You wouldn’t think that we’d have time to take care of pets with all the shopping, studying, juicing, and diddling. Well, we do! This month, we’d like to share a little about our dear pets and how they’ve impacted our lives.
Aisha and Napoleon
Napoleon is a five-year old, 26-pound, Cockapoo (Cocker Spaniel/Poodle Mix). Some of Napoleon’s favorite activities include playing tug with his toys, barking at other dogs at the dog park, and traveling. He has a fairly good temperament and loves interacting with people. His most recent accomplishments include flying across the country, learning to roll over, and running through a dog tunnel. Napoleon has very high energy levels and entertains himself for the most part. I would best sum up Napoleon’s personality in the words of his veterinary technician, “He kind of gives off a vibe like he’s not all there all the time, but he’s so darn cute!”
Napoleon came into my life in 2010 when I adopted him from the humane society in Athens, Ohio. When I first got him, I was suffering from depression. Having a dog to make me get up in the morning for walks had a major impact on my life, and taking care of him on a day-to-day basis gave my life a greater sense of purpose which was lacking in the height of my depression. Napoleon brightens each day from the moment he wakes up until we lay down in bed together at night.
Having a dog is a great way to increase activity in your everyday life. Dogs also have a unique way of picking up on and responding to the emotions we display. If you are sad, a dog will attempt to cheer you up. If you are anxious, a dog will attempt to calm you. If you are happy, a dog will mirror that happiness with lots of good energy and love. Dogs – like all other pets – require time, commitment, and attention. A dog is truly the type of pet that will give you reciprocity if you seek it. Additionally, you can meet lots of cool people at dog parks, who also love dogs.
A few life lessons I’ve learned in the last three years that I’ve had the honor of living with him:
Take a Break. Napoleon is very insistent that I take regular breaks from whatever task I’m entangled in. If I’m reading or writing for too long, he will interrupt me and demand my attention. Learning to take a break has been important for me because breaks allow me to regenerate my energy to finish tasks.
Trust the Unknown. Napoleon and I spent the summer in San Diego. One of the things we did there was go to the dog beach. I had never taken him to the dog park or any other space where he could interact with other dogs off his leash. When we arrived at the dog park I was absolutely terrified to let him loose. Finally, another person at the dog beach encouraged me by saying “Trust your dog; let him loose so he can have fun.” Once I finally took Napoleon off his leash he ran around, chased other dogs, and barked to his heart’s content. We had such a great time. I have never seen him so happy. I’m glad I learned to trust in the unknown.
Laugh Often and for (Almost) No Reason. My dog has also taught me to laugh often. His personality keeps me laughing, especially when I’m feeling down. He does the silliest things like burying chew toys in my bed (that I find when I lay down for bed), stealing my socks, and very insistently handing me his paw until I take it to “shake hands.” Learning to laugh on a regular basis has helped me cope with stress.
Feel Free to be Me. Napoleon is shamelessly himself. I adore this about him and I actively strive to be more like him in this regard. On a daily basis he isn’t worried about what people think about him or how he looks. Sometimes he has hair days where his mustache and beard don’t agree, but he doesn’t let that phase him. I have learned to accept myself in the same way, and this has been an invaluable life lesson.
Simone and Ice T
Ice T, my Siamese Mix, is between 3 to 6 years old (according to the animal shelter where I adopted him). When I am not home, he enjoys pulling down books from my bookshelf and staring at our neighbors through the living room window. Ice T also enjoys lounging on top of the kitchen cabinets and in our bed. When he hears anyone come in, he quickly runs to the front door to greet them with a rub against their legs and a very loud purr. And I can’t forget that he also loves drooling on my visitors and me. (Ew!) I have come to believe that his drooling is a sign of affection. Ice T is a very sweet and loving cat that loves to cuddle, especially when I am writing or watching TV. Imagine a fifteen-pound cat lying against your arm as you’re typing.
I found Ice at a shelter in Kansas a few months after I settled into my new apartment. He was the first cat I saw, mainly because he was trying to escape and ended up getting one of his nails stuck in his cage. Of course, I helped him, and we fell in love. I named him Ice T because 1) his coat reminds me of iced tea and 2) I LOVE Ice-T, the rapper/actor. Ice T isn’t quite as funny as his namesake, but he does make life just as fun.
I decided to adopt a cat because I love animals and wanted some company in my new home. Sometimes living on your own can get a bit lonely, but you can never truly be lonely when you have a handsome fur ball like Ice T grunting at you all day for interrupting his sleep or because he wants to cuddle. Additionally, similarly to dogs, cats are very intuitive. They know when you’re sad or anxious, and will do what they can to help you feel better. “Here’s some drool, Mommy. Are you okay, now?” And when you need a good laugh, sprinkle some catnip on his scratching post, and watch him roll around in bliss. These moments with Ice T remind me that life is supposed to be full of laughs and love.
There are four life lessons that Ice T continues to teach me as I care for him:
Love every single day. There’s this thing about Ice T that makes me slow down. There are days when I get caught up in my work and don’t realize that I haven’t taken the time to love. It is Ice T who reminds me that you shouldn’t go a day without wrapping your arms around someone. And when I am overwhelmed or frustrated, he reminds me that love is always here and will heal me. He places his paw on my wrist to let me know it’s time to stop working and to breathe. When I cuddle with Ice T, I seriously feel love creeping back into my soul. And when he is feeling down or stressed, he cries out for me. I scoop him up in my arms and give him kisses until he starts purring. These moments teach me that it is okay to cry and it is also okay to want someone to hold you until you’re in love again.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be around someone. One minute Ice T is meowing like crazy and the next he’s lying right next to me, asleep. When that’s not happening, his little contorted body is lying against my thigh as I’m writing. I know that he just wants to be next to me. Sometimes, people say that I’m weird when I call or text just to say “hello” or want to visit just to be in their company. I wondered if I should stop, but Ice T lets me know that wanting to be around someone is okay. If you enjoy someone’s energy, why not throw your body across his or her lap and purr?
Resilience. A few months after I adopted Ice T, he gained a few pounds (Oops!), and his collar began to rub into his neck. I didn’t notice it for a while because his hair and the collar covered his wound. Meanwhile, he would still do his normal cuddle-drool-sleep-on-the-cabinets routine. He never stopped greeting people at the door or running around the apartment. But, one day he came up to me and lifted his head back. I was shocked and totally disgusted by what I saw, but I was also intrigued by Ice T’s ability to continue to live his life and love others despite having such an injury. His strength and his ability to bounce back after surgery has really helped me through my first year of PhD school. I’ve been hurt a few times during this process, but Ice T has taught me that nothing should stop me from smiling, or you know, leaping from counter to cabinet. We take leaps no matter what in the Savannah household!
Forgiveness. Yes, Ice T is a sweet kitty, but sometimes he gets on my nerves! When I’m trying to sleep or eat, here comes my fifteen-pound cat meowing or trying to smell my food. Irritated, sometimes I yell at him or give him a side eye. He usually grunts and walks away, but he’s never gone for long. Within minutes he’s back to cuddle and drool on me. I was watching Oprah interview Deepak Chopra on OWN a few weeks ago, and he said he has no one to forgive. Powerful. I immediately thought of Ice T. It’s like he doesn’t remember or care that I was annoyed with him. He continues to love. And that’s how I want to be. I don’t want to dwell on any hurt inflicted upon me by someone else or myself; I don’t want to have anyone to forgive.
I wish everyone had an Ice T to come home to. He’s such a sweet cat that offers so much to the world. I am a better person because of him and his drool.
Through our experiences with Ice T and Napoleon, we’ve learned that pets can improve your quality of life. Animals are very resilient and can teach many life lessons, such as how not to eat too fast because you might throw up in the middle of the living room floor. Or to get out of bed on time or someone will pee on you.
Do you all have any pets? What have they taught you about life? We’d like to hear about it.
About the Contributing Writers:
Aisha + Simone are the Life + Style contributors for the Phoenix Rising Collective; continue supporting their posts on the importance of letting who you are shine through when it comes to self-care and defining your personal style. Here are more of their how-tos, anecdotes, and words of inspiration.
Simone Savannah is an English instructor and contributing writer for the Project on the History of Black Writing at the University of Kansas. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English-Creative Writing and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Her poetry is based on personal experiences she can’t let go—imagined or otherwise. Simone also enjoys making green smoothies, attending Bikram Yoga classes, and laughing uncontrollably. Simone is teaming with Aisha (read about her below) to bring you a unique take on Life + Style.
Aisha Upton is a second-year PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, studying Sociology and Women’s Studies. Her research interests include Black women in service organizations and violence against Black women. She is passionate about many things including community service, lipstick, baking, thrifting, knitting, and being a proud owner of a Cockapoo, Napoleon. At the intersection of being a diligent student, a fashionista, and an activist – you will find Aisha, attempting to find a balance. Be sure to read Aisha + Simone’s unique take on Life + Style and the importance of letting who you are shine through when defining your personal style.