We all yearn to be in a relationship where we are loved unconditionally, where we can be completely unconcerned about social correctness: be chatty or silent, caring or self-centered, moody or calm, serious or silly, focused or distracted — to have all these freedoms, and still be completely adored. Our pets fulfill that tall order. And in doing so they teach us how to love unconditionally.
When we take on the responsibility of caring for a pet, we learn that love is an act of mutual devotion. It's defined by commitment, sacrifice and forgiveness. Who wants to walk a dog on cold dreary days, check fur for thistles and ticks, pick up poop, clip nails, wipe goo from the corners of their eyes, step on chewed toys, or be interrupted with requests for attention? Yet as personal as these demands on our time are, we don't take them personally. We don't require that our pets have a job, pay for their room and food, or do their share of clean up. We willingly sacrifice our time and freedom for the joys of loving and being loved.
Pets bring out the best in us by taking our attention off our worries. If we've had a bad day, they're not concerned with the details. They greet us with loving eye contact and drop a toy at our feet, ready to distract us from stress. They meet us where we are with open affection and appreciation, ready to engage any way we want. When we need soothing they enjoy being stroked and petted; when we want distraction they happily prance and play; when we're sad they lick away our tears; and when we want to rest they curl up next to us.
Because pets have no awareness of what's polite, they free us from social correctness. They're unselfconscious about their actions — when and how they snore, eat, play, and make demands. In fact, a pet's idiosyncrasies are endearing. They react in the moment with no inhibitions: when hungry, they beg; when itchy, they scratch; when curious, they explore; when angry, they snarl; when frustrated, they walk away; when tired, they sleep; and when they love, they do it wholeheartedly. When we're alone with our pets we too relax our inhibitions. We roll on the floor, talk baby talk, play tug of war, scratch their tummies, and goof around.
Pets remind us that we're not the only species on the planet, and they show us how to respect the boundaries of their skills and personalities as well as our own. We have empathy and compassion for their challenges. They teach us that there are many ways to react to situations — times to be trusting and relaxed, and times to be fierce and protective.
Even grumpy people love their pets. Why? Because pets let them. They accept who and how we are. Our pets teach us that fair is not equal. To love and be loved by a pet is an awesome experience.
How can we have unconditional love in human relationships? With mutual devotion, acceptance, and a little sacrifice and forgiveness, unconditional love can be ours!
Sources: Dr. Weitzman, Lisa M Gerry, Jill Suttie