Our Pets May Help Us Break Slavery’s Shackles

Tonight, my wife and I will join family and friends to commemorate that fateful day about thirty-three hundred years ago when Jews were “freed” from bondage.

Ten plagues rained down over Egypt before Pharaoh Ramesses II’s will turned to putty and my ancestors rose from the toil of the brick pits and walked straight into the desert without a forwarding address.

“Freedom” is all well and good. However, it is one thing to walk through the open door - and quite another to know what to do with yourself and your community once you’ve hit the freedom trail.

Obviously, we didn’t get it right the first time. Our debauchery and poor self-governance won us a meandering 40-year trip through the sands of despair. Many Jews - myself included - are still searching for this promised-land of “freedom” and what it actually means to live there.

I’m not talking about real estate.

The cages of the heart and mind can be the most tenacious and unyielding. Forged from fast-held beliefs about what one has (or doesn’t), what one needs (or can do without) and what one wants (or thinks they do), the “bars” that can surround us do not vanish by the simple, external decree: “You are free.”

My own misguided beliefs had kept me chained to my own Pharaoh, my own Egypt. One such belief was that happiness can only be had when weather conditions permit. First, it was finding the right mate. Then it was landing the right career. Later, it was identifying a passion outside of work. Even after these elements were realized, I still bemoaned the lingering “holes in my life.”

It was only after becoming a responsible pet parent that was I able to appreciate that I could be free any time I choose to be. And it has nothing to do with my possessions or desires.

As I watch Lilly, our Boston terrier, joyfully fling her toy dragon into the air, absorb a new trick with pricked ears and wagging tail or completely exhale as she curls up next to us, I know I am in the company of my shaman. Unlike my eyes, that can dart to and fro in fits of rumination, Lilly’s eyes sit serene behind their veiled lids at night. I seriously doubt that she harbors resentment about all the goodies she was denied as a puppy or the advantages her litter-mates had over her. 

Throughout the world, our animal companions continue to suffer under modern-day Pharaohs. Under deplorable conditions, men overbreed for profit then discard any less than perfect specimens. They pit animals against each other for sport or pack them in crates for slaughter to quell a culinary quirk.

If anyone had the “right” to be bitter and demand restitution, it is our animal companions. Yet, somehow, those that survive these atrocities and find loving homes are able to extend a paw in friendship or lend aid and comfort to a sick or injured fellow animal - including those of a different species. Unencumbered by greed and avarice, our pets only know that state of being called happiness.

Between humans and animal companions, there’s but one who is truly free.