Humans have a funny way of talking to their four-legged friends. We dote on them, speaking in voices both gooey and stern, as if they are children who should know better. We ask them questions and expect an answer. “Who did that?” we scold in anger. A pet’s over-the-shoulder glance is a sure sign of guilt. “Who’s a good boy?” A lolling tongue teases as if to say, “I am!”
You might have guessed that I am a dog person. This, despite the fact that in one of those online “Are You a Dog or Cat Person” tests, I came out as a cat person. (“You’re highly intelligent, witty, and, contrary to popular belief, no less loyal and fun-loving than your dog-people counterparts,” the results told me.) But I am decidedly dog. Contrary to the whole stereotype about ladies being the lovers of cats, my fiancé is the one with a soft spot for our cat, Bubba, a tuxedo tabby we inherited after my niece went off to college.
It’s true that animals can meaningfully impact our lives. They guide us, work with us, and bring us joy. But as significant as the relationships are that we have with the animals we love, they are but fleeting moments in the spans of our lifetimes.
Human relationships, for that matter, may be even more momentary. Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson calls the age we are living in the Eremocene, the Age of Loneliness. More Americans are living alone than ever before, and while technology has expanded the breadth of our online networks, it has also contracted the depth of our physical ones. In the last two decades, the average number of confidants an individual may entrust dropped from three to one.
But social connection is good for you. As shared in this issue, it keeps you active, sane, and healthy. If you haven’t been lucky enough to find a significant bond like this, whether with a human or a furry friend, you might start by looking at your local animal shelter. There, many have discovered how the most enduring company is the kind that strengthens yet humbles; that allows you to to realize the best version of yourself; that loves you even when you do not. I consider myself lucky to have found two such companions: one with a frizzy tail and fluffy head that will, in the foreseeable future, pass on; the other with strong shoulders to lean on even after the last tear has been shed.