Having animals in our lives is good for us. I know this for a fact, but science says so, too. Just type “Pets” and “Health” into Pubmed, there’s tons of evidence. One review article titled The Best Medicine examines numerous research studies and concludes that “pet visitation and therapy animals in the hospital setting can benefit patients’ pain, blood pressure, stress, depression, and anxiety, as well as increasing mobility and socialization with staff and families”. I know that when I’ve been rounding on the floors and I run across one of the volunteer therapy dogs, I always look for an excuse to pet the pup. I recall one difficult day when I practically begged the dog handler for an unofficial canine consult: “I just had the most stressful patient encounter, and I need some animal therapy! Can I please pet the dog?” The lady laughed and said, “Happens all the time, sure.” As I smoothed that happy pup’s soft fur, I could feel my blood pressure coming down. This is probably one reason why dog owners enjoy longer, healthier lives.
Of course, there are also downsides to pet ownership. Another review study discusses “grief and negative emotions when a companion animal is injured or dies”. This is a sad truth, and unfortunately, we recently lost our 17-year-old cuddly, friendly, yet always dignified tuxedo cat Leo.
We had noticed Leo was moving much more slowly and losing some weight. But it was right after me, my mom, and the kids left for Guatemala last month that Hubby realized Leo was barely eating at all, and seemed thinner by the day. The vet confirmed that Leo had lost half his body weight, and diagnosed advanced kidney failure. The prognosis was dire. But Leo was still nuzzle and purring, and we were all hoping the kids could spend a little more time with their pal. They have been very attached to old Leo over the years:
Hubby and I had adopted Leo and his shelter pal Raffy in 2008. These two big cats were best friends as well as the best pets. Raffy was a big clown of a cat, 24 pounds of in-your-face fluffy friendship. But Raffy died of heart failure in 2016, which I wrote about in a heartfelt and quite genuinely titled “The Biggest Pain in the Ass Cat You Could Ever Love“. We were very lucky to have these two:
After Raffy died, we adopted Lil’ Kitty, a gorgeous fluffy stray. Lo and behold, she was a little bit pregnant when we brought her home! I became the crazy cat mama’s mama, and we had two healthy kittens, who now live with my mom. Grandpa cat Leo welcomed Lil’ Kitty to the home:
As well as Obi, our pandemic pup. Leo was a friend to all!
So we really wanted Leo to live long enough for the kids to see him again. The vet techs taught Hubby how to administer subcutaneous fluids, and Leo did perk up a bit: He ate some tuna, maybe a few treats. We had hope.
We made it home, and we had a couple of days with our old buddy. Leo’s last day, it was clear that he was not doing well. He stopped eating anything again, or drinking. He was moving even more slowly, barely able to walk, falling over at times. We all knew that there wasn’t anything else we could do, so we all doted on him. Even Obi the dog was especially tender with his senior pal, possibly sensing that Leo was not well:
The kids accompanied Leo to the vet, and said their last goodbyes. Hubby chronicled the story of Leo in a recent blog post titled “A Wonderful Life“, which touched alot of readers and got a fair amount of attention on social media. (Have tissues handy if you read it…)
The kids were understandably sad. We all were. They asked us if we could adopt another cat, a kitten this time. Seeing them in tears every night was painful. So we got onto Petfinder and started reaching out to shelters, inquiring about kittens. One responded, a Tennessee-based rescue called Whiskers Fund. They were wonderful, and actually flew this adorable, energetic, and completely fearless rescue kitten up from Georgia:
After getting a sense of his personality and alot of back-and-forth on names, we’re calling him Chili Pepper. He’s very Chili Pepper: Super-energetic, bouncy, playful, and firecracker orange. And no one wanted to name him after the Winnie the Pooh character who is also super-energetic, bouncy, playful and firecracker orange. Everyone already has their own nickname for him. I’m calling “ChiliChili, where are you?” and I’m hearing other people calling “Pepper, hey Pepper” and “Little Kitten”… He responds to all of them.
Chili Pepper is already close friends with Obi. Or rather, Obi cannot get enough of Chili Pepper. The dog thinks the cat is his. He follows Chili, nosing him around and snuffling on him and licking him all over, it’s hilarious. They even sleep together:
Lil’ Kitty is curious about Chili, sniffing him occasionally and tolerating him playing with her tail, albeit with the occasional halfhearted hiss. We’ll give that some time.
Meantime, I was working from home this past Wednesday, a long day of ZOOM teaching for the medical school followed by an afternoon of virtual clinic. At the end of the workday, despite being parched and famished, my first stop was to the kitten’s room. I nuzzled little Chili, and I could feel my blood pressure coming down. I do believe the benefits of pet ownership outweighs any downsides, by far.