Like many pet lovers, I waste a lot of time asking myself the question, if I were an animal, what would I be? It’s really not as easy a question to answer as one might think. The obvious first answer, of course, is to look to which kinds of animals you own. There’s certainly a correlation there, as anyone who has spent time looking at a veterinary exam room can attest to. The short, squat bulldog owners. The wiry, nervous bird owners. The little wrinkly elderly with the little wrinkly pugs.
And while these clues can give you some insight into the owner, just because you’re drawn to a certain animal doesn’t mean you necessarily relate to them. For example, despite the fact that I love Golden retrievers, I would never characterize myself as one. They are gregarious and I am shy. They love water and I love land. They bond to anyone, I pick one or two besties. I look back on the dogs I have had in the past- a Lhasa-ish mutt, a coonhound, Goldens- all very different but none that really, I think embody “me as a pet.”
Though I’ve always identified myself as more of a dog person, I thought to myself, maybe I am a cat. I do like to lie around on the couch. I think I could probably be described as devious. But oh, how I despise fish. And I’ve never nursed thoughts of world domination. I’m not particularly fastidious. So I don’t know. My instinct tells me I am not really a cat either.
So how do you figure out what sort of pet might truly represent you? How do you even answer that without having to look deep into yourself and see what truly lies within? The true test of one’s mettle is not how you go through life in times of happiness and content, but in times of stress and adversity. And you know, there’s nothing like an impromptu family reunion under adverse circumstances to give you just the sort of crucible you need for that particular science experiment.
How do cats react to stress? By retreating. By displays of aggression, claws, and teeth. By refusing to eat, and hiding under the bed. Clearly I am not a cat.
Dogs? Depends on the dog. It runs the gamut, of course, from fear aggression to an overly needy display of attachment to constipation or colitis.
And how have I spent the last week while revisiting my youth, mourning the passage of an integral part of my life, and being confronted with the miasma of expectations met and unmet? How do I respond when thrown back into the old dusty air of faces from the past, small towns long ago abandoned, and places as alien as they are familiar?
I’d like to say I surrounded my family like a cashmere blanket, taking care of them in their sadness, reassuring them that all was going to be OK, providing a hug or shoulder at just the right moment, listening patiently and kindly. That is what a Golden would do.
Short of that, perhaps simply presenting an appropriately mournful face, staring sadly at the wall with big eyes while being neither interactive nor hiding. That is what my coonhound would do.
Or maybe I’d be the cheerful prankster, choking down my own sadness in order to provide a laugh at just the right time with a totally inappropriate ribald joke (which, I just learned this week, was my grandmother’s forte. My GRANDMOTHER. Who knew.) That is what the Lhasa would do, though she’d also be fine with peeing in someone’s shoes, which despite the occasional temptation is not something I aspire to.
Today, we took a morning tour of all four grandparents’ grave sites to say a few last words, which is always hard for me because I feel so WEIRD about walking over other people’s graves in order to get there, and then I start thinking about claustrophobia, or get sad because there is an old rundown headstone with brown flowers on the other side of the hill, and then my dad says he wants to be Krispy Kremed and scattered in the ocean instead of stuck in a box in the ground and it really just goes downhill from there.
We get back in the car, and we go for a drive. We make some stops at places that figured prominently in my youth- Mrs. Nelson’s candy house for fudge, Shaw Farms for ice cream, where I scarfed down an ice cream cone despite the fact that it was 28 degrees out, then Jimmy’s pizza for greasy slices of awesomeness. Back at my aunt’s, she sets down a bowl of chips, a plate full of Whoopie pies and a few bottles of wine, which also disappear, offerings to the patron saint of emotional overeating, whose name escapes me at the moment but presence is felt far and wide in the greater New England area.
I say nothing insightful, as I’m too busy stuffing my face. I wander aimlessly from room to room, poking at cookies, pouring more coffee, and nodding blankly as people I don’t know tell me stories about other people I don’t know. “Your grandfather was such a sweet man,” says one woman. I stare at her. “No he wasn’t,” I said. “He was loving and hard working and tough but I don’t think anyone ever described him as sweet.” She looks at me. “Oh, I meant your grandmother,” she mumbled, then nabbed a cream horn and beat a hasty retreat. My uncle laughs, and offers to pour some brandy into my coffee.
I ate more calories in the last 24 hours than I have the past 7 days combined, all of it totally awful and not a kale chip in sight. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the whole Dunkin Donuts thing. It’s been bad. My response to stress, apparently, is to erect an impenetrable fortress out of trans fats.
Did I mention Koa has a new trick to assuage her separation anxiety? She started this two months ago. If I don’t remember to shut the doors before I leave, she runs into the pantry. She shuts the door with her rear end so Brody can’t get in behind her, then eats everything in sight, up to and including pulling Capri Suns out of the box one by one, puncturing them with her teeth, and slurping them up. She falls into a food coma and sinks quietly to the pantry floor, sticky and crumb-covered, until someone rescues her.
Well, now we know what I am, at least. I’m a big lumbering lab. Case closed.
Has anyone else figured out what kind of animal they are?