Do our pets ever really love us – or do they just stick around for the food?

It is almost a year to the day since Dustin, our milky-eyed nervebag of a cat, died and we still miss him a great deal, although he was not a great giver of emotion. We miss his refusing to look our way immensely. And his not wanting to be stroked there, there or there. But it wasn’t Dustin’s fault he was like this. Unknown trauma in kittenhood (he was left in a shoebox at the front door of a vet’s surgery) meant that he lived his entire 11 years in terror of being mauled to death by some unseen enemy. Understandably, this constant fear made Dustin very, very nervous.

Through many years of care and affection, we almost managed to rescue him from this anxiety until – almost as if to prove a point – Dustin was mauled to death by two pet dogs off the lead. When we pulled his frozen body out of the freezer before his funeral, Dustin had a withering expression – “I told you so” it seemed to say. This was the only time we really got to stroke him properly. Frozen solid.

I often find myself wondering whether Dustin loved us. The shamefully needy part of me wants reassurance that we made his 11 years as pleasurable as possible. But can we ever really understand what pets feel for us? After a year of this topic swirling around in my head, I thought I would share where I’ve got to.

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