1. IKIGAI

How pets add special meaning to the lives of single people

“You live here all alone, don’t you feel scared?”

“How do you manage by yourself? Doesn’t it get lonely?”

These are some of the questions that are freely thrown at you when you are a single person living by yourself in a city, making it on your own in the big bad world. To you, this is normal. Having your own place, your own space. You cannot imagine yourself still living with your folks, bringing the roof down every day over why you got home late; nor as a wife and mother sacrificing your personal space for the greater good.

But then, these questions actually make no sense at all. Not when you live with a dog. Or cat. How can you be alone when there is a breathing, perfectly animate living being for a flatmate? In fact, they may be the perfect flatmate! They are excellent listeners for starters. They never quarrel over money nor do they ditch you on Saturday night for a happening scene outside, while you sit at home and watch movies. If you have a dog or a cat – you are never alone. And honestly, it does take a bite out of the loneliness that sometimes comes with singlehood. Let’s face it, most people are without a partner not exactly by choice. But when you are a pet parent, the meaning of life changes completely. You are no longer governed by your own needs and wants. There is a another who is dependent on you for care, nurturing, love and security. And being the single parent, you work harder to ensure that. But what a pet gives you in return – there is simply no comparison.  

“Dogs Just accept you. And that total acceptance of good, bad, thin, ugly goes a long way to build you as a person. They also teach you to live in the moment. So you have problems, all the burden of the world on your head. And then suddenly, a wet nose with a furry face attached to it comes and snuggles into you and you are reminded that at this moment, here, now… everything is okay. And you learn to be grateful,” shares Vandana Singh from Bhopal, currently a single parent to nine excited dogs. 

Back when she lived in Delhi, she had one dog, JB who was the nucleus of her life. She has him to thank for keeping her fit. “I used to call him JB gym. Every morning, three hours, come rain, cold, heat! We had a route chalked out, but it was so much fun! He added discipline and order to my otherwise wayward life, which actually helped me survive as a freelancer. Moreover, heading outdoors with dogs helps to stay connected with your community and neighbourhood; otherwise nobody steps out these days. With dogs, you are forced to get out!”

Talking about how pets can benefit us mentally and psychologically, is Devashish Deshpande from Delhi, single father to two gorgeous cats, Ozymandias and Bulla. He believes, “There is a flip side. Often the need when alone is to give care more than receive it. Caregiving is an instinctive thing for many people. Pets are an outlet for that instinct without the pressures and stresses of decision making. One needn’t worry about the impact on their lives and futures of decisions based on your spending capacity and other obligations. And there is still the satisfaction of watching something grow healthy and happy because of you.”

Prateek Khurana from Gurgaon had a beautiful relationship with his cat, the late Kiki. “Single working male and a cat: not the most commonplace combination, especially in this part of the world. What started off as a simple kitten-sitting task, turned into a full time job over time. She was familiar with me, and I with her. Coming back home was comforting, her walking alongside me, rubbing herself against my legs. Frequently asking for attention, but, unlike dogs, equally requiring her alone time. Which worked for me. She even groomed me in between grooming herself. Sometimes for over half an hour. While it would be slightly painful at times, I didn’t stop her because it felt like I belonged right there, right then.”

Save the occasional cat fight where Kiki wanted to be let out of the window and Khurana thought otherwise, she achieved what women only dream of. “She made me responsible and disciplined. I worried more about her comfort than mine, like feeding her on time, clearing out the litter box regularly. I enjoyed it. Especially the entertainment. She could play by herself picking up a string and pretending it’s a living thing.”

It may be interesting to note that women may connect deeper with dogs and men with cats, depending on personality types. But that’s another story.

For several people, pets add a new direction, a new purpose to life. You may never have visualised your life to be a certain way, then enter pet and before you know it your path has shifted. However, more than what you give them, it’s what they give that cannot be measured or weighed. Warm, affectionate, loving and playful beings, brimming with positivity.

A single woman living by herself often needs to have her guards up, and if she has a couple of canine kids, it becomes easier to get by. As shares Vaijyanti Ghose from Noida, “My doggies give me a sense of security. If a delivery person comes to the door, I ensure that they are close by, to give the impression that I am not alone. Even when I step out at night, I take them in the car with me to keep trouble away. They are happy to hear me jabber away to glory. Sometimes they lick my face when sitting in my lap. That is priceless. Without them, I used to go batty, being silent all weekend without company. They also provide a sense of discipline because meals and walks have a fixed time. Thanks to them, I’m doing ‘grown up’ things, for example, I bought a car so I could take them to the vet in an emergency or on long drives. I also installed an AC in the house because I hated seeing them pant in the heat, and heaters for the cold weather. By the way, I also have fish and they have such a calming influence on me!”

In June 2018, Kurt Kessler Dias from Bangalore rescued a couple of abandoned, malnourished and dehydrated kittens who he named Sir Tobias Grey and Oliver. Unfortunately, Oliver didn’t make it. Dias and his sister, Kim had intended to put them up for adoption once they recovered. But that never happened. And when it came to Tobias, the single brother-sister duo fell in love with him and they became a family of three. Funnily enough, Dias has been more comfortable with dogs in the past.

“I’ve always been a ‘dog person’ for nearly all of my life. Dogs are truly humankind’s best friends without a doubt. I suspect there isn’t any other creature that can be truly selfless and capable of unconditional love like a dog.”

And then, he touches the core of how pets add a special meaning to the lives of single people. “Being single, one eventually longs for some kind of affection or love. Having a pet around makes that easier. A nuzzle here, a cuddle there can heal a broken heart or de-stress you when you’ve had a terrible day. Cats are amazing too. They just have a different language. They are also under the adorable assumption that they own us! Now when I think about it … I think Tobias may be right.”

In this digital age where the concept of physical proximity and warmth is diminishing, where human relations are turning colder and more self-centered, having a pet helps cope with loneliness and rough times. They also help dispel the notion that a family can only mean a partner and children. A family can mean anything. Wherever there is unconditional love, acceptance and care, a family starts right there. What more could make life truly meaningful?

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