What Can Pets Teach Us about Forgiveness?

By Linda Cole

I’ve rescued quite a few dogs and cats over the years, most of them wandering strays that were lost or abandoned. Some were healthy despite their life on the streets, and some were a little rough around the edges. A handful had been abused in one way or another. The one thing all of them had in common was their ability to leave the past behind and move on with their life. Humans may be the smarter species, but it’s the animal world that has an unbiased ability to forgive.

Most of us learn at an early age that life isn’t exactly fair. We experience setbacks, have missteps, broken promises or shattered relationships that can cause us to lose faith in other people. Things happen, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t control everything that occurs in life. When we feel vulnerable, our tendency is to focus on what made us feel bad, find someone else to blame or hold a grudge. Forgiving a wrong can be hard to do sometimes.

Our pets on the other hand, have the ability to forgive us if we make mistakes when dealing with them. Of course it’s not the same type of forgiveness we give to another person, but dogs and cats don’t hesitate to give us the benefit of the doubt when a human mistreats them or unfairly punishes them. Animals don’t translate the failings and mistreatment given by one human to mean all humans are abusive or unfair. We get a pass if we lose our temper and yell, as long as it’s not on a regular basis. No matter what kind of treatment a dog or cat experiences, they don’t hang on to the past, hold a grudge or complain. What happened in the past is not relevant for creatures that live in the present. However, gaining their trust may be harder to do if their trust was violated.

When a pet develops a bond, it means something to them, and your dog or cat won’t be the one to break it. Dogs rescued from underground fighting rings or puppy mills are perfect examples of the ability of canines to not hold a grudge against all humans because of bad treatment they received from an irresponsible person. Their trust and spirit may have been damaged, but their capacity to forgive remains intact, and their ability to learn to trust again is a gift they honestly and willingly give to us. It’s definitely a life lesson we can learn from dogs and cats.

A second chance is something everyone deserves for the simple reason that we all make mistakes from time to time. But it’s not as easy for us to leave the past behind, especially when we focus on something bad. Our larger and more sophisticated brain gives us the ability to remember things that happened years ago. When we feel wronged or mistreated, we are less likely to give someone a second chance to hurt us again. Forgiveness is strength, and a gift not only to another person, but to ourselves. Being human means our emotions can get in the way at times.

Dogs and cats have been in my life for as long as I can remember, and over the years I’ve made mistakes when training and disciplining. When I was younger, I believed the guilty look on a dog’s face meant he was the one responsible for scattering trash on the kitchen floor, tearing up a pillow, or the one who left a surprise on the living room carpet. Guilt isn’t something dogs feel, and their reaction to our angry response is meant to help us calm down. Instead of getting mad, pets forgive us for our human failings and move on.

We all have days when our pets may not get as much attention as usual. There are jobs to go to, meals to cook, kids to pick up, laundry that needs to be done, and a hundred other reasons why our pets are sometimes ignored. But no matter what kind of mood you’re in, the one thing you can count on is a gentle nose on your hand, or a quiet purr that reminds you “I’m here when you need me, forever and always.”

Pets have an amazing ability to let things go, and live in the moment. My dogs and cats have taught me to slow down and appreciate the little things in life. To turn my face towards the breeze and enjoy the subtle smells passing by, and cherish the moments we share. But the most precious gift my pets have given me is forgiveness when I mess up. That’s something we can all pay forward to another person.

Top photo by Celeste Lindell
Middle photo by Crystal Rolfe
Bottom photo by Gene Hunt

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