Love in the Form of Purrs, Nibbles, and Pecks

In honor of Valentine’s Day and February 20th, National Love Your Pet Day, I devote this column to exploring the various ways our pets show their love to each other and to us.

My daughter’s family took in a two-week-old orphaned kitten born on New Year’s Day. Jack Frost needed to be bottle-fed every two hours at first, but soon could drink and eat on his own. Jack, who soon will leave my daughter's house for his forever home, shows his affection by purring.

Growing up, my family had a cat who would show her love in quite a different way. She would bring us her prize dead mice. She’d present them to us and we’d praise her. When she turned her head, we’d whisk them away into the trash.

Have you ever had a loyal pet, an animal that wanted to be by your side as much as possible? My dog is like that. Every evening when I close the bathroom door to take a bath, my cockapoo Josie stretches out in the hall by the door and waits for the door to open. Her loyalty is remarkable. Once, it even extended to plunging in the lake when she thought I was in trouble. I was skiing behind a boat and she must have thought I needed help. She jumped in. The only problem was she wasn’t much of a swimmer and when my son spotted her thrashing around in the deep water, he signaled to me. I dropped off so he could whip around and rescue her.

Josie has other ways she shows love or affection. If people she likes come for a visit, she sits on their feet. She would never do something like that to the UPS or Amazon delivery person, so the people who get their feet warmed feel special.

When Josie wants to be scratched behind her ears or petted, she will nudge my hand. I’ve had horses nudge me, too, and interpreted it as a request for attention. Horses will also nibble or groom each other.  I’ve seen them touch noses and blow air into each other’s nostrils. If a horse does this to you, make sure you blow back. It’s their version of a handshake.

Some pets require a major commitment, such as hyper dogs that need a lot of exercise. But some, like guinea pigs, provide affection but don’t demand an enormous time commitment. I have a friend who adores her three guinea pigs. One of her favorite moments of the day is when she gives them hay. She lovingly scratches the head of one while the others munch on the fresh hay. She moves on to scratch the velvety black nose of the second one and then the third. They make their happy guinea pig noises; a perfect start to my friend’s day.

My cousin and her husband adore their sun conure, a type of parrot. Cheeto adores them, too, and gives kisses when they ask. She “throws” kisses by saying mwah. Cheeto shows affection by preening her owners’ faces or rubbing her beak on their fingernails. She also loves to cuddle. When she is ready to go to sleep, my cousin puts a blanket around her shoulders. Cheeto will crawl under the blanket and go to sleep. My cousin then puts her in her cage for the night.

Cheeto loves to dance to polka music and Elvis songs. She also sings along. Too bad, my cousin reports, that she only has one note which is a loud squawk. Cheeto does it with great enthusiasm, though, and in perfect time to the beat of the music.

Maybe you, too, have connected with an animal that wasn’t the common dog or cat. In my case, I’ve had extraordinary experiences with ducks and geese. My favorite pet runner duck (runner ducks stand like bowling pins and can’t fly but can run fast) liked to peck at my shoes. She was showing her affection. The Canadian gosling we raised, Gertie, would stretch her head toward us and make soft chirping noises. She would also follow us around, even wanting to get inside our motor boat. We didn’t allow her to do that, so she decided to fly alongside the boat. Seeing her take the point position to cut some of the draft for us and flying along with us was one of the most thrilling moments in my life.

I’d love to hear some of your stories about how your pet shows affection. Reply below and I may share some of them with readers. Meanwhile, let’s spread our love this month to all creatures—those with two legs, four legs, and wings. We might even get a purr, nibble, or a peck back.

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