This week, with help from our readers, we celebrate the dogs, cats, birds, monkeys and other companion animals that enrich our lives.
Earlier this summer, I lost one of mine, when the Princess Tammy Faye departed.
For 19 years, she allowed the mere humans in my family to serve her every feline desire: steak tidbits on demand; deep scratches between the fine bones of her pointy chin; warm laps rearranged for her convenience.
She rang in New Year's 2006 perched on a Manhattan balcony, gazing up at stars and down at rambunctious homo sapiens and canines, unimpressed by the antics of either. She lounged her way through hot summers in the cool mountains, patrolling our cabin for the occasional mouse who dared frolic within her kingdom. When my stepson arrived to join her adoring subjects 14 years ago, she kneaded his blankets and purred him to sleep, following him from crib to race-car bed to top bunk, where she defied gravity every night to scale mini-blinds and settle watchfully upon his chest.
Up to the very end, no doubting subject could question her wits, but her kidneys were another story. Old cats die of renal failure; that's just the way it is. Just shy of two decades, our princess left us peacefully. Two grieving, catless months later, I have come around to the notion that we should all be so lucky--to live adventurous, healthy, happy lives to the end of our natural years and then go without suffering.
It's a destiny far too many companion animals never fulfill.
AnimalKind, a Raleigh-based nonprofit, estimates that 20,000 animals are killed in Triangle-area shelters every year, and only one in nine ever finds a forever home.
For every Tammy Faye, eight cats died for lack of humans to cherish them. Eight dogs for Torie, my elderly Australian shepherd who came from the Orange APS 12 years ago; eight more for Tuff, my 120-pound goofball of a Lab who starved in a 5-foot-square pen for four years, until his owner dumped him and Lab Rescue of N.C. saved his life.
That's not counting the animals that never make it to the shelters at all: suffering dogs on chains and starving feral cats in our own neighborhoods; a quarter-million pets abandoned and not rescued during Hurricane Katrina.
If these equations make you uncomfortable, do something. Adopt. If your house is full, walk dogs or clean cages or become a foster parent for a shelter or rescue group. Donate to low-cost spay/neuter programs (www.animalkind.org). Urge elected leaders toward "no kill" animal control policies, with more focus on adoption and less on euthanasia.
Meanwhile, join our celebration here.