Pets and People Endure Changing “Seasons”

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For those of us in the northern hemisphere, last Thursday marked the winter solstice, the point after which daylight lengthens by a couple of minutes each day. The southern hemisphere, on the other hand, experienced its summer solstice - and now its days are getting shorter.

The reason that it can be summer in one place at the same time it is winter in another is because of the angle of the earth’s axis. The earth does not face the sun standing upright. Rather, it is “leaning backward” about 23.5 degrees. So, as the earth travels around the sun over the course of the year, the northern and southern hemispheres take turns at being more or less “angled” toward the sun.

Life has its seasons, too, though they are often not as predictable as the seasons of the earth. People grow up, skin their knees, take themselves out of the game and (sooner or later) get back in. We mingle some degree of meaningful work with rewarding play, couple up (or not), start a family and maybe even decide to bring more love into our lives by adopting a companion animal.

Adopted animals can have their “seasons” as well, though the vast majority of them have lived in a “hemisphere” suddenly and mercilessly plunged into darkness. From the “imperfect” outcasts of unscrupulous breeders to the elder pets turned out to make room for younger models, abandoned and relinquished pets want nothing more than our warmth, protection and assurance that they will not wind up again unwanted.

Many of our newfound furry family members immediately welcome the sunlight we angle upon them and most of us are fairly equipped to offer the affection, patience and space they need to build trust and grow. Others animals have been so shaken by the depths of human darkness that they need an extra dose of our spiritual and material light in order to survive and thrive.

Some of their dark places - manifesting as fear of people or other animals, soiled carpets and shredded furniture - may persist for weeks or months after adoption. It is up to us, the responsible pet parents, to weather our pet’s “season” of adjustment with them and to marshall every resource possible to ensure their success. We did this for ourselves while growing up; most of us do this for our children and many, still, will do this for our aging patents as they lose their cherished grip on independence.

Think of a dark time when you were the least confident in your abilities and the most doubtful of your worth. Then remember who or what lifted your chin toward the sun and made you smile.

It is fitting that the earth “leans backward” so that both northern and southern hemispheres share the sun and that the people of earth are bound to endure alternating seasons of darkness and light.

A few of us wither in the face of changing seasons. But most of us grow compassionate and strong enough to love ourselves - and those beings just as vulnerable as we used to be . . . and will someday be again.