Pets Find Their Way Into Our Hearts When We Need Them Most

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We just got a puppy - tis the season, I suppose. My wife was walking through a neighborhood in lower Manhattan when she looked in a window and saw puppies yelping and rollicking in a pile of shredded paper. Three young women who said they were dancers thrust a small, black poodle into her arms. She's the sweetest little dog, they said between sniffles, but we travel and can't get keep her. You must get this dog. My wife cradled the puppy. The little dog lay back as if she'd just been plunked on to a massage table, waiting for a pair of warm hands.

To make a long puppy love story shorter, that little dog is now a member of our family. We like to think that she found us. Daisy, as our daughters have named her, seems to be a downtown hipster poodle, clad in black from head to paw, except for a small white tuft of a Dizzy Gillespie goatee. She's cool. She thinks only New York has good bagels. She picks up her ears at the sound of Ira Glass' voice.

We had to say goodbye to our beloved little orange cat, Leona, about a year and a half ago. We still sometimes pose for family photos and miss the room we used to make for Leona on our laps and in our hearts. One of our daughters said when Leona died that it's not fair that pets don't live as long as people. I know it's painful. We give our cats and dogs our hearts for life, and then even in the happiest of circumstances, their lives run out after just a few years.

But later in our lives, we may come to understand that because their time on earth doesn't match up with our own, pets steadily remind us of our own mortality. They prompt us to recognize the irreplaceable richness of life. With their short lives wound so closely into ours, the cats and dogs we bring into our families refresh our view of the world.

Daisy's already made our apartment into her turf. She sniffs, licks and romps. She turns anything into a toy. She thinks my slippers are dessert. We cheer when Daisy hits her toilet training pad as if she just sung the finale of "Hamilton." She lets me sing her silly songs of the kind that now make our daughters roll their eyes.

Part of what we treasure about pets is their single-minded pursuit of a few simple things. They want to be warm and well-fed. They want to work well, play hard and be well-loved. We see them and tell ourselves that we want to take care of them. And someday we realize it's always been the other way around.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT")

BILLIE HOLIDAY: (Singing) Someday when I'm all alone, when the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you and the way you look tonight. Oh, but you're lovely with your smile so warm and cheeks so soft. There is nothing for me but to love you just the way you look tonight.

SIMON: Billie Holiday - you're listening to NPR News.

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