an Australian shepherd, treats them very gently. He has raised baby flamingos with us and even helped train a falcon. Humans would do well to emulate such displays of generosity.
Laura Wyatt is the curator of wildlife at the Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary at Flamingo Gardens, in Davie, Florida.