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The Journey
by  Crystal Ward Kent

When you bring a pet into your life, you begin a journey -- a journey that
will bring you more love and devotion than you have ever known, yet also
test your strength and courage. If you allow, the journey will teach you many
things,about life, about yourself, and most of all, about love. You will come
away changed forever, for one soul cannot touch another without leaving its mark.

Along the way, you will learn much about savoring life's simple pleasures --
jumping in leaves, snoozing in the sun, the joys of puddles, and even the
satisfaction of a good scratch behind the ears.

If you spend much time outside, you will be taught how to truly experience
every element, for no rock, leaf, or log will go unexamined, no rustling bush
will be overlooked, and even the very air will be inhaled, pondered, and noted
as being full of valuable information. Your pace may be slower -- except when
heading home to the food dish -- but you will become a better naturalist,
having been taught by an expert in the field.

Too many times we hike on automatic pilot, our goal being to complete the
trail rather than enjoy the journey. We miss the details -- the colorful
mushrooms on the rotting log, the honeycomb in the old maple snag, the hawk
feather caught on a twig. Once we walk as a dog does, we discover a whole
new world. We stop; we browse the landscape, we kick over leaves, peek in
tree holes, look up, down, all around. And we learn what any dog knows:
that nature has created a marvelously complex world that is full of surprises,
that each cycle of the seasons bring ever changing wonders, each day an
essence all its own.

Even from indoors you will find yourself more attuned to the world around
you. You will find yourself watching summer insects collecting on a screen.
(How bizarre they are! How many kinds there are!), or noting the flick and dance
flash of fireflies through the dark. You will stop to observe the swirling of
windblown leaves, or sniff the air after a rain. It does not matter that there is
no objective in this; the point is in the doing, in not letting life's most
important details slip by.

You will find yourself doing silly things that your pet-less friends might
not understand: spending thirty minutes in the grocery aisle looking for
the cat food brand your feline must have, buying dog birthday treats, or
driving around the block an extra time because your pet enjoys the ride. (contd)
You will roll in the snow, wrestle with chewie toys, bounce little rubber
balls till your eyes cross, and even run around the house trailing your bathrobe
tie -- with a cat in hot pursuit -- all in the name of love.

Your house will become muddier and hairier. You will wear less dark clothing
and buy more lint rollers. You may find dog biscuits in your pocket or purse,
and feel the need to explain that an old plastic shopping bag adorns your
living room rug because your cat loves the crinkly sound.

You will learn the true measure of love -- the steadfast, undying kind that says,
"It doesn't matter where we are or what we do, or how life treats us as long
as we are together." Respect this always. It is the most precious gift any living
soul can give another. You will not find it often among the human race.

And you will learn humility. The look in my dog's eyes often made me feel
ashamed. Such joy and love at my presence. She saw not some flawed human
who could be cross and stubborn, moody or rude, but only her wonderful
companion. Or maybe she saw those things and dismissed them as mere human
foibles, not worth considering, and so chose to love me anyway.

If you pay attention and learn well, when the journey is done, you will be not
just a better person, but the person your pet always knew you to be -- the one
they were proud to call beloved friend.

I must caution you that this journey is not without pain. Like all paths of true
love, the pain is part of loving. For as surely as the sun sets, one day your dear
animal companion will follow a trail you cannot yet go down.

And you will have to find the strength and love to let them go. A pet's time on
earth is far too short -- especially for those that love them. We borrow them,
really, just for a while, and during these brief years they are generous enough
to give us all their love, every inch of their spirit and heart, until one day there
is nothing left.

The cat that only yesterday was a kitten is all too soon old and frail and
sleeping in the sun. The young pup of boundless energy wakes up stiff and
lame, the muzzle now gray. Deep down we somehow always knew that this
journey would end. We knew that if we gave our hearts they would be broken.

But give them we must for it is all they ask in return. When the time comes
and the road curves ahead to a place we cannot see, we give one final gift
and let them run on ahead -- young and whole once more. "God speed, good
friend," we say, until our journey comes full circle and our paths cross again.