I came across an article not too long ago that claimed that owning pets relieves stress. This isn’t a new idea – lots of experts have said the same thing. Some studies show that pets can decrease blood pressure, help maintain good mental health, and even extend life expectancy in many cases. According to South Boston Animal Hospital, among others, pets can actually increase your confidence and self-esteem, which seems like a tall order for a labradoodle, but okay.
Having had a pet in my home since, oh, I don’t know, forever, I feel like something of an authority on the subject or at least well-informed, we’ll say. And I just have to ask … have any of these pet experts ever actually owned pets? I wonder.
As most of you know, I have four pets currently: two dogs and two cats, all rescues. We’ve had three of them since they were mere babies (6 to 8 weeks old) with the youngest being about 9 years old now. The “new” addition to our home, Petra, was adopted as an older dog and we’ve had her a little over 4 years. Time does fly, as they say. As an adult, I’ve never been without a dog and/or cat or two or three or five even, and as a kid growing up, there was always … but always … at least one dog in our family. My point is, I “get” the whole owning a pet thing. I wouldn’t give mine up for the world. They’re family.
It’s not that I don’t love the little assholes dears, it´s just that I wonder about this universally accepted claim that they relieve stress and extend one’s life. I mean, I’ve got one dog that has the bladder the size of a bean who requires a walk every freakin’ five minutes and another who, I swear, takes having a bowel movement as a competition and strives every day to hit the top score. Spoiler: he wins. Every day.
Life is not exactly restful in my house as I don’t actually get to rest for long in between all of these trips to the tree down the street. But hey, at least it’s at the tree down the street and not in the living room that I routinely traverse in the dark in my bare feet. I realize, things could be worse. I’m reminded of the story of the Roomba running over a pile of dog poop in the living room and carrying it all over the house. I’m sure you can imagine how low that pet owner’s blood pressure was when they walked in the door to that wonderful sight. I bet they set a record.
Did I mention that one of my dogs barks at random times at … nothing. Or at least, I think it’s nothing. I hope it’s nothing. These unexpected, sharp — and loud — staccato yaps ring out first thing in the morning, the afternoon, the middle of the night, she doesn’t care. If she gets the urge to bark, she barks. And boy, does she get the urge. A lot. I can’t let it go, I mean, I have to look to see if it’s something actually worth worrying about. Is it an intruder? Is it a leaf blowing down the street two blocks over? Is it the cat on the shelf where she doesn’t belong (and someone is tattling)? Is it a ghost? By the time I’ve done a quick reconnaissance, Petra is back in her bed, under her blanket, content with herself and the world. It doesn’t relieve my stress at 2:00 a.m., I can tell you that much.
Rufus, to his credit, rarely barks unless there is something to bark at, like the mail carrier, the neighbor leaving his house or coming home to his house or looking out of his window, or the cat across the street. Or me, coming home from work. However, he does like to eat things he shouldn’t. He takes that 5-second rule seriously and sometimes he doesn’t even wait for things to hit the ground, he seeks them out and steals them taste-tests them for you.
Finding out that your dog has eaten the 2-pound bag of cat food you neglected to lock in the pantry to keep just this sort of thing from happening or your strawberry-flavored Chapstick that was buried in the depths of your purse because you forgot your dog loves strawberries and can smell them from a mile away AND he knows where your purse is kept and now needs to be rushed to the vet for almost $500 worth of stomach meds and emergency care is exactly like having a spa day. If the spa was on fire and you are also on fire. And then someone hands you your wallet which promptly bursts into flames.
Cats are no better. At least, mine aren’t. They’re just more inconspicuous about the whole “let’s relieve mom’s stress and make her live longer” scheme. In fact, they’re so cool and subtle about it, you’d almost think there was some complicated reverse psychology experiment going on.
Let’s be honest. Owning a cat is basically ensuring that no glass of water will ever be safe. In fact, knickknacks, coffee cups, bottles of all kinds, and even expensive foundation make-up — which creates such a lovely design on the floor when it shatters, by the way — will never be safe again.
Oh, the middle-of-the-night races are jarringly raucous and create quite the jump-scare when a small, fluffy, homicidal packet of cute jumps on your chest while you’re fast asleep, but you learn to adapt … it’s the yodeling contests at 3:00 a.m. that get to you.
Frankly, who can live stress-free when there is a continual plot against your life? Extending my life, indeed. Ha! The ne’er-do-well (aka Holly) has had it out for me ever since I put a baby lock on the cat treat cabinet, thereby successfully foiling her ongoing thievery … I can’t imagine her having any intention whatsoever of extending my life.
On the other hand, Shaylee, the older matriarch-cat of our four-legged family, is sweet as pie, when she isn’t tormenting Petra or biting the hand that feeds her or looking at Rufus which in turn apparently offends him to no end eliciting the need “to teach her a lesson” not remembering that she outweighs him and really doesn’t like him either (hence the look to begin with) and pure chaos ensues. Ah, yes. Fun and games.
Don’t be fooled, multiple pets, like siblings, will often torment each other just for kicks and giggles. A cat might tickle its tail in front of a dog’s nose just to irritate it. Or as is the case in my house, they will swat that dog right on the top of the head and then escape to a high shelf, far out of reach, tormenting the dog with its own failure. Cats, or at least my cats, don’t understand the concept of holding a grudge it would seem, and are quite surprised when, hours later, they descend from their haughty throne only to be met with a hostile canine hiding the shiv he made while he was awaiting their return to ground level. You can’t tell me being witness to these kinds of interactions are stress relieving in any way.
Oh, hey, I just remembered. I shut my finger in the door today. Hard. How on earth is that even relevant, Wendy, you may ask! Well, let me explain. You see, my dogs are nothing if not well fed. They eat three times a day with treats in between. Yet, Rufus acts as though he’s starved to death. He’s so put upon, really, just ask him. Poor thing. Still in the dark? Stay with me, it will become clear.
Anyway, Rufus eats his food quickly because he has it in his cute little head that he will go and steal Petra’s food when he’s done. He is never allowed to do this, but it doesn’t stop him from trying, God bless him. Petra, because she is the slowest eater I have ever seen in my entire life, eats in the bedroom of solitude behind closed doors so she can have her meal in peace without threat of invaders. As I was walking out of the bedroom – before doggy dinner time had concluded, Rufus tried to race through the minuscule opening I had created (I swear, it was impressive, it was like Road Runner took lessons from a cheetah to better outwit Wile E. Coyote).
Let me interject here, some of you may recall that Petra was abused before she came to live with us and noises, especially abrupt noises … like miniature Road Runner-Cheetah hybrids hurtling full speed across wood floors … still make her nervous.
So, as I was reassuring Petra that no, the apocalypse had not started and simultaneously doing my best to not step on Rufus who was now completely under my feet and somehow keep him out of the bedroom and not catch him in the door, I shut the door on my finger. Did I mention, hard?
Oh yeah. I’m going to live forever with these jerks sweet little fluffballs around. They certainly inspire a colorful vocabulary though, I’ll give them that.