Pets as Gateway Love

Something really wild has been happening to me lately. I find myself falling in love with every animal I see. Seriously, I am talking about all creatures great and small. But really, I mean a hopeless, sloppy, so-much-so-that-it-hurts-inside kind of love.

I blame my mini-poodle pal Mack and here’s why: Remember the theory of a ‘gateway drug’? It’s the concept that so-called ‘softer’ drugs like tobacco and alcohol, if abused, lead to an interest in the harder stuff.

Well I’ll tell you this: the love I share with Mack is some sort of ‘gateway love’ and has resulted in a deep yearning love for bug and bird, otter and elephant.

It’s odd because I already considered myself an animal lover before I met Mack. I’d donated to the Adopt-a-Whale program and proudly displayed the wildlife calendars I got in the mail from Sierra Club and Greenpeace. I’d even spent time working on behalf of rainforests and wetlands and other ecosystems that wildlife call home. But I see now that I was acting more out of respect for other life forms. I might even have loved them.

But this—this is being in love—and with more living beings at the same time than I’d ever thought was possible. I’m finding profound joy watching nature shows or reading the latest research about the way animals live and love one another. And oh how they play! I was enthralled for hours with an 80 second Facebook video of a black bird repeatedly surfing a snowy rooftop on a plastic water bottle cap.

The great humanitarian Albert Schweitzer warned us: “Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” But ol’ Albert didn’t warn us about all this heartache. Not heartache as in heartbreak, but as in the stretching and strengthening of a muscle, and the ache that goes along with that.

What is happening to me? Has this ever happened to you? Is this just the best-kept secret about having a pet that I only now am discovering? And where will all this camaraderie lead?

I’m willing to see this through and hoping this love and compassion is the first step toward an interspecies community-organizing project of sorts. Perhaps all this love will open up my ability to understand and even communicate across species? Perhaps then I’ll be able to take their lead and collaborate on efforts to protect our common home? Maybe Mack the mini-poodle is one of the best grassroots organizers I’ve ever met. Who knows, it might just be that only together with the winged ones and the swimmers, the four-leggeds and the creepy crawlies will we be able to build a movement strong enough to protect our Earth community for future generations, ours and theirs. What do you say, Two-leggeds? Who’s with me?

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