“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” — French writer Anatole France

Not long ago, I noticed a Facebook meme posted by an old friend and couldn’t help but chuckle. “This morning, I saw a neighbor talking to her cat. It was obvious she thought her cat understood her,” the meme scoffed. “I went home and told my dog. We laughed about it.”

That might say it all. We tend to get a good snicker out of how meshugge other people are about their pets, but we’re often just as guilty. We find ourselves baby-talking to our pets, pampering them needlessly with “gifts,” affording them human characteristics, dressing them up in humiliating garb (even yarmulkes and tallitot!), taking them out in public settings normally reserved for humans, etc.

It can get rather silly or odd at times. But animals have a way of worming their way into our hearts and making us behave in ways we normally wouldn’t.

Someone once told me it’s because animals never really “grow up.” Yes, they do get larger and older, and we savor the precious time we’re blessed to enjoy them. But they remain forever in an arrested state of development in which they’re always our “babies.” Unlike human children — who get older, become mouthy teenagers and eventually move out and morph into adults — pets never really graduate from their infant-like state. We still have to care for them, so we never really stop being their “parents,” if you will.

Sometimes, unfortunately, we let them down.

My mother was absolutely wild about animals. If a critter stepped into a room, she’d simply melt. Show her a TV commercial of a “talking” animal and she was captivated. In fact, my father once told me he knew she was his beshert when observing how smitten she was with dogs and cats.

Toward the end of my mother’s life, I once visited her and immediately saw she was a wreck. I asked what was wrong and watched her choke back tears while talking. My mother had a good friend with an adorable pug named Percy. He was a docile little mutt with a perfectly scrunched-up face (think Winston Churchill) who used to lie on the floor like a sack of coal. Everyone loved this fella, especially my mom.

But one scorching summer day, Percy’s harried “owner” absentmindedly left him in the backseat of her car by accident for a few hours — keep in mind, this was a very quiet, unobtrusive animal — and eventually raced back when remembering, only to find he’d passed away. Understandably, the poor woman was inconsolable, as was my mom.

Because they usually make such adorable and agreeable companions, animals are often treated by humans in a lighthearted, comical or marginalized manner. But they depend on us to take good care of them at all times. As their stewards, we are mandated to treat them with the utmost respect and quality of care they deserve. To quote the Book of Proverbs, “A righteous person cares for the needs of his animal.” It’s the least we can do, considering what they give us in return.

Thank you for reading our “Pets Issue.” We hope you thoroughly enjoy it.

Alan Feiler, Editor-in-Chief