I have stories — about animals. I have more than stories; I have realities shared with animals. I exist beside and within non-human entities. I have corporate, enmeshed-buddy realties and sensibilities with companion species.  

The animals and I are co-shaping each others lives because I choose this, and so do they. We, me, me and the animals are becoming something together. This is holy, Edenic, eucharistic.

My experience is not Derrida’s — the modern French philosopher and semiotician — with his famous cat, the mystery behind the cat looking back at him, the possibility of his own shame. It is my thought that the shame we humans feel, and the shame the animals may feel — is simply fear, turned inward. Shame is the fear of ones self, the fear of ones own fear, the fear of ones own perceived or real judgements of oneself, that have their roots in the postures and actions and stances of the other.   

But fear is demolished by respect.

Take Red for example. Red was a big, old, striped tomcat who I found when I was a young boy, I found him down by our barn, wandering around looking lost, and I carried him home. He hung off me, not afraid, not one bit. And at home, Red found me, and I hung off him, and he helped me make the kind of childhood I fondly remember: warm, soft, safe, befriended — and powered by a purr. Red and I lived with each other, fearless.  

Then there was Peaches, another of my safe-soft, sane-boyhood companion species, sitting in the living room with my family, licking my head from the back of the coach, a kind of perpetual mother, bearing babies in the closet, cleaning them and us, a long-living licker, and mentor, a teacher of what good within the good within the perfectly effectual good looks like. It doesn’t look like human exceptionalism, us taking a privileged and dominant role.  It looks like us living with the companion species who we love and respect. 

And there was Patches, my guard dog, my confidant when I was sad, my good playmate, until the adults decided she guarded my brothers and I too closely, and then she was gone — fear ruined it. And then there was Angelina, and Nina and Megan. Each one of these cats helped me raise our two girls. They helped sooth our family pain and calm our anxieties. They made us laugh, and they taught us that work could be play. Nina as a kitten, loved to jump on and ride on the broom and vacuum cleaner when we were using it. That super-affectionate, fear-nothing, animated little fuzz ball taught us to make fun out of what was already there. 

Then there is Megan, my current feline friend. The other morning I snapped her soft, felt whip toy at her. It landed on her head, draped off her ear and then fell to the floor in a rumpled heap. She put a paw on it. I pulled. She held. Then seeing that this stalemate was going nowhere, she let up, and we played the cat and felt game again. We were taking turns, taking control. 

At lunch time I went out and sat by my pond, but left the sliding patio door ajar. Megan popped through the door, gingerly crossed the grass, hopped up on the retaining wall where I was sitting and sat down beside me. I fed her part of my lunch. She was my lunch buddy. We were what postmodernist, feminist, scientist Donna Haraway has called “messmates in mortal play.” Check out Donna’s book, When Species Meet. Along this line, Paul Shepherd had a good book too, The Others: How Animals Made us Human, but he isn’t high on pets. I love the wild ones too, the rabbit born in my hedge, feeding from my front lawn, the doves drinking from my back yard pond, the lizards that run magically along my walls and fences, the microbes living in my stomach, helping me digest my food. 

It goes like that. Animals, companion species, the wild animals who live with us, we are beginning to understand them better, how much a part of us they are, of our health and happiness and meaningfulness. They are in us and we in them. As Haraway says, we are entwined with them; we are their semiotic partners. We are over-lapping enmities.

Megan sits on my lap every morning. We hang out, I pet her ears, she purrs, so do I. This feels to me as it was meant to be. 

In the evening she sits by her bowl waiting for dinner. I bring her food. In doing so I feel kind, provisional, a servant, her buddy.

Later she brings her soft, stuffed whale to me, calling all the way, drops it on the floor at my feet and looks up into my face. Maybe she thinks I’m hungry; certainly she has decided that she wants more interaction. 

I reach down. She has initiated. I respond. I put my finger tips in her soft fur, stroke her back and sides, run over her ears, rub the top of her nose just the way she likes it. 

Megan and I have taught each other things, things about play, eating, hanging out, being close, the value of it, the health in it. Her purr is my purr.  I think that God gave us the creatures to help us recover from the other humans. Megan and I have set up a multi-species collective. I don’t dominate her; she doesn’t dominate me. 

This is what it means to live well. It is to honor each other, to be kind, to be symbiotically kind and to form for ourselves and the other species that live with us respectful, loving biomes.

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