Ask anyone who man’s best friend is, and they’ll tell you it’s the dog. But it’s not the 19th Century anymore, and in these times of inclusiveness, it isn’t just the canine who’s earned that title. Creatures from ferret to feline, from hamster to horse all can be companion animals, many worthy of the coveted ‘best friend’ status. Notice how we’ve done away with the pejorative ‘pet’. It smacks of ownership and notions of the lesser. From now on, it’s only a verb. These animals get us through tough times. If the past year has taught us nothing else, it’s that we rely heavily on our beasties from a different species.

Oh, and for simplicity’s sake, we’re going to go with ‘companimal’. Imagine my delight in thinking I had just coined the term. Not so. Look it up.

Why, in the first place do we get companimals? I think it’s because we have love to give, a surplus of it, and love to receive in a place that maybe can only be filled by love, with love.

At the end of a long day, few things are more comforting than a furry, non-judgmental sounding board. Imagine (many of you don’t have to) looking into your companimals big, beautiful eyes and venting about your day and having them simply stare back at you, each blink of an eye or raise of a brow saying ‘yes, of course you’re right, what an absolute $&*@% he is’. They just agree because they love us without condition. Our companimals don’t talk back. There is never debate. Never a question. With every sigh, they vindicate your position and defend your decisions. They soothe the soul.

Julie lives with her husband in a small town outside of Sudbury. Dog people from the beginning, last year they found themselves without one. Home from a recent surgery, Julie’s husband fell into a depression.  It was decided that a new dog would help to drag him out of his funk. As luck would have it, their daughter’s friend was looking to rehome his chocolate lab. We’ll call the dog Boone.

“The day we went to meet him, he took one look at my husband and climbed in the car and sat right beside him. We brought him home right then and there,” says Julie.

Julie says it was like he’d lived there his whole life. When her husband would lie back in his chair, the dog would lie across his lap. And every night, he slept half with Julie, half with her husband.

One day her husband fell, and Julie had to call 911.

“Boone lay down beside him until the ambulance arrived. When the EMT came in, Boone got up and came over to stand beside me.”

I know humans with less compassion than that hound.

“When I had a kidney stone attack, he literally lay on me,” smiles Julie.

They had to call a neighbour to take Boone outside so the EMT could come in the house.

“Even though we only had him for six months, he was the most devoted dog we have ever had. His previous owner said he had never seen him so happy. It was like he saved our lives, and we saved his.”

There is something, dare I say innately human about the desire to connect. Still, research seems to bear out that many other species are social and perhaps even share our desire to communicate in ways more profound than when its objective is merely something as primal as the propagation of its own kind. Some of us are cat people, others dog people. Some have unbridled passion for horses. Some bridled. Still others can find a kindred soul in the sort of creatures that do best in a terrarium. I’m not sure I understand those people. Whatever your preference, you know the comfort interacting with your companimal can bring.

What about that tendency for some to scoff at the idea that our fur babies are every bit a part of the family as any of the homo sapiens in it? Well, for my part I’ve had fur babies and the other, smoother kind too. Were it to come to the kind of decision a certain Meryl Streep character was once faced with, the choice for me would be an easy one. But that does not diminish the love we share with our companimals let alone imply that it isn’t as real.

And what do they ask for in return? A dog is content with a pat on the head or a belly rub. A cat will give you that unmistakable look that it wants to be left alone to nap in the sun. Snake? I don’t know. Coil up in the corner with a nice mouse? Apologies to all mice, fictional and real and to those currently enjoying the camaraderie of any rodent.

When we bring them home, the excitement is unimaginable. We share in their happiness and empathize with their pain. They are a never-ending source of joy when times are good and singular comfort at the times, we need it most. When we lose them, the grief can be paralyzing?

There is no shortage of places to seek out your own special companion. And there is no lack of wonderful animals looking for loving homes. Your investment can be as large or as small as you want to make it. Your return? Immeasurable.

By Nicole Blais, Founder of Goshenite Seniors Services INC.