Biff was named for a boy, but she turned out to be a girl—a girl kitty, that is. She’s a rag-doll, a breed known for its laid back and lazy demeanor. But not Biff! She’s a high strung talker, and anything but relaxed. She lives in Seattle, at her home in the cozy apartment of a friend. Cats have long been a part of my life, at least since I was five years old, when my parents traded in a pet skunk (deodorized) for two Siamese cats, which promptly died of cat fever. They were followed by a train of cats. But the cats were joined by several dogs over the years, not to mention a pet rabbit, caged white rats, a guinea pig, an indigo snake, parakeets, cockatiels, canaries, turtles, gold fish, lizards and frogs. I grew up in an animal-friendly household.
For the longest time I thought that I was an inveterate cat person—not that I didn’t like dogs, but I’d loved too many cats. The great “cat love” of my life was Lulu, a jet black Siamese mix who lived with me in San Francisco. Like many a cat, she lived by the rhythms of her human’s life. When I arrived at my apartment on the ground floor of a triplex in North Beach, I could hear her loping down the stairs. When I reached the inside paned-glass door, there she was, nose against the glass, mewing loudly, just as a dog would bark. I still have her teeth marks on the notes I prepared for my dissertation, the writing of which she tolerated only intermittently, always demanding my attention.
In later years I took care of a string of cats who kept my mother company in her old age. She loved each one of them and tolerated their varying personalities. But by far her favorite was Princess, also a rag-doll, whom we rescued from an unhappy home life. A gentle and faithful companion to Mom, she would sit on the edge of Mom’s easy chair, purring away, never demanding more attention than Mom could give. Yet she responded to human love in an affectionate, feline way. Sadly, she died just a year before Mom herself did.
In the meantime, I had begun rediscovering “dog love.” It happened gradually, as I’d spent more time with wonderful old dogs of friends. It was impossible for me not to melt around a Golden Retriever or a comfortable old Labrador. And then, one day, Sam, a beagle-ridgeback mix, came into my life. My friend Billy needed a dog, so I suggested that we go to the SPCA in San Francisco to see what they might have. As we looked at so many different dogs who needed homes, my eyes focused on Sam, the most irresistible dog I’d met in a long time.
His eyes locked with mine as he cocked his head to the side and his tail wagged furiously. He came up to the window, stood on his hind legs, and practically begged for a home. It was love at first sight. He now lives with Billy, and is a source of such great joy and comfort to him.
What is it about animals? Why do they fascinate us? (I do know that this is not the case for all readers, and I deeply respect this mark of human diversity.) I find part of the reason to be that we can see in them the wonder of creation, the Creator present in all of creation.
We human beings can also experience in our relationship with animals our own creatureliness, our kinship and interconnectedness with forms of life possessing varying degrees of consciousness and intelligence, but all reflecting the glorious mystery of life itself.
We can, of course, know in human life alone the wonder of creatureliness, and the vulnerability of life—in the miracle of a newborn, for example. And, in a sense, this miracle is incomparable to the wonder that animal life can elicit. On the other hand, animal life, and human love for animals, remind us of the larger world, the cosmos of life, within and from which human life springs. To love these parts of creation is to participate in God’s love for each of his creatures, and that is a beautiful, humbling and joyful experience, one which only a human being can know. I believe that these friends, along with all of God’s creation, are included in the great saving work of Christ that draws all things, the entire cosmos, into the final embrace of God (1 Col 15–20).