How Animals Teach Us to be Human

Part One

imagesThe animals I’ve loved have taught me far more than I’ve taught them. For example: Animal behaviorists say that cats are loners. And this is sometimes mistaken for proof that cats don’t care. False. I know this because I’m a loner, and the person that first taught me to care was a tiger-striped tabby named Zipper.

We moved to the suburb of La Mirada when I was seven. I was a dreamy only-child who lived in his head and had yet to find a friend. Then one day I heard shouting two houses up. I raced to see what was happening, and discovered a man beating a skinny little cat with a broom. The man’s daughter had trapped it under a milk basket, claiming it followed her home. So the overstressed (correction, evil) man decided “to teach the cat a lesson.” By killing it. Without thinking, I screamed, “No!” then scooped up the cat and ran off with it.

We had nearly a dozen cats during the years I was growing up, and all distributed their affections equally. Except Zipper. I was Zipper’s hero. Period. And he was my BFF (best feline friend). He walked me to the corner when I headed for school and met me there when I came home. He listened attentively as I read aloud under the covers at night, then put his head on the pillow beside mine and saw me off to other worlds. When my first human friend arrived, the lesson Zipper had taught me was clear:

A true friend is always there—to send you off and welcome you home.

A decade passed. I hadn’t cried in years. Somehow, whether because of some hormonal shift or the break-up up with my high school sweetheart, I’d grown a shell of emotional sterility, and had come to accept this as my new norm. But the moment I brought Ginnie (half Irish Setter, half Golden Retriever, all love) home from the animal shelter she began to chew away the shell.

At first I thought she was stupid: She couldn’t seem to grasp the idea of stay. She got sit. But if I moved away, she’d drag her posterior after me, technically maintaining aGoldenIrishManhattanPuppy4
“sitting” position, until she’d reached the object of her affection.

When we ran out of money and moved back in with my parents, Mom bought a life-sized stuffed German shepherd “just for fun” and put it in the den. Ginnie was heart-broken. She lay down in a corner and stayed there for days (now she got stay). I finally dragged the faux-shepherd over to her, and punched it to show I didn’t love it like I did her. She nipped it a few times for good measure, and then adopted it as her pet, and was happy again.

When she died, I cried without reservation.

The shell was gone.

To read Part Two, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to How Animals Teach Us to be Human

  1. I am not a short-story teller. Don’t know how. I think in books. Lonnnng books. You are teaching me a lot about the short story. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing all along. My books are full of episodes that could be “short stories.” Light bulb! Ah, I have a new mentor. Kinda. Well, maybe. In some sorta way. Say on, my friend. Say on.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. grAnnie Roo says:

    This story grab me by my throat till my eyes watered up. Our German Shepherd had been my best friend for 10 years when my family moved near La Habra. With friends like her I didn’t need people. Can hardly wait for Monday’s post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pets know how to truly listen…people don’t always.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Cindy Dawson says:

    A beautiful story that touches my heart…. Blessings, Mitch!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. joyroses13 says:

    OH what a touching post! Animals are so very special and I can’t wait to read more. Sooo glad you saved Zipper! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I found myself, laughing, tearing up, and nodding all the way through this post! Thank you, Mitch! I so relate to this post!! 🙂 Looking forward to Part 2. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mitch, a confession I never shared. I cried harder and longer over the death of a pet dog, Nabby, then my own grandmother. (Sorry, Grandma. Nabby knew unconditional love.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Very real and touching. Can totally relate!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. anitashope says:

    I love watching the Zoo shows on TV. One from NY and one from England. Both shows reflect the amazing things we can learn from animals. We should never treat them as animals but as creations as that is what they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. smzang says:

    This story has my full attention. I could write paragraphs about
    the memories it evokes, but I shall practice restraint. Looking
    for ward to the next segment!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Himani says:

    This was a really nice one to read and it reminded me of my experience when a dog taught me how to not care about every other dog that barks on you… I was going through a really tough time during my college days when my best friend posted the wrong things about me and I cried all day. To refresh my mood my mother took me outside for a walk and there I saw an entirely new stray dog in my street. The moment he came the other dogs started barking on him but the new dog just didn’t give a damn. He was all looking towards his way and ignored those barking dogs and after a while, those dogs stopped because their bark was not given any importance. That taught me how to not get affected by all that you hear. So you are true in your words, animals do teach us some of the hard lessons of life. I really liked your post because it reminded me of some of my life moments.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ann Coleman says:

    Exactly, Mitch! Animals can reach us in places that humans sometimes can’t, and they can certainly teach us what it means to love, to be brave, to be caring, and when they pass on, that broken hearts eventually heal. I’m so glad you and that poor cat found each other…..

    Liked by 1 person

  13. So true Mitch. Our pets are there for us to make happy as a return for what they do to make us happy. I feel that they are the superior ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. pkadams says:

    I caught part 2 in my email. 🙂 I grew up with outdoor dogs. But now we have two indoor dogs and indoor/outdoor cats. I love having them inside. They are definitely more a part of the family than the ones we had that lived in the back yard, even though they were nice, too. My dog Ellie is my hiking and running buddy. She’s pretty special.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Ah, I discovered your heart in your story and was moved.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: How Animals Teach Us to be Human | Mitch Teemley

  17. nancyehead says:

    I had a Siamese cat once who behaved so much like a dog I used to say he had been one in a previous life and messed up somehow. Us getting that cat was my son’s first memory as a two-year-old. As an eighteen-year-old, that same son and I were home alone when I discovered that the cat had died. My son carried the cat’s body to the hole my husband had dug before he had to leave town. (It had seemed the end was near.) We stood by the graveside of our backyard and mourned a dear friend. They don’t recognize the shell on our hearts–they see right through us.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. cat9984 says:

    My son was traumatized by a Rottweiler coming after him when he was two, and is still not overly fond of dogs. However, he’s definitely a cat person; I call him the cat whisperer; he’s like catnip attracting him. I think they know.

    Liked by 1 person

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