Every woman should have four pets in her life.
A mink in her closet, a jaguar in her garage,
A tiger in her bed, and a jackass who pays for everything.
Paris Hilton

The more difficulty we have relating to humans, the more we revere our pets. AND the more we adore Fluffy and Buster, the more we attribute human emotions and reactions to them. I love my dogs, but they are DOGS. I do not think they have opinions and I do not dress them in fancy dresses and cute suits. When my dog licks my face, she isn’t kissing me. She likes my face cream. When she has an “accident” it isn’t an accident. She is relieving herself. She is neither punishing me nor rewarding me. She is doing what dogs do.

I would be willing to guess that not more than 1% of pet owners agree with me. They firmly believe their pet has opinions, preferences and an agenda. Take my friend Adele. She is 78 years old and lives alone with her Yorkie, Sissy. She combs Sissy’s hair every morning and adds a colorful ribbon appropriate to the season to the dog’s top knot so that Sissy will feel good about herself when the two of them venture out for a walk.

Adele is very religious. The only communication she has with anyone other than Sissy is her God. She firmly believes that this God of hers can heal people and punish the nasty pit bulls and boxers that lunge at Sissy when the two of them stroll along the boardwalk. All Adele needs to do is pray and God will spring into action.

Not long ago, Sissy dined on most of Adele’s lunch at a famous French Restaurant. Adele felt a bit bilious after lunch but Sissy did not fare so well. Her overindulgence resulted in a persistent, painful (Adele says) case of diarrhea. Adele immediately cancelled all her appointments for the day (these included a Bible Study Class where no one talks to her, a visit to the grocery store where the clerk is disgustingly rude and three of Adele’s favorite daytime television shows …she loves General Hospital and would never miss Katie Couric and The Talk. She gave up these activities willingly because Sissy needed her and Adele is always there for her dog no matter what.

So, instead of stocking the fridge, learning more about what God wants of her or satisfying her need to observe a world outside her own, Adele got down on her knees (and this was not easy because Adele has terrible arthritis that God has been ignoring for years) with Sissy (her bottom securely encased in a small incontinence pad) and prayed for Sissy’s bowels to solidify.

Sadly, God was preoccupied with other things like a murder in Brazil and a massacre in Greece not to mention finding that lost baby in California and he simply couldn’t take time out of his busy week to deal with Sissy’s indigestion.

When Adele called me, she was frantic. “Sissy has been sick for ten days,” she said. “ I have prayed and prayed and even hired a healer to touch Sissy with her hands (not a pleasant visual, I can tell you) but Sissy is worse than ever.”

Now, I do not like to tamper with anyone’s religious belief and I will never diminish someone’s concern for an ailing living thing. If Adele prefers God to a licensed veterinarian that is fine with me, but common sense told me that Sissy’s problem could be remedied with very little effort on Adele’s part while she waited for God to respond. So it was that I counseled Adele: ”First, boil some rice, add a bit of chicken and feed it to Sissy. Then, pray.”

Adele called me the next day. “I know you won’t believe me!,” she said. ”But God finally answered my prayer. Sissy is romping around like a puppy today. She is cured!!!”

“What a miracle!! “ I said. “Did she eat the rice?”

“She did and she loved it,” said Adele.

All of us organize our lives with the rules we believe give each day a sensible structure. But sometimes, those very rules narrow our lives instead of opening new windows that expand our horizons. When we reach our seventies, our lives have given us new perspectives on what we once believed were our limitations. Some of us break down the barriers we have created and take a chance on something new . Many more of us are afraid to wander into the unknown.

Adele wants to be a singer. She loves music and dreams of performing on a big stage somewhere. That is as far as she has gotten with her vision. She dreams about it. She does not actually sing. I asked her why she didn’t join her church choir and she said. ”They have rehearsals twice a week and perform every Sunday. I can’t leave Sissy that long.”

Adele has always wanted to travel. She sees herself on the Italian Riviera in a tiny little bikini strolling along the beach and raising eyebrows and a few other things. She has plenty of money for a ticket to this paradise of pasta and permissiveness, but she cannot bring herself to make the reservation. “How can I leave Sissy for that long? “ she said. “I could never put her in a kennel. She might get a cough.”

She didn’t mention that bikinis tend to sag in the wrong places and are too skimpy to cover the essentials these days. She also didn’t mention that if anyone she doesn’t know calls her, she hangs up immediately. “It’s one of those crank calls,” she says. “I can always feel it.“ In her dream, she sees herself going out with a tall, ageless Italian lothario and…well, if it happens, it happens…but that is only in her dream. She knows that the footnote to her sybaritic vision is: I am afraid of strangers, even Italian ones. And so she tells me of her wonderful travel ideas and shakes her head as she explains that she would leave in a minute if it weren’t that Sissy needs her.

Adele has lost the world and the world has lost Adele. Think of the wonderful music she could contribute to her church; think of the children Adele could tutor and help master reading. She was, after all, a school teacher in her other unretired life. Think of the events she could see if she ventured away from her living room one evening. Think of the new horizons she would discover. The real tragedy is that Adele doesn’t think of these exciting things at all. She only thinks of Sissy. Her dog is more human to her than human beings. Sissy is a person to Adele, a person she can control, one that doesn’t frighten her and one that stays with her in a tiny little comfort zone all their own.

Sadly, there are millions of Adele’s in this world of ours. She has never figured out that the older we are the less we need to limit ourselves or use our animals as an excuse to keep living the same day over and over again. The good news is that every day, there is another person who figures out that Fido is a dog and that the real action is with the people in his world. And I think that is a very good thing.

Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.
Ann Landers