FRIENDS OF THE FAMILY

Two out of three American households include at least one adopted dog or cat. There are plenty to go around, 77 million dogs and 58 million cats according to the latest survey. And that’s not to mention gerbils, ferrets, hamsters and various other mammals plus birds, fish and reptiles. I believe though, if we begin to rank our pets according to popularity, we’ll find we have reigning cats and dogs.

Why do we take in these unemployed, non-paying, high maintenance boarders? It could be an altruistic urge for some to help another needy earthling, but there are also benefits for the hosts. Stroking a pet can lower the blood pressure of the stroker as well as the strokee and taking a dog for his daily walks can burn fatty calories and tone up muscles, a completely beneficial result provided, of course, that yours is not an overactive dog and there are no squirrel pursuits involving sprints and fence-climbing.

Some henpecked husbands keep pets so they won’t be the lowest form of animal life in their home. That doesn’t work with cats who will never admit to being lower on the animal kingdom scale than a mere human.

Another possible motive for having a pet is the opportunity for communication that’s free of controversy and rebuttal, not the kind of humiliating debates that Ziggy of the comics always loses to members of his menagerie.

You can tell your worries to a dachsund or your multi-gendered beagle/bull/whatever and, if you happen to be scratching his or her belly at the time, you’ll get complete attention and sympathy, without a contradictory bark or growl as you recite your plans for rescuing the country from ruin or guaranteeing the World Series chances of the Mets or Yanks. It all sounds plausible and workable for Fido or Tabby. Just keep scratching.

I once had a large aquarium next to my desk. I fed the fish daily without fail and we got along fine. Eventually I realized whenever I typed my newspaper column, six or seven fish swam over to watch and seemed to be reading my copy. If I recited a line out loud, I imagined they were reacting and I began rating their approval based on their bubble output. Finally, I had to resettle the fish and get rid of the aquarium. I was on my way to becoming either unbalanced or the Seahorse Whisperer.

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