Wolfie, my sweet Maltese who died in 2015.

My love of animals began early. Or perhaps I should say, my sincere awareness of them began early. People can "love" all kinds of things, can't they? I "love" enchiladas. But, that's not the same, is it? To me, part of loving something or someone is seeing them with as much compassion and clarity that you can at the time.

Seeing them. Seeing them.

I remember being at family functions as a kid, say Thanksgiving, for example. My grandma's house was a simple place, and throngs of aunts, uncles, and cousins would somehow all manage to fit into that sweet little house. It was nice. However, chaos--even of the happy variety--can become tiring to some of us. I needed to get outside.

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She lived in West Texas, back when horned frogs were still quite plentiful. I used to love to go and look for them, always hoping to befriend one. Inevitably, I'd find one and try and pick it up as gently, as possible. Once I'd managed to calm the fellow/fella, I loved to pet it and watch as it eyes blinked with every pass of my finger across the tiny head.

It's interesting: I noticed how different ones seemed to have different temperaments. Some were extra rambunctious and hard to catch. Others having seemed to have embraced the zen mode of reptile life. It seemed evident to me then that animals can have quite different personalities from each other. I began to see them as more "individual" as opposed to just one more representative in a commoditized species.

And with those dogs and cats, and other creatures we take into our homes--how much more is this not so?

I'm not exactly sure why this seemed to so evident to me. It wasn't long before I'd run across other kids who did NOT have this same feeling about animals. I remember hearing a couple of kids at school laughing about how they'd almost boiled a frog, flung rocks at a bird, or threw firecrackers at the neighbor's cat. I just could never understand how one could engage in cruelty or laugh at creatures who mean us no harm.

Perhaps because people have different personalities, too.

Also, I'm sure these kids were receiving much different messages at home. Although, my dad would sometimes say things like "it's just a dog, get it off the couch," etc, at the heart level both of my parents taught us to be kind to animals. I gleaned early on from our conversations that cruelty to animals was a repugnant act. Gentleness, kindness, and even seeing animals as individual creatures made a deep mark on my heart that will never leave.

For some though, animals are only here for our purposes and they seem somewhat blinded to their inherent value. They take the idea of "dominion" to the point of entitlement with little or no regard for the creatures themselves. Yes of course, animals give us so, so much--shouldn't we be grateful? Shouldn't we do our best to create the best possible scenarios for these creatures that live, breathe, show affection for their young, hunger, and so on?

There are even studies confirming that instances of cruelty to animals are often common when looking back on the history of criminals who have murdered people. There's a direct correlation.

Ah, I could continue, but-- general takeaway: Being kind to animals and loving animals is not just about how they make US feel. They are living beings, too. They crave love. They have unique personalities. They deserve our tenderness. How do people learn this? It starts at home.