For our inaugural column, we want to begin with the bond between humans and animals. Although some historians believe that the bond may have developed out of a mutual need for physical survival, those of you who have ever lived with an animal would probably favor the idea that all things are connected, as Chief Seattle wisely reminded us.

We don’t rely on our animals to hunt for food; we’re city dwellers and don’t have fields to till; and principally, we are, at bottom, a lonely race. No matter how much self-confidence any of us has, there are times when we must grieve, are ill, feel misunderstood by those closest to us, get dissed by strangers, or simply feel out of sorts. But when we unglue our eyes in the morning or come home exhausted at the end of a workday, an overjoyed dog leaps at us at the door, the cat strolls over (yes—they do react to more than the sound of the kibble bag), the canaries cheep, the hamster pauses stuffing his pouch with the toilet paper roll and listens. Even the fish rush to the top of the tank. It doesn’t go away, but it sure feels better.

“What do they do, anyway?” a friend constantly asks of his two cats. Unlike us, they don’t have to do anything. All they have to do is be.

“Their power is how they help us lead full lives,” said Rev. Margaret D. Lovett of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach. “They’re so patient with us. They watch us, they teach us to be in the moment. They bring happiness, loyalty and trust, health, emotional stability—they’re there when we grieve.

“And they die way too soon, but they teach us about that circle of life.”


Kai Yoshida, mom Leslie Koons, and Dante, who lost an eye to a tumor.

The most recent data from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) states that 63 percent of U.S. homes have dogs living in them and 51 percent have at least one cat. These figures don’t account for the birds, rabbits, hamsters, rats, and assorted reptiles and fish who share people’s lives. With the exception of service animals, most of these housemates don’t lift a pad, claw or fin to help around the house. They live with us because they’re vital family members, and have been so for around 12,000 years, when the first animal—either a dog or wolf, according to various sources—was first domesticated. (The cat, never a hurried camp follower, “slinked its way into history” in 3500 BC, according to freelance writer Timothy Bay)

One of the earliest recorded stories of the bond between animals and humans was the tale of Bucephalus, a wildly unmanageable horse who was tamed by a preadolescent Alexander the Great, who understood the animal’s fears and soothed him into a friendship of mutual trust. Whether you believe he was a despot or a mighty conqueror, Alexander had a wonderful way with animals.

The French writer Colette, author of Gigi, was never without a number of cats, and asserted that “by associating with the cat, one only risks becoming richer.”  English writer and lexicologist Samuel Johnson also had several, and was so fond of his muse Hodge that a statue of the cat was fashioned outside the writer’s London home. We’ve always seen White House pets as celebrities—we remember Caroline Kennedy on her pony, Macaroni; G.W. Bush’s Barney; Socks and Buddy Clinton; and Franklin Roosevelt’s Scottie, Fala, who was rumored to have taken a private flight in the presidential airplane. FDR swept the scuttlebutt aside, citing the dog’s Scotch ancestry as evidence that Fala would never do anything that financially wasteful. In fact, the only animal we can remember who was forced into actual service was Checkers, who was dragged onto the podium during Nixon’s famous “I am not a crook” speech, not so much to show the bond that Nixon had with his dog, but how the audience would bond with Checkers.

Today’s media offers evidence of people’s characters with the way they treat their animals. Paris Hilton’s is no more than an accessory, while Oprah Winfrey choked up an entire nation of viewers in her tribute to her cocker spaniel, Sophie, who was dying of cancer. During another show, Winfrey described her troubled youth and how she needed a friend so badly that saved up her lunch money to pay the adoption fee at the shelter for a dog. The animal, called Simone, became her confidant and was the only thing that kept her life together.


Paula Dimmitt and her Rat Taxi, either Starr or Honey-Ruffle.

Studies have given evidence that pets lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and slow the rate of bone tissue loss. There are also claims that walking and petting them helps increase survival rates for people who may suffer heart attacks. “Pets aren’t just good friends; they are good medicine,” reads the HSUS Web site. But it’s the emotional healing that seems to matter most. Just like Oprah, we all have our own stories.

Judy feels fortunate to have had the love of Slipper, her eight-pound canine who gave her the comfort she so needed during her parents’ divorce. Kate, normally a cat person, was adopted during a miserable human-to-human relationship by a German shepherd named Zero. Zero belonged to a neighbor, but he’d come in and sit with her for hours, and then follow her around the neighborhood, warning off any male who came anywhere near her.

It’s easy to picture our pets as angels. They’re mortal, in fact, but acknowledging them in a spiritual sense is not uncommon. Religious and secular animal blessings are not uncommon; Long Beach has its own Interfaith Blessing of the Animals, organized by On July 6, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach held their annual service dedicated to all animals, with a congregation that included several dogs, two cats, two rats, and a rabbit.

“Celebrating the Interdependent Web: The Power of Animals,” organized and presided over by Rev. Lovett and church administrator Pamela Wood-Brown, opened fittingly with Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken.” Rev. Lovett—she told us that her name means “little wolf in Norman—spoke of the power of animals and what they bring to our lives: patience, playfulness, and the reminder to live in the moment. She emphasized how similar to humans animals are, and brought the point home with I’m Lucy, Mathea Levine’s wonderful book about a bonobo and her little brother who do things that many small siblings do, including rivalry. Wood-Brown, who is actively involved with Best Friends Animal Society and its Religious Proclamation for Animal Compassion, called forth the congregation to commit to compassion for all creatures. The congregation barked its hallelujahs, with an occasional “Amen” from one of the cats. The rabbit and rats kept their counsel.

And we heard more stories when the pets went up to receive their blessing. We met Dante, a big beautiful tabby, who had lost an eye to a tumor; a kitten who had been found in a litter atop a bank building; a Great Dane, who could barely walk when her rescuer took her from a puppy mill; and the rats—“just like little dogs, really,” according to their human rat pack. There were elegies for departed friends, including one from a woman whose dog had slipped into a depression and died after his owners’ divorce. The bond between the animals and their humans was so obvious that we could nearly touch it. Even the cats seemed to be willing to lie down with dogs and rats.


Rev. Marguerite Lovett interviews pets and parents.

“We bless these animals we love,” said Rev. Lovett at the end of the ceremony, just before a rousing piano rendition of Saint Saens’s finale from Carnival of the Animals. “We pledge to care for them tenderly and faithfully, and to remember that we are not alone on the Earth.”

For you who understand the bond between our pets and us, remember that last thought the next time you look into any animal’s eyes. Don’t forget to tell your friend, “And that goes for you, too.”

What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.
– Chief Seattle

Web sites

Humane Society of the United States
Best Friends Animal Society
Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach

Upcoming Animal-Related Events

July 20

For one day only – the City of Long Beach will waive late fees for licensing at the “spcaLA Vaccination & Microchip Clinic.” This special event will take place from 10 am to 2 pm at the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village, 7700 E. Spring St. No appointment is necessary. The late-fee grace period for licensing will be available only for onsite registrations.  Three-year registrations will also be available.  Vouchers from the Friends of Long Beach Animals for free spaying and neutering (for use at participating veterinarians) will also be available.

July 26

“Beyond The Valley of the Flight Attendants: Beyond Retirement,” will be performed as a fund-raiser for the Recreation Small Dog Park Renovation & Expansion Project, with 100 percent of proceeds from ticket and refreshment sales going to the fund being maintained by the Long Beach Recreation Dog Park Association. Honored guest at the event will be Vice-Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal. $20. Found Theatre, 599 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach

July 27

A veggie barbecue to pass Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, will be held at 4 p.m.  Mass dial-in to the nationwide conference call at 5 p.m. Click here for details.

Click here for the full text of Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act

July 31

Friends of Long Beach Animals presents “Walk on the Wild Side,” with herpetologist Steve Strichart and LBAC Officer Kevin Law. Annual membership meeting; public welcome. 6:30 p.m., free. Signal Hill Community Center, 1780 E. Hill St., Signal Hill.

Please e-mail any Long Beach-area animal-related events to [email protected].