Last week we lost a member of our family – our cat. While it’s really easy to say “it’s just an animal,” for some reason that’s not what my heart is saying.

We hadn’t had her very long. When our previous cat went missing, after a couple of months of desperate searching I admitted to myself that she probably wasn’t coming back. So I went to the animal shelter. It’s always hard seeing all the animals in their little cages, like they’re in jail. Some of them legitimately look sad, like they’ve given up hope of ever leaving. It’s heartbreaking, but you tell yourself at least they’re being given food, shelter, and a chance.

When I went to the shelter that day there was one kitty that immediately looked at me when I entered the room, like she recognized me. She was a tiny, wide-eyed little tuxedo cat. I noticed on her tag: age 10, arrival date – March. She had been in the shelter for at least three months! I wasn’t sure if I was ready to adopt, but after the third visit she got in my lap and purred, and I decided this little senior cat had chosen me. The shelter staff cheered when I said I wanted to adopt her, something I hadn’t expected at all.

Because she was old, she had some health problems that slowly progressed. But it was a surprise to us how quickly she went downhill and passed, before we could even get her in to see the vet. After she was gone, I started thinking about that first day at the shelter, and it reminded me a great deal of a book series I once read by W. Bruce Cameron, starting with “A Dog’s Purpose.”

In this series, Cameron starts with the idea that the consciousness (soul?) of one dog passes through multiple lifetimes, learning and growing along the way. The inspiration for these novels was an encounter Cameron described in an interview with Writer’s Digest:

“I was riding my mountain bike in Colorado and I met a dog who reminded me so much of my very first dog, in the way she interacted with me, looked at me, and wagged her tail, that I rode away convinced I’d just very possibly met the reincarnated version of my long lost friend. This sense stuck with me for years, and I found myself wondering what it would be like if dogs never died – what would that look like from the dog’s perspective?”

In “A Dog’s Purpose,” Bailey (the canine protagonist) wonders what his purpose is and why he keeps coming back, living through the experience of being a puppy, getting adopted, and growing old, time after time. Without giving away too much of the story, he learns that his purpose all along was to find the owner who needed him and save him from an unhappy, lonely life.

Here’s the other side of the coin though: what do our pets teach us about life and what our purpose is?

Feed me, of course! But much more. Go for a walk; get outside and appreciate nature like it’s the first time you’ve ever smelled a juniper bush or seen a butterfly. Keep a healthy routine, but never lose your curiosity for new places, or your joy for a car ride. There is a time for sleep, a time to cuddle, and (even when you’re old) a time to play. But above all, when you choose to love someone, love them unconditionally and be a faithful companion. When your human is down, show them you care.

This is why books like “A Dog’s Purpose” resonate – because our pets remind us of how to be a good human.

Jonathan Heath is an administrative assistant at the Montrose Regional Library.

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