The multi-colored fish playfully swimming in the aquarium video on the plasma screen at the coffee shop reminded the man of his first pet – a parakeet he, as a boy, had won at a school carnival.
From its perch in a cage in the kitchen, the parakeet – feathered in shades of green and yellow – had shared in family meals, homework, cookie baking, board games, and any other family activities taking place at the kitchen table.
Mention pets and our thoughts turn to cats – 77.6 million live in U.S. households – and dogs – 65 million share our homes – but birds, fish, rabbits, hamsters, white mice, ferrets, horses, pigs, and an assortment of other animals rightly bear the title of pet.
Why do we decide to share our lives with pets? There are some practical reasons, such as helping children develop a sense of responsibility by caring for a pet. Mostly, however, we are drawn to pets for their companionship. Whether rubbing against our legs, waking us with a cold nose, crawling up our arm, landing on our head, meeting us eye-to-eye through an aquarium wall, or carrying us on its back across a meadow, a pet helps to meet our emotional needs simply by being there for us.
Regardless of what kind of pets we have or why we chose them, our pets are constant reminders of how much God cares for us and shares our lives. We only need to pause and take time to notice.
Like God, pets give us uncon-ditional love. Regardless of our successes or failures in life, our actions, our appearance or our mood, our pets love us and so does God. We are loved by God even when we are in the state of sin. Nothing we do can diminish God’s love for us.
Just as pets are quick to forgive us when we forget to feed them, ignore them or scold them, God forgives us. When we admit our failures, pledge to do better and seek forgiveness, God not only forgives our transgressions but forgets them.
Like pets pestering us for attention, God continually beckons us. Pets have an in-your-face approach – the cat jumps smack in the middle of the newspaper we are reading, the dog paws at our arm, the bird squawks. God, on the other hand, often uses a soft voice that can be difficult to hear amid the din of life unless we are tuned into it. We are called to be alone with God in prayer. We are called to see God in others.
We are also called to serve God. Just as our pets depend on us, God depends on us to carry His love into the world. We are God’s eyes, ears, hands, and voice. Imperfect as we are, we are still the instruments God uses to take care of all creation.
When we fail to hear God’s call to action, however, God does not turn from us. Like the pet who waits patiently for us to return home, God waits patiently for us. God never gives up on us, no matter how obstinate we are.
God knows us better than we know ourselves. Sometimes – particularly with dogs and cats – we feel that our pets are also peering into our hearts. Pets share our joyful, fun moments and they seem to sense the times when we are sad, grieving, depressed, worried, afraid, or lonely. They give what they can, even if it is only to snuggle or nuzzle.