The art of companionship

Lessons learned from living with animals

Xiaotian Wang, Design Editor

As the ending of the 1994 award-winning novel Snow Falling on Cedars reads, "accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart." While I have come to accept that life is unpredictable, I have realized that at the very least, we can choose how we face the accidents. I’ve found that enduring hardship becomes easier with companionship—both human and animal. Pets themselves also have their own complexities that parallel the complexities of human life.

Before the pandemic started, I never considered myself someone who needed a lot of company. But after half a year of staying at home every day, I got to know loneliness in a more intimate way. After the emptiness brought on by the long-term isolation, I decided to officially move in with my girlfriend of a year. At the very least, living with her definitely helped me deal with a stagnant quarantine.

I’ve never had the desire to own pets, because I dislike taking care of things. Having pets seemed akin to raising a baby—and taking care of myself was already a hard enough task during the pandemic.

I began to change my mind about pets over time, however. Before I met my girlfriend, I had no interest in “cute” things––I never liked Barbie dolls or plush toys, even when I was little. My girlfriend is exactly the opposite of me : Her apartment is full of plush toys, and she has always wanted to have both a dog and a cat.

After sending me countless Instagram videos of cats and dogs over quarantine, I was convinced, little by little, that a life with pets wouldn’t be as exhausting as I had initially thought. We started casually browsing through the pets on Kijiji and SPCA, though we had not made any official decisions yet. It was the summer of 2020 when we finally decided to adopt a cat. It was around the time that something unfortunate happened to my girlfriend.

My girlfriend was hospitalized
for two months.

Life changed overnight. Without any warning, my girlfriend was suddenly struck by an unknown disease. After rushing to the emergency room, she was hospitalized for two months. During that period, she was sent to the ICU once and almost lost her life. In July 2020 she finally returned home, but still had to go to the hospital every other day for medical treatment. Although her day-to-day health improved, the shadow of sickness constantly hung above us. I was consumed by anxiety, as was she.

A few months later, her situation stabilized, and she only needed to visit the hospital every month. After her health crisis, both of us gained a deeper understanding of the uncertainty of life. We decided that there would be no more hesitation in our lives: If we wanted to do something, we would go for it. In November 2020 we got our first pet on Kijiji, a male Scottish Straight kitten named Burger. We also joined the waiting list of a breeder to get a Shiba Inu puppy.

What Burger looked like when
we first met him.

Burger’s health hadn’t been in perfect condition from the first day he came to our home—and nobody knew why because of his mysterious origins. He came from an unknown cattery in Kyiv, Ukraine, after which he was purchased by a girl in Montreal and flown into the city by airplane.

Burger didn’t appear to have testicles, so we assumed that he was already neutered. Over the summer, however, he started behaving like a very horny cat. It turned out that he had cryptorchidism, a condition where testicles do not descend from the abdomen as they should have. After his diagnosis, we had to wait a month for the castration surgery. During that time, having a cat was as miserable as I had originally feared: Burger peed everywhere in the home and ruined at least five carpets with his smelly urine, and we barely slept because Burger screamed every night. But surprisingly, I never felt any hatred toward Burger through this difficult time. Instead, I felt genuinely sad for him, for all the suffering he was enduring. Luckily, after the surgery, he returned to being our sweet cat of before.

Burger sleeps in our
bed every night.
Princess Burger sitting
elegantly atop a cushion.

Despite its ups and downs, I began to enjoy living with a cat. Regardless of the painful moments he had brought to us, Burger is affectionate and very friendly. Every night he will come upstairs and quietly sleep on the end of our bed, or on the nightstand. Sometimes, he climbs on us and asks to be pet. We call him “little princess” because he is so spoiled.

Kirby was only two months old
when we adopted her.

After adjusting to living with Burger, we took the plunge and purchased a dog, a female Shiba Inu. We named her Kirby after obsessively playing Kirby Star Allies during summer vacation. I quickly discovered that raising a dog requires far more effort than a cat, since we had to train her from the ground up, and walk her every day. Kirby is naturally dominant, and she doesn’t like to be trained. Her breed is known for being independent and self-willed. She never follows me when I walk her, and she refuses to listen to my instructions. After dealing with a cat that peed everywhere in the house, a stubborn dog was nothing. My loneliness started fading away living with Kirby, and I began to appreciate dogs’ happiness and joy. Especially during the pandemic, her happiness became a kind of sunshine that punctured my life, and reassured my girlfriend and I that maybe everything would be okay.

Kirby chilling and smiling;
part of her daily routine.
Kirby waits at the door for us to come home.

Over these last two years, I have become better equipped to deal with the troubles my pets bring me, and I have learned an important quality that I didn’t have before: Patience.

Living with pets can have its negative aspects—it requires a lifetime’s worth of responsibility and caring, and it brings with it a lot of frustration and exhaustion. However, I also learned how to be patient when dealing with those struggles. In a time of global and personal hardship, my two animals brought colour to my life. After having Burger and Kirby, I feel like my life has two more witnesses.