Pets sometimes offer better relationship
May 5, 2002
Want to pick up a cute member of the opposite sex? Just get an adorable puppy and parade the baby furball around a park, right? While that may be true, singles have a dozen other reasons to own a pet.
Take my friend Joel. He actually got a puppy for the reverse reason - to help him recover after a relationship. He was going through emotional turmoil after a broken engagement, when friends offered him a Siberian Husky from their litter of 14. It turns out the canine companion helped him conquer his sorrow, acrimony and any residual self-pity.
You'd think Otis would have helped Joel meet at least a couple of hotties along the parkways to also help him through his crisis, but the little husky inadvertently took his master out of the babe business.
One day a napping Otis was tied safely beneath a tree as Joel taught his autistic kids' class at a nearby pool area. Without warning, the sprinkler system went on, drenching the little pooch and scaring him into hysterics. Joel ran over to save little O but in the process got his prosthetic leg wet.
A little water usually doesn't hurt anything, but it didn't do good things to the $18,000 leg. A difficult fit to begin with, the prosthesis warped, sidelining Joel for several months while he searched for a new one.
Joel wasn't bitter about the situation because he had a great attitude, a sense of humor and a really cute puppy. And, as Joel puts it, with love in his voice, "Getting Otis was the best thing I ever did. Well, that and getting my Harley."
When you're married, pets round out the family picture. But when you're single, often those critters are the picture. The responsibility of having pets isn't for everyone, but it can help fill the space in our hearts and fulfill our single existence.
One way pets enrich our lives is by developing our nurturing skills. We keep their innocent hides out of trouble, care for them when they're sick and accept their unconditional love.
But what if you're just starting out as a pet owner? My friend "Abby" has a delightfully fresh approach.
"I'm starting small," she told me. "My friends gave me a fish for my birthday, and I was less than thrilled. My previous record for keeping a fish alive was seven days. Before that, six. So I took the fish to the office, believing that if he were to perish in the span of one week, maybe I could blame someone else.
"Well, that was six weeks ago, and the fish is still alive! I find him to be the perfect way to meet men around the office. Wait, should you date men at work?"
I'm not aware of fish being a major conversation starter, but, hey, whatever works. Just keep the fish alive and the romance away from the boss and office.
Like Abby, I started small, although I now have two dogs, one cat and a fish. All were from shelters except for the fish, which I consider a rescue from Wal-Mart, but that's another conversation.
A boyfriend bought my first cat, April, as a birthday present. She saw me through 10 years of ups and downs, which was seven years longer than my boyfriend.
I added Aspen, a young female border collie-mix, once I realized that I didn't need to have a partner in my life to successfully raise a dog. I used to think that dogs required the care of two people working in shifts, but that was a piece of antiquated thinking. I re-prioritized my schedule and found that I was more than able to care for her by myself. What a freeing realization.
When April passed on, Aspen was lonely so I looked for a mature female dog to keep her company. Then I came across Boca, a 13-week-old male puppy who fit in well. Strangely, I had to get used to having testosterone in the household, although that sounds strange. My short-legged corgi-mix brings a different energy to my home because he is aggressive and territorial, feeling the primordial male need to mark everything in sight.
I already had adopted a kitten last fall and was scheduled to pick her up on Sept. 11. My mom begged me not to drive into the city that day, but I was compelled. Of all days, my kitten needed me most that day, I told her, and the kitten was a welcome bit of relief. Capri's new life offered me a meaningful way to cope with the tragedy.
Our pets knit us together, and our love for them is evident in the way we treat them like family. Theirs are the pictures we carry in our wallets next to or in lieu of children. They spark great conversations - from sharing how-to's with other pet owners to discussing their antics.
As if that's not enough, pets also can serve as de facto birth control. Yes! Joel and I have both used this excuse for bailing on an awkward romantic situation or a too-quick-for-comfort sleep over: "I'm so sorry to cut this short, but I have to get back to my (dogs/cat/fish/fill in the blank with another creature) now. Bye!"