Cats, dogs, fish, horses, and birds are only a few types of Pets that find their way into our households and hearts. Millions of us care for one or more companion Animal – a survey by AmericanPetProducts.org estimates that 79.7 million households own a pet! Still more people spend countless hours of volunteer time rescuing and rehabilitating animals that have been abandoned, abused, or neglected. But beyond the love we have for them and the joy we get from including a pet in our home, we learn lessons as diverse as the pets themselves. Furry, feathered, or finned, a pet can teach us Virtues that make us more caring in all aspects of our lives, and they can also help us teach those virtues to the next generation. Far from frivolous, our interactions with the creatures and critters of God’s earth are character building and societally important. Here are seven virtues we can learn from our pets.
A cat curls up in our lap as we try to rest after a difficult day. A dog bounds toward us with favorite toy at the ready, as if sensing we need to unwind from daily stresses. A bird greets us with beautiful song, as if to shut out the more strident noises from the outside world. Our pets provide powerful ways for us to remember and practice the virtue of balance, which can be otherwise so very difficult to attain. Through their simple interactions with us, they teach us to temper stress with serenity and cover negative noise with uplifting song.
Sometimes we might find doubt creeping into our thoughts and clouding our hearts. A job, money to pay basic bills, someone with expertise to advise us - it might also seem as if it takes the Lord a long time to respond to our prayers. Our pets, however, suffer no lack of trust when it comes to meeting their basic needs. Steady and sure, they await our care even if we are delayed in responding. A good reminder that, if our pets trust they can rely on us, how true it is that we, beloved children of God, can rely on the Lord!
Their world is very finite, yet aquarium fish seem to always swim as if they are discovering their immediate surroundings for the first time. From one side of a tank to the other, they maintain focus and energy without seeming to be bored – and we, who watch them absorb this virtue of appreciating the immediate, too! No idle exercise, this time we spend contemplating the seemingly small world of our finned friends can help us improve our ability to focus on job, relationships, spirituality, and health with gentle yet definite attention. And it can also help our determination when distractions inevitably arise.
Love is one of the greatest virtues we can adopt and nurture. Yet, often it is difficult to know just how to express it, especially when we are confronted by signals from society that would encourage us to view love as something purely sexual or acutely emotional. If we look to our pets, however, we find some good examples of how love can be expressed through nuanced, yet profound gestures. Gentle physical contact, such as a horse’s playful nudge. A gift of no monetary value, such as a cat’s relaxed purr. These and other actions are love lessons that are not jaded but joyful.
An older dog learning new skills, a cat learning to accept an adopted kitten, a new fish swimming with an established school – our companion animals are amazingly adaptive to their new environment or training. This is a wonderful lesson for each of us as we embark on new horizons of careers, relationships, education, personal development. Through observing the blending of good instruction and practice, trial and error, give and take that our animals show as we help them into new situations, we can take heart that we, too can adapt to new surroundings – and thrive!
Relocation can be hard on all members of a household. Yet, our pets seem to adapt well, finding their place in a new home and easing into a new routine with little upset. Perhaps a big reason for this is that, although the place might change, the people do not. Truly, a pet seems to have a tremendous instinct for appreciating that home is not a building so much as it is the people who inhabit it. This lesson of adaptability can help ease the trauma of uprooting life from one place to another, and make it easier to find grace in an otherwise difficult situation.
Barking a warning, leaping into thin air, jumping over high obstacles – our companion animals exhibit great courage when the situation calls for it. And when there is a threat or a challenge to be met, they become protective, fearless, and bold. We, too, sometimes experience external and internal threats that strike at our spiritual calm and physical safety, and we might doubt we can make it through them. Yet, just as God has given our pets inner boldness, we, too, have courage that the Lord provides – and just when we need it, that virtue will shine!