When I was thirteen, my brother sent home a precious gift from Vietnam, where he was serving as a helicopter medic in the army: a black and white Basenji-mix dog named Spooky. He had found the dog as an abandoned newborn on a roadside and bottle fed the tiny orphan until he was a strong pup. When Spooky got bigger, he would watch my brother’s helicopter take off every morning, and he would meet him in the same spot at the end of each day when the aircraft returned from its daily mission. Fearing for Spooky’s safety, my brother made arrangements for him to travel to San Leandro, where my parents and I welcomed the frightened dog at SFO.
The drive home from the airport fascinated our new friend—the sights and sounds were all new and scary. When we finally arrived home and drove into our garage, Spooky would not get out of the car. No amount of food offerings would coax him. Finally, my mother had an idea: she got a pair of my brother’s pants that were in storage and held them on the edge of the back seat, just inside the open car door. My brother’s scent was still on those pants—made obvious by Spooky’s whimpering and frenetically wagging tail as he followed the clothing out of the car.
The next few weeks were a lesson to me about the human-animal bond. Spooky adjusted pretty well to his new home—we loved him so much—but whenever a helicopter would fly overhead, he would sit in the backyard and look up, as if he expected it to land and to see my brother emerge—something that had happened every day of his former life in Vietnam. When my brother finally came home from the war, it was a wildly happy and emotional reunion. Their strong bond remained intact, despite their lengthy separation. Spooky lived out his days as a cherished member of our family who was saved from certain death by a very young man that had witnessed so much of it during his service overseas.
I was reminded of Spooky when I saw a movie recently that was based on the true story of Hachiko, the dog in Japan in the 1920s who would wait every afternoon at a train station for his person, a college professor, to come back from work so they could walk home together. One day the professor did not return—he had suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage at work. But Hachiko returned to the train station every afternoon at the same time for nearly ten more years, until his death, waiting for the professor to come home.
Cats display very strong connections to their people, too. There are many stories of felines that have walked thousands of miles, presumably following their instincts, to be reunited with loved ones. There have even been reports of cats jumping on the backs of people trying to attack one of their family members, severely clawing and biting the attacker until they flee. My own cats, Butch and Cassidy, respond to my feeling sad or emotional by sitting on my lap or rubbing against my legs, seemingly trying to comfort me.
The human-animal bond is powerful and complex. Our pets add joy, purpose, and pleasure to our lives in a way that is difficult to put into words. They often are the reason we get up in the morning when we’re feeling low. They get us moving, and they get us talking to other people—about them. Our relationships with our pets are deep, strong, and full of love.
In 2013, Berkeley Humane brought pets and adopters together 938 times—a record number, and 105 more times than in 2012. (Included are photos of just a few of those happy adoptions.) I am so fortunate to work with folks who use their skills and talents every day to help homeless pets bond with loving and committed adopters, and whose primary motivation is the fulfillment of saving and improving lives through those new relationships. Our amazing staff shares their achievement with all of you, our volunteers, supporters, and friends. We are grateful for your loyalty and partnership as we begin a new year and look forward to helping more of our human and animal friends form loving and loyal bonds in 2014 that will last a lifetime.
Thank you, friends.