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The unconditional love between a human and animal

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By Jackie Torok, Managing Editor

One of our stories that touched my heart was that of Jimmy, the dog who went missing during his caregivers’ visit to Shallotte a few weeks ago. I’m holding out hope he is OK and will eventually be reunited with his family.

Another story, a national one, that moved me was about a dog named Schoep. A now-iconic photo taken last year shows the arthritic, elderly Schoep resting his head against his master, John Unger, while both of them were in Lake Michigan. After the photo and story went viral on the Internet, Unger got a flood of donations he used to improve Schoep’s quality of life until last week, when his beloved dog died at age 20.

I don’t know how to explain the unconditional love between a human and a companion animal to people who haven’t experienced it, but I know what it is. I’ve counted six cats and two dogs among my family members so far in my life.

Almost 12 years ago, I adopted Linus as a kitten from a shelter. Linus didn’t understand that biting my ears and nose while I slept wasn’t cute, so I decided he needed a kid sister to teach him. That’s when a co-worker told me one of the female kittens born to a relative’s barn cat needed a home.

The first time I picked her up, she hissed at me. But as soon as I removed the fat tick she had in her left armpit, she began to purr and nuzzle against me. At home, after a dose of Capstar killed off her fleas, I put her little body under the water from the bathroom faucet to rinse her off. I expected hissing, but instead got more purrs. I could see she was a dusty gray calico with dainty white paws, so I named her Liadan, “gray lady.”

Where Linus was initially suspicious of people who entered our home, Lia was friendly, peeping (Lia’s meow only went as far as “me”) and offering her plush white tummy up for petting. Sometimes she’d fall asleep in that pose, her front paws curled under her chin and her hind legs splayed outward. But most of the time, she’d burrow under the covers with me, snuggling.

Water never fazed Lia. She preferred to drink by delicately dipping a paw into the water bowl then licking it dry. The few times she slipped into the tub while investigating my baths, she stayed put in the water, blinking at me as if to say, “What is this you’ve got in here, lavender? Nice.”

My dad once made a salmon and spinach salad for dinner. He left it unattended on the counter for a moment and came back to find Lia with her head in the bowl, munching away happily on the spinach, the fish untouched. The only time you ever heard Lia growl was when anyone, human or feline, tried to get in between her and spinach, her favorite treat.

About four years ago, someone dumped an affectionate black cat in our yard. Lia came to tolerate her little brother Pepper, whose size grew to exceed hers. The same was true two years ago, when I took in an abandoned petite young cat I named Mimi. When Linus, Pepper and Mimi roughhoused, Lia would remain above the fray; if they got too rambunctious, she’d play the enforcer.

She curled up on the couch beside me while I watched my favorite sports teams play on TV. My behavior during the games scared the others, but not Lia. The only things that really bothered her were pipe cleaners, the red dot from a laser pointer and the rare unfortunate bugs and mice that got in our house.

Lots of things bother me. Regardless, I could always count on my cats to make me feel better — even this past February, when my life got so bad I didn’t think it could get worse.

The afternoon of April 1, when I bent down to pet Lia, she cried out in pain. She’d developed a saddle thrombus.

Less than an hour later, she died in my arms.

I’ve crawled back from that low point, obviously, since I’m here to tell you about it, and Linus, Pepper and Mimi are three of the main reasons why. But I miss my Lia terribly. I can’t even write about her death without tears in my eyes.

I feel for Jimmy’s owners, as I do for Mr. Unger. There’s no replacing Jimmy, Schoep or Lia in our lives.

But I can tell you with unwavering certainty our lives are better for having had these wonderful pets in them.

Giving an animal a forever home is neither cheap nor painless. It is, however, priceless.

If you’re ready to commit to loving and caring for a pet for life, please consider adopting from one of the many animal rescue organizations here in Brunswick County.