“Our Faithful Companions: Exploring the Essence of Our Kinship with Animals,” by Aubrey H. Fine, Alpine Publications, $14.95.
For a guy who grew up without any pets and feared dogs as a youngster, Aubrey Fine has come full circle in this engaging combination of history, cases and personal recollections on the interactions of pets with the human psyche.
“My mother didn’t have any connection to four-legged creatures,” he writes. “In her eyes, pets were just another unwanted expense. My life would have been a different story if I had believed her and had never made an animal friend.”
All that changed during a holiday season after he was married. Fine recounts how he and his wife, Nya, encountered a young woman with a golden retriever in a basket in front of a store. Fine, a professor and licensed psychologist at California Poly State University, tells how her reverted back to “my 5-year-old behavior and begged my wife to get the dog. Imagine a four-ring circus with me as the star attraction.”
As you can probably guess – and after plenty questioning by Nya to Fine on the responsibility of pet ownership – she assents. And he adds, “Who would have thought that years later we would live in an ark that resembled the home of Doctor Doolittle?”
Later, Fine personalizes how a new family member, Magic, a golden puppy the couple adopted a week before Nya’s annual mammogram that revealed breast cancer, became Nya’s best friend over the months following her surgery.
“They were inseparable,” he says. “For a young puppy, Magic was keenly interested in Nya and would never leave her side. One daily ritual was particularly special; they would hold hand and paw together for hours, often in silence. One evening several months later, Nya said to me with tears in her eyes, ‘I guess we were supposed to get her. Taking care of her keeps me busy and brings me joy. She brings me happiness and things to do so that I don’t have to sit around and feel sorry about myself.’
“While Magic may not have solely saved Nya’s emotional life, she was absolutely instrumental in helping return it to her.
“ . . . Hope is what Magic provided for Nya. Magic knew and still knows how to get past Nya’s emotional armor. Magic is able to pick up on nonverbal cues and engage Nya when a direct invitation isn’t given. When she was a puppy, she would just wander over to Nya and nudge her way into her human friend’s soul.”
Fine’s road map in this compelling read is far and wide, using a respected mix of authorities in addressing such things as why do we love animals, what is the human-animal bond, the role of companion animals in the family and the incredible versatility of the dog from service and therapy to cancer and blood-sugar detection and alert.
Throughout the volume we see how people rescue dogs and how dogs rescue us, physically and psychologically.
The author cites how pets are “social lubricants,” enabling many owners to emerge from their self-imposed psychological shell and reach out to others.
His mix of history and contemporary references in this striking partnership is particularly riveting, from the incredible positive results of therapy dogs at Sandy Hook Elementary School following the 26 shooting deaths of students and educators to the steadying influence of courthouse dogs across the country.
From guidelines for making the proper breed selections to pointers for dealing with the grief of pet loss, this volume ranges from resource to therapeutic guidebook, too. A hands-on Paws For Thought Appendix serves up plenty of stimulants for family activities surrounding your pet, along with a Paws For Thought The Healthy Workbook designed for children, designed to help children celebrate and remember that special pet in their lives.
“Our Faithful Companions” frames the big picture of our kinship with animals in a rich context that is part homage, part reflection. Within that portrait, Fine’s brush strokes are accented with warm colors and plenty of soul.