Learning from our pets

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Walker & Ryder

I have two cats (hang on, you dog people – it gets better). Walker and Ryder are named in honor of two prestigious international golf tournaments (the Walker Cup and the Ryder Cup – yes, my husband and I are both golf nuts), not their preferred mode of movement.

In fact, Walker has always run at top speed everywhere he goes, including up and down stairs. That changed earlier this year when he developed diabetes. The disease weakened his hind legs so he walks a bit awkwardly most of time now. But lately I’ve noticed him picking up the pace, even tackling the stairs now and then. Yesterday he raced the length of the house twice for some invisible reason, clomping along the wood floors with the grace of a miniature furry elephant.

How different his approach to life is from Ryder’s. Like Walker, we got her as a teeny, weeks-old kitten from the shelter and she’s lived a life of love and luxury for years. Yet she still shies from my hand when I reach to pet her, hides from strangers or really anything out of the ordinary and hates any change to her routine. She’s sweet and affectionate when it’s her idea, but otherwise she’s pretty much, well, a cat. Whereas Walker, I believe, is really a reincarnated dog who follows me around and enjoys meeting new people.

Walker & RyderBecause of this, we’ve started taking Walker with us when we visit our weekends-for-now-retirement-for-later home near Beaufort (on Cat Island – go figure) and leaving Ryder at home. It’s steps from the marsh with huge windows and a large screened porch, interesting new smells and lots of birds and other wildlife to observe. It seems like cat heaven – and Walker is loving it, while Ryder, sadly, is missing it. (We did try, but she spent the entire visit flattened under a low piece of furniture and bit us when we tried to load her up to return home.)

I don’t know why they’re so different, but it makes me wonder: Am I more like Walker, going for the gusto despite his limitations, or more like Ryder, afraid of change and more comfortable in a known, if cramped, space? Some of both, I suspect.

How many times do I forgo an adventure in favor of the familiar? Order the same dish, wear the same four outfits over and over, run the same route around my neighborhood, get the same haircut every time? Of course, there’s value in knowing I’ll enjoy my entrée, my clothes will be comfortable, I won’t get lost and I won’t look (too) bizarre.

But what might I be missing in life by settling for the routine? It’s something to think about.

And also: Am I secretly a dog person?

I think I’ll ask Walker.

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