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!"