How Meows and Barks Can Change Your Life

By Jedediah Bila

When I was five years old, mom bought me a kitten. I will never forget the day she pulled him out of her pocket, all 1.5 pounds of him nestled in her palm. I was completely in love in no time at all. We named him Scungilli after Grandpa’s favorite Italian meal.

Scungilli was independent, fearless, and outspoken. When he liked something, he would meow loudly. He would cuddle you to death, but only if he was in the mood. And sometimes he would hide away for hours–heaven knows where–to get some much-needed space from human idiosyncrasies.

Most importantly, though, Scungilli was cautious. He would approach strangers inquisitively, but keep his distance. He would size you up extensively before letting you approach his head for a pet. And if he sensed that something about a stranger wasn’t quite right, he would meow persistently, look at us, then sit on his haunches and let the stranger know that he or she would have to get through Scungilli to get to us.

Without ever realizing it, Scungilli taught me why it is important to protect the people I love, why it is smart to size people up before letting them into my home or my heart, and why it is integral to be independent, fearless, and outspoken in this great big world with unknown possibilities…

The year I turned twelve, my parents and I adopted Chopsticks. She was two pounds the day mom and I picked her up from the shelter. Mom named her after the chopsticks she had been trying to teach me to eat with for the last two months.

Chopsticks was daring and adventurous. She would leap from heights that would make mom scream in panic. I remember watching her before she would take a jump. There would be a couple of moments of hesitation before she would decide that yes, she could make it. When she would crawl up to an exceptionally high platform, she would take a minute to look around and see who was watching her. And then, just like that, she would jump, landing on all fours and proving anyone who doubted her wrong before tiptoeing off to a nap.

What I remember most about Chopsticks, though, was her patience. She would stand by quietly while mom or dad got her food ready in the morning, never meowing too loudly or waking anyone up before the alarms went off. When it was time for her to go to the vet, she would sit silently on the doctor’s table awaiting his arrival. She would even curl up in the back seat for a long car ride, never getting antsy or disagreeable, and would hop out when we arrived and stretch her legs like she understood the process as well as any of us around her.

I remember writing an essay for school on patience–an attribute I have never been terribly good at acquiring–and thinking of Chopsticks immediately. To this day, I am convinced that I owe my love of ridiculously high roller coasters and stupidly difficult balance routines, as well as the knowledge that the best things in life are worth the wait, to the seven-pound cat I loved so much…

In the summer of 2004, my best friend called me from a local animal shelter to tell me that I absolutely had to see the cutest kitten ever born. Having spent the better part of my life among cats–and knowing that he was more of a dog person–I had my doubts about his assessment. So I went to see her for myself. An hour later, she was in my arms in the car, less than a pound, headed to her new home with a bed and more toys than Santa could fit in his sled.








Mom took one look at her and named her Bronte after her favorite author. From the start, Bronte was more complex than Scungilli and Chopsticks. She was a finicky eater, particularly antisocial, and didn’t like to be picked up. She also didn’t like strangers one bit–any of them–and would make it well known with a series of hisses that once sent a refrigerator repair man running from the kitchen in terror. She was labeled “mean” by a few, “crazy” by some, and just plain “unlikable” by others. And I got the sense that she didn’t care one bit.

In 2005, I got sick with a terrible flu. You name the symptom, I had it. Bronte never left my side. She would curl up beside me in bed while I slept, follow me from room to room while I coughed, sneezed, and searched for Tylenol, and let anyone who approached me know that she was guarding her mama and that they better darn well have a good reason for being there.

At some point, I came to understand that when times got tough, Bronte was never too far away. If I was sad, had a fight with a friend, suffered a loss, felt under the weather–there she was, just a few steps away, watching me closely and letting visitors know that she had her eye on them too. Bronte didn’t care what others thought of her–or what I thought of her, for that matter–but she understood loyalty more than most people I had encountered in my life. And for that, I will always be grateful…

In the summer of 2009, I brought Emma home, a then two-pound Maltese whose facial expression in a photo eight weeks prior had won my heart.











Emma was my first puppy, and having spent many years around cats, was much more high maintenance than I had imagined. Plus, there was the occasional barking, which definitely took some getting used to. But there was so much more, so much to learn from a little white puffball with more energy than I knew something so small could harness.

She loves to give love. Don’t get me wrong, she likes to receive it too. But giving kisses is what makes her happiest.

She has a zest for life every single day. Say the word “outside” and she is up for any challenge, big or small.

She stops to smell the roses. Literally. This dog loves the smell of flowers. But also, she really appreciates the little things in life–a good nap, a tasty cookie, a relaxing walk, giving kisses to mama.

But there is something else. Emma can’t talk. She can’t write. She can’t sing or do any of that fancy human stuff. And yet she lets people know that they matter every day–me, my family, my friends, the doorman, the folks at the nail salon and the health food store. She makes them smile and laugh. And without ever saying a word, she lets all those people know that she cares about them every chance she gets.

Imagine the kind of world we would live in if more people did that.

Everyone who knows me knows how much I love animals, how much kindness I think they bring to the world. But it wasn’t until I put this all down in writing that I realized just how much they shaped me into who I am today, and just how grateful I am for the lessons they have taught me.

I hope I have given my pets just a small portion of the goodness they have given me.

So take a minute to think about your pets. Let them teach you. If you are anything like me, you have a lot to learn from them. And your life will be that much richer for it.

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general dentist fresno
9 years ago

Thanks for all your efforts that you have put in this. very interesting information. i like with express my support of your ideas in your article, and looking forward to your next article

9 years ago


Lady #1: Animals (dogs in particular) are dirty. They mess the house, throw up, ruin furniture, filthy the carpet. Why would anybody want one?

Lady #2: Well, I have NEVER had a carpet jump up, greet me, lick me in the face, and be so happy to see me when I walk in the door after a tough day!

Well said!

9 years ago


9 years ago


Patricia Griffin Ress
9 years ago

I loved your story. Mine is similar, only I began as a dog lover and became a cat fancier when I married my husband,Fred, 35 years ago! My first dog was a black toy collie with white chest and paws named Penny. Penny had two puppies: Nickel and Rin-Tin-Tin. We also had a toy Manchester Terrier and these little animals were just super!

Today we have a black cat that weights a svelte 5 lbs named Emma.She is a combo of your first three cats. Our little long-hair named Roscoe was 14 and became very ill and had to be put down. He left paw prints on our hearts!

Cats are a bit easier to care for and housebreak and now that I am approaching 70 that means more than when I was 10 and heard my mother saying,”Guess what? Penny had puppies last night!” It was all magic!

9 years ago

Pets are the port-in-the-storm. Predictable, loyal, non-wavering.

Why are humans so much less?

The parable of the Garden of Eden .exposed the human condition thousands of years ago. It’s an intractable conditon. All men are flawed to various degrees.

We can take comfort in nature; also an intractable reality. From dust to dust.

Be thankful we have these creatures to walk this well-worn path with. Be joyful for the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea. Be happy in your journey and take comfort with the animals that walk this path with you.

Harrison Woodard
9 years ago

Just lost my cat Boris after 20 years. He was an inspiration and my best friend during some very difficult times.

Thanks for the article.

God Bless our animal friends!

Frank Bagatta
9 years ago

“To The World You Are Nothing … To A Shelter Dog of Cat, You Are The World”

9 years ago

Thank you SO much – wonderful memories cam flooding back as I read your article about your pets. I’ve had pets all my life, til this day – I don’t know what I’d do without their unconditional love.
I had dogs & kitties & a horse as I grew up and your story made me begin remembering ALL of them – way back to ‘Fluffy’, always seeking out hiding places in closets to have her kittens in a clothes basket when I was a kid (early 50’s). THANKS YOU Jedediah!

Greg Borries
9 years ago

You made me tear up… Missing Fying & Merlin, the two most unusual & wonderful cat!s

9 years ago

Remember God made these little critters,it tells you a little something about him.

Patricia Grace
9 years ago

Heartwarming…it put a smile on my face.

9 years ago

Next time you are sad or sick, contact me and I will gladly curl up beside you in bed.

Great story. I love cats and dogs.


D. Scott Williamson
9 years ago


D. Scott Williamson
9 years ago

We raised seeig Eye Dogs as a family growing up in New Jersey. The 6 dogs we raised over those 6 years are a part of our family’s history and we often smile remembering the joy they brough us. Thanks for sharing your memories Jedediah

chef z
9 years ago

Thank you for putting into words so eloquently how I have felt about my furry brothers and sisters growing up, and when I was older my fuzzy, wonderful, four legged children. They have taught me more about unconditional love and friendship than I knew I was capable of feeling! Thanks for a wonderful column and God Bless you and Emma!

9 years ago

Thank you so much for your story it made me appreciate my pets all the more.

9 years ago
Reply to  paul

aika September 22, 2009 eeewwwyou made me reilzae isa akong malaking third wheel!!!sabi ko nga ba na dapat hindi kita sinamahan nun eh di sana mas may moment kayo nun hahaha. joke lang yoshke. leche ka, kinikilig ako sa kabadingan mo. ang haba ng hair mo ha! me likes this to infinity and beyond!

Judy Meade
9 years ago

I can relate to your experiences with your sweet cats and your little Maltese (I have one also). They are gifts from the God who loves us – they make us smile, laugh and forget why we were upset. Thanks for sharing.

9 years ago

Wonderful column Jedediah!

9 years ago

Great article and so true. I feel the same about my pets. Really great read.

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