At our (Perry Jameson) home, Christmas is always a festive time. Like most, we decorate the house, put up a tree, hang stockings, play Christmas music and make the annual array of sweet treats.
Our four-legged family members are always part of the fun. They get their own stockings and gifts. Our dog, Flipper, always gets a new soft bed from Santa. The cats, Inky and Winky, get treats and toys in their stockings, too. But I think they like all the new places to hide, snuggle and sleep under the tree and among the decorations.
What I also enjoy about this season of the year is that it causes me to pause and remember all of the wonderful people and pets who have spent their lives with me. Pets may not be able to give us physical gifts, but they each have always gifted me with life lessons or just their presence when needed.
I must have been 12 and my sister, Laura, 10, when our neighbor’s dog had puppies. They were these cute balls of fur, being mixes of Australian sheepdog and Alaskan malamute, and we begged our parents for one. They finally consented and gave my sister and me the responsibility of taking care of him. This taught us that there was never an off day when you take care of another family member.
Wilbur had to be fed twice daily, exercised daily, the yard cleaned daily, water bowl kept full and that coat had to be constantly brushed to prevent mats. As he got older, he developed diabetes mellitus and we had to give him insulin shots twice daily, as well.
When Laura and I left for college, he helped Mom deal with her empty nests as she still had Wilbur, who became her surrogate child.
Rose Mary was a gray-and-white stray cat that I adopted while in veterinary school. She was the first pet I had on my own. She reinforced the responsibilities Wilbur taught me about taking care of someone else. This especially hit home when she, too, developed diabetes mellitus requiring twice-daily insulin injections that could not be missed. I had to put her schedule before my own to ensure she got the injections on time, not an easy feat for a college student.
She also provided a perfect model for me to practice performing physical examinations on as a first-year veterinary student. I must have palpated her abdomen, listened to her heart and lungs, and run my hands all over her thousands of times. She patiently allowed me to do this with no complaining.
Libby was a small, fluffy white dog, I found on the side of the road between Commerce and Athens, Ga. Her gift to me was her presence. When I moved to Charleston, my wife and I decided to divorce. I will admit it was a difficult time, but every night when I came home, Libby was there so I was never alone. She taught me the life lesson that sometimes your physical presence is all someone needs.
Ollie, my 15-year-old orange tabby has gifted me with better health. I know after a stressful day trying to heal my patients and manage our hospitals that when Ollie gets on my lap, settles in and starts purring that my blood pressure lowers. It has been shown that petting your cat can lower your blood pressure, and I am certain Ollie has done this for me.
Inky, the 15-year-old companion of Ollie, is a small black tabby. She is more timid than Ollie, and many days spends her time alone sleeping in our closet among the clothes or in the numerous other hiding spots she has found. She has taught me that sometimes we all need our own personal time and it is OK to take it.
Now there is my present dog, Flipper, who has given me and my family so much. The crazy thing is, he does not even know he does all these wonderful things for us; they just happen as he lives his life. I guess the gifts we give that we do not even realize we are giving are the best of all.
His gifts to our family are too many to list, but here are a few of my favorites: He greets a returning family member like he is happy to see them. This is not just some of the time, but every single time. He always forgives quickly and never holds a grudge. He protects our family but always welcomes a guest. (How he knows the difference, I still do not understand.)
Flipper lives for the moment he is in. He does not waste today worrying about the tomorrow he cannot control.
I hope all of you pause this time of year, as I have, to remember and thank your pets for the gifts they have given to you.