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Love without Language
Sweet stories of what we’ve learned from our animal friends.
People are complicated. Animals are simple. Within a few weeks of adopting my first dog last year, I realized that getting a pet brings the most predictable and guaranteed form of love there is.
You may notice that I edited out all of the names of the animals below. I learned this from David Sedaris when he talked about writing a book of fables. “I didn’t want any animal to have a name. … Sometimes someone will have a cat, and you ask, ‘What’s your cat’s name?’ And they say, ‘Critter!’ And you think, Oh, I hate your cat. And they say, ‘Diane.’ And you think, I like your cat.”
The thing is, you don’t need to know the names to know the stories. Just like you don’t need words to understand Critter.
Published September 28, 2011
Intro and Design Laura Brunow Miner
There’s a visible hole in his ear from numerous fights, he smells sometimes, and between you and me, he’s not the best looking cat on the block. But none of that matters when he clambers onto my lap and purrs my troubles away. There are some lessons only animals can teach you. Having unquestioning faith in a person is one of them.
Photographer: Adilah I.
I’m a Sri Lankan student studying English Literature in New Delhi, India. Words remain my first love. Photography is a close second.
Unrequited Love ∞
My dog will wag ferociously and light up at the sight of my cat, but the feelings aren’t mutual. My dog was rescued after being hit by a car, but despite the trauma, has so much exuberance and love for life. It’s her trust in the good of the world that keeps her happy.
Photographer: Madhu Singh
I’m a student at a university in Texas.
Unspoken Understanding ∞
Pretty much anyone would fall in love when they bring home a six-week-old puppy. But I have a special connection with my pitbull because I’m deaf. I sign to her and she understands me. It’s like she knows me and my language in a way that most humans don’t.
Photographer: Sophia Patrick
Sophia is a second year student, majoring in accounting at Gallaudet University.
Wool Blanket ∞
A livestock protection dog pup has sought the comfort of a group of young lambs on a western Wyoming sheep ranch – an event that happens on numerous occasions each year, throughout the world where livestock are raised with guardian animals. The bond begins early but the unconditional love they show each other lasts lifetimes.
Photographer: Cat Urbigkit
Author/photographer Cat Urbigkit lives on a sheep ranch in western Wyoming, and enjoys learning from Old World pastoralists.
Rat Pack ∞
I never thought I’d own a rat, until my girlfriend brought home two. The brown and white one was my favorite — so smart and eager to discover the world. She showed me her dynamism and joy for life. The tough part is that rats only live two or three years. I’ll always remember their little bodies in my hand, breathing slowly, and looking at me with their smart eyes. I miss them.
Photographer: Cyprien Delpuech
Practice Round ∞
There’s an ancient belief in Japan that if newlyweds get a pet, they won’t be blessed with children. So our elderly relatives weren’t happy when we brought our dog home. But I believe that having him is wonderful practice for taking care of a child, and that he’ll also make a great playmate when the time is right for us to have children.
Photographer: Kido Takayuki
I love raw meats and photos. I’m a designer who’s feeding tropical fishes and a cute dog in Tokyo.
I never thought of myself as a “cat person,” but we decided to try each other out for ten days. It’s now been a year. When he was very small I’d worry about stepping on him, or come home from work praying he was still alive. (I understand the “first kid” thing now.) Each time, he’d be right at the entryway, alert and calm, curious as ever, and waiting for playtime. He’s taught me how to schedule myself better and let loose all at once. When he’s acting out I’ve also learned to check my own tension first — usually he’s just reacting to me. It’s still a journey of surprises, reminding me daily of the meaning of “let it be.”
Photographer: Alara Orhon
I was born and raised in a Turkish and American household in Istanbul and London, lived in upstate NY during college, and ended up staying in Istanbul after a 2-week visit to family. Have worked in advertising, now in entertainment marketing. Take my camera everywhere when I remember and enjoy getting lost in papercraft, specifically giant origami.
Cardinal in the Snow ∞
After losing my Congressional race in November 2010, I was determined not to run again. I was frustrated by working so hard, coming so close, and yet still losing. Watching it snow, I saw this cardinal in my yard who was out looking for food in the cold. I realized that of all the instincts we suppress, basic survival has all but vanished. This bird who cared for nothing but his survival till the next day made me realize that I, too, could survive and go on to win the next election. I’m running again.
Photographer: Teri Newman
Congressional Candidate, 12th Illinois District.
New Smells ∞
Our dog gets bored if we take the same route twice on a walk. Even if it’s a stroll in the neighborhood, he’ll push ahead around some weird corner to a place we’ve never been. He likes new smells. Guess he’s taught us that if you take a new path, you’ll discover a fresh new world you never knew existed.
Photographer: Henry Simpson
I’m a creative director at an ad agency in Northern California who likes to take random photos in my spare time. I live with a beautiful woman who is even more creative and keeps everything centered. We live with a complex dog that’s a lot smarter than both of us.
Cone of Shame ∞
He was an accident prone dog. Jumping off balconies and getting stuck in fences caused him to constantly have “the cone” on. Despite this immobilizing and embarrassing head piece, he’d still chase the frisbee around, unintentionally digging up parts of the yard like he was an oversized shovel. In the car he’d insist on popping his head out of the window and flap around as the cone caught the wind. He showed me that no matter what your circumstance, there’s always a way to do what you want to do and have a bit of fun.
Photographer: Mark Lobo
I’m a Photographer from Brisbane Australia. Always keen to get involved in fun, creative projects with a difference!
Little Rituals ∞
Every Halloween my wife and I had a ritual with our dogs to dress them in costumes. At the time it was just a fun activity that made our friends and family laugh. It was only when we lost all three of them (aged 16, 15, and 6) to different causes within six months in 2010 that their meaning in our lives crystallized. Only when our house was silent was it apparent how large a hole that was left behind. The endless love a pet provides is beyond special.
Photographer: Jim Goldstein
Jim Goldstein is a full-time professional photographer based out of San Francisco, California.
I’ve always had cats, but never one quite like her. She is totally fearless. Because she is a black cat I think she thinks she is invisible. She is an expert huntress and presents me with various “gifts” each week: birds, moles, even a snake once. She’s taught me that if you want something, don’t be afraid to go for it.
Photographer: Louise LeGresley
My name is Louise LeGresley. I’m originally from Canada but have been living in France for the last 15 years. I have a passion for photography, cats, and chocolate (but that’s another story).
Lizard Lounge ∞
After my first week living in Kingston, Jamaica, I finally made a friend. Since that day, this lizard has been my companion. She stays with me almost every night and morning, as long as I don’t bother her by turning the lights on. I love to observe her beautiful colors, and sometimes it’s just nice to have another creature around.
Photographer: Michelle Arroyave
I’m a user experience designer in Kingston, Jamaica. A dreamer who loves to write, sketch/illustrate. Photography is my top hobby. Most of my day is spent browsing on new innovations on arts, design, technology, architecture, and fashion.
Tiny Giant ∞
Without sounding cliche, I’m constantly amazed at how much love and devotion 6 little pounds of muscle and fur can show a guy as imperfect, immature, and selfish as myself. I wonder, what if humans showed the same kind of love and attention to each other that our pets do to us?
Photographer: Kristiano Costeniero
I’m a photographer by passion and work a mean calculator by trade. I live in beautiful Orange County, CA.
Hen Party ∞
Can a chicken be a pet? The kids surely love her and treat her like one. She’s taught us that it’s possible to live in mutually beneficial relationships with other animals by following permaculture principles. We care for her, feed her, and give her a safe and warm place to stay, and in exchange she turns over our soil, eats the pests that would otherwise attack our vegetables, and of course gives us beautiful eggs. It’s a win-win partnership.
Photographer: Romain Perin
I’m a web designer currently living in Auckland, New Zealand. I spend most of my spare time tending my garden, exploring with my family, and staring at my chickens.
I’ve learned that patience is rewarding, that getting dirty is often worth the mess, and that one of the best feelings is being able to rest bare paws in cool grass on a hot day. I have learned that I should always follow my nose [rather, my heart, seeing as the nose is the heart of a dog], for I’ll never know what good it could lead to until I do. Although life is often less simple than we may wish it to be, living like it is makes us much happier beings.
Photographer: Annelise Furnald
Writer and photographer, student, optimist, description enthusiast.
Positive Reinforcement ∞
He’s changed immensely from when we rescued him in 2008. He was a skittish pup with a terrible fear of loud noises. If a bus roared by, he would drop to the ground like a soldier in combat. The shelter we rescued him from taught us to use positive reinforcement tactics to build his confidence and, of course, treats. He’s now a sassy little fella who knows what he wants, when he wants it, and goes for it. If only situations for humans were so black and white. Kino teaches me to simplify and not overthink life. I’m still working on that … Food helps.
Photographer: Kat Purgal
Performer of the scripted and unscripted kind. Living in Los Angeles. I like cheese and chocolate. A lot.
Blind Love ∞
When we found this little kitten on the street and brought her home, our dog immediately took her in, cuddling and nursing her as one of her own. Yes, actually nursed her! As I watched my tiny dog play momma bear while the kitten purred in contentment, I couldn’t help smiling at mother nature. These two reminded me that family is indeed what you make it.
Photographer: Coco Videla
Coco Videla is a wanderer, mostly.
Thumbs Up ∞
When I leaned further into the adoption cage to get closer to this silver-striped scrawny little git, that’s when I noticed his “hands.” I fell in love instantly. He’s now about a year and learns very quickly, following his adopted brother around, studying his tricks, imitating them, improving them. He may be clumsy, but with his thumbs he can catch the string that the other cat cannot, he can hold pens, and even hold hands (soon he’ll be folding my laundry).
He’s taught me that being different can be great — it can help you stand out in a crowd, get chosen, or one up your siblings — but you have to embrace it.
Photographer: Mélanie Gapany
I am the editor in chief of Smile for Camera (.com) and a photographer and writer based out of Miami, Florida.
Lean In ∞
She’s the fourth addition to our household, and like the other dogs, she’s a rescue. Because of her breed she’s considered “dangerous.” The irony in that label is that she’s the peacemaker; in only a few weeks, she assumed the “alpha” role among our pack without a growl, or snarl, or a bark. Through anything, she remains calm, and is able to calm others. If needed, she’ll lean: When other dogs fight, she leans on them. When she wants the toy, she leans. When I’m tired, she leans on me. (When I’m elated, she also leans on me.)
I’ve learned from her that it’s often best to stay calm, keep quiet, and lean on people to let them know everything’s okay.
Photographer: James Collier
I’m a communication consultant and food blogger living in Fresno, California. I like to take pictures and talk about what I’m eating.
Post Surgery ∞
What haven’t I learned from my dog? I’ve learned to wake up every day happy. I’ve learned to believe that most people and dogs are well intended, but to use my instincts just in case. I’ve learned that getting up early and going for a walk connects you to the world. I’ve learned that quietly observing someone teaches you a lot. I’ve learned to enjoy each meal like it was my last. I’ve learned that I’m not going to meet my neighbors by staying inside. I’ve learned that it’s okay to fart, as long as it’s silent. I’ve learned that running through the sprinklers or playing with toys keeps you youthful. I’ve learned that love is without reservation no matter how bad you look or feel. And I’ve learned that our time with each other is precious.
No one warns you when you get a dog, who becomes your daily companion, that they will get old and get cancer and won’t be with you forever. And I’ve learned that perhaps that dog is the best friend you will ever have, so don’t forget to let them know how much they mean to you.
Photographer: Aline Smithson
Photographer, editor, educator, Aline Smithson lives in Los Angeles and yes, still shoots film. She writes and edits the blog, Lenscratch.
My dog inhabits a world where most things he comes in contact with are far far bigger than him. This lake, for example, had fish that were longer than him and birds that were twice his size. When I try to project myself into what it must feel like to be that small, I am immediately aware of how fragile he is and how easy it is for him to get hurt. I believe that he is also aware of this, but it doesn’t stop him from exploring and interacting with the world. He may not do it with the headlong abandon of a lab, but, in his own way, he is a tiny and brave explorer of the world. I often reflect on this when I am faced with a situation where I feel tiny and fragile — that there is a way through if only I take the time to look around, approach it from the side if need be, and warmly embrace it when it turns out to be good.
Photographer: Toni Gauthier
Toni Gauthier is widely known for her portraits of leading business people, artists, politicians, inventors, and children as a freelance photographer for ToniBird Photography. Toni has a wide range of commercial clients including Stanford University, UC Berkeley, The Economist, de Young Museum, San Francisco Symphony, Lucile Packard Children’s Foundation, the Gap, and numerous others. She lives in San Francisco with her two beloved (and much documented) dogs.