What our pets teach us about…Loyalty

Roselle was a special girl. She was of course pretty (is there any dog that isn’t?), and she was of course the sweetest girl that ever was. Roselle was a lab, after all. She had a heart of gold, and the purest soul, as labs tend to have. But there was something even more special about Roselle. She had a job, and a very important one. She was her owner’s eyes: his guide dog. And neither she nor her owner could ever have imagined just how important her job was going to be.

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Roselle and her person, Michael Hingson, set off for work, as they did every day. She guided his way to Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, and up to the 78th floor, where he was a computer salesman.  She was sleeping under Michael’s desk when the plane hit. The BOOM sounded, and felt, like an explosion. It caused the entire building to tilt. Chaos erupted.

Sweet Roselle, though very brave, had one fear in life: thunderstorms. The noise terrified her. Yet on this morning, what should have been the most terrifying day of her life, Roselle remained perfectly calm. Through chaos, confusion, and deafening noise, Roselle did her job. She led Michael to the stairway, and they slowly began their descent, one floor at a time. The journey was arduous, and hot, and filled with noxious fumes. But on and on Roselle went, faithfully guiding her person, along with 30 others, down every single floor. Once they made it safely outside, Tower 2 collapsed. A massive cloud of dust engulfed them. Smoke and debris flew all around them, even hitting Roselle. But nothing shook her devotion to her man.  Michael tells their remarkable story in his book, Thunder Dog.  In it, he states that   “Roselle’s guide dog training could never have prepared her for anything like this, but she is brave and she does not quit; instead, she uses whatever senses she can to watch out for me.”

Though her very life was at risk, she would not abandon her job. Not only would she not leave Michael’s side, in the midst of noise, screaming, confusion, danger, and chaos, but with great bravery, and with complete disregard for her own fears, she guided him through the destruction. She saved Michael and 30 others, guiding them safely and fearlessly through one of the most terrifying events in our nation’s history.

Our pets teach us many, many things in their short lives, and one of the greatest lessons they teach us is loyalty.

The most common definitions of loyalty involve the words “allegiance,” “support,” “faithfulness,” “commitment,” and “duty.” We humans often struggle with the virtue of loyalty. Our complicated emotions, sticky agendas, and selfishness often get in the way of our aims to show loyalty to those in our lives. But for our furry friends, loyalty seems to be unavoidable, intrinsic in their character. As if they can’t help but devote their lives to ours. As if they exist to “be” and “do” with us, always.

Science, and more specifically, genetics, would suggest that they truly can’t help it. Dogs, descended from wolves, are pack animals. They are highly social, and develop deep bonds and deep allegiance to those in their pack.  Loyalty is truly a part of their genetic makeup.

And though loyalty isn’t necessarily the first word that one would choose to describe your typical house cat, the truth is, cats develop profound loyalty to their loved ones, too. Though they are descended from highly independent wild cats, our house cats exhibit very deep, powerful bonds with their humans- bonds that rival those of dogs (Cat owners are perhaps better able to understand this- house cats sure do get a bad wrap sometimes!)

Roselle and her heroic deeds are just one example of countless pets who have exhibited unshakable and brave loyalty. But our pets’ loyalty isn’t always shown through news-worthy acts of heroism. For many of us, the way our pets show their loyalty may not make the front page of The New York Times, but it is no less heroic. They lay by our side through the night. When we wake, they wake (well, sometimes, when THEY wake, WE wake). Regardless, our day begins together, and with a tail wag or a purr,  they set out to spend the day in our presence.

They accompany us everywhere, no matter how mundane (or private…) the task. They are there in our joy, wagging along with our laughter. They are there in our anger, earnest to make things right. They are there in our sorrow, laying their head in our lap when we cry, perhaps offering a kiss, or a paw, or a slobbery toy.  And most commonly for many of us, they are there in our boredom. Our daily lives are often repetitious, unexciting, mundane. And still they are there, through every boring moment. But that loyalty IS heroic. That loyalty serves just as much to prove our pets’ devotion to us. Through every moment, thrilling or dull, they walk with us in stride, as if it were not the event that dictated their happiness, but merely the fact that every moment is spent with us.

Our pets lives, though far too short, teach us lessons we may not otherwise learn in our entire lifetimes. As Roselle proved, and as all our pets prove, there is no greater example of loyalty on this earth than the furry one who always laid at our feet.

For more on Michael and Roselle’s story, check out Michael’s incredible book, Thunder Dog: the true story of a blind man, his guide dog, and the triumph of trust.

This entry was posted in Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply