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Pets, Social Software, and Unconditional Love


A Kiss for Jake, June 16, 2007

Originally uploaded by mstephens7

(Update: Jake died this morning, God rest his soul.)

There is much harrumphing over social networks in some quarters, and a certain pulling in of horns from people who overdid it in the first place.

But sometimes when the shock of the new has worn off we experience that thing that dazzled us with more appreciative eyes, the way love, after a decade or so, becomes a worn flannel robe, familiar and comforting.

When I look at Flickr, I see babies, and friends in love, and Liz’s new wardrobe, and children eating ice cream; and I see Michael kissing Jake, his dear old friend nearing the end of a long and honorable dog’s life.

I don’t expect Flickr, or any social network, to take the place of genuine face-to-face networking. But part of Flickr is to get to be part of Michael’s life a little more than without it, to feel empathy (I have guided an animal through old age and death) and affection (for Michael, who I know, and Jake, who I know through Michael).

Pets bring out the best in us: in exchange for unconditional love, they tease out our deep capacity to care for others and our abilities to parent. The tragedy of pets is that if we are lucky we outlive them, but the triumph is that pets teach us again and again the sweet brevity of life. Michael has documented all of this on Flickr — the love and the grief and the brevity — and he and I, and all of us, are closer for it.

If I could be there with Michael, I would wash his dishes, and knead his neck, and do whatever I could to create a little more time for Michael to be with his old friend. But I can be present on this network, through Michael’s pictures and my response, and in that way wrap Michael in the worn, soft flannel of my own love; and that is its own small miracle.

Posted on this day, other years:

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8 Comments

  1. Janet Griffing wrote:

    “The tragedy of pets is that if we are lucky we outlive them, but the triumph is that pets teach us again and again the sweet brevity of life.”

    Ah, yes, and beautifully put. I have known this grief more times than I care to count, having opened my life and my heart to a collection of dogs and cats over the past 30 years. I don’t know Michael, but I can feel for him. It can be so hard, choosing to do the right and loving thing for our pets when all we want is to have them with us for one more day. (And I have to stop there, ’cause I’m getting weepy…)

    Monday, June 18, 2007 at 6:32 am | Permalink
  2. Kathryn wrote:

    Karen, so eloquent a post. I, too, feel much more a part of Michael’s world through this story. And even while I have met Jake, you would not have to meet him to see the relationship captured in Michael’s flickr photos. You are so right…it weaves us all closer. This must be what telephones felt like in the very early days – the marvel of “being” with someone far away.

    Monday, June 18, 2007 at 9:12 am | Permalink
  3. Amy wrote:

    What a lovely post. I’m sitting here with tears on my face at work from having just seen Michael’s pics and realizing what happened…. wondering what in the world I can DO!
    Thank you for the post. I feel the same.

    Monday, June 18, 2007 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  4. Beautifully said, Karen.

    My husband and I have three dogs, and they’re members of the family. The joy of having them in our lives is worth the pain we feel when we lose them….but it is pain, nonetheless.

    My heart goes out to Michael.

    Monday, June 18, 2007 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  5. phyllis wrote:

    Thank you, Karen, for putting into words what so many of us feel about the “real” human connections that develop in the “virtual” world. My heart ached as Michael shared the sorrow of saying good-by to Jake. Helping our pets go at the appropriate time is one way we can pay them back for all the love they give us.

    Monday, June 18, 2007 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  6. Michael wrote:

    Thanks Karen. You said it so well. It was a long difficult day — I was alone with Charlie, who slept deeply for hours — but reading this post and following the comments at TTW and Flickr made me feel not alone. There’s nothing – no pontification, no “scholarly” diatribe, nothing — that can take these interactions away. They carry meaning, weight and most importantly, love. Bless you.

    Monday, June 18, 2007 at 6:42 pm | Permalink
  7. jennimi wrote:

    You articulated the two point “crux” so well. And what a perty photo of Michael and Jake you picked.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007 at 8:39 am | Permalink
  8. Paula Barnett-Ellis wrote:

    Thanks Karen for a wonderful tribute. I had the chance to meet Michael at a conference a few days ago, and have seen his wonderful dog photos. I just added my “babies” to Facebook’s Dogbook yesterday. I will go home and hug my puppies and cherish them.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Latest dispatches « Thus Spoke Pragmatic Librarian on Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 11:36 am

    [...] remains a part of our lives. I guess these feelings reflect what Karen Schneider says about the value of social software. They may allow us to become known to the greater world, but they can serve the deeper purpose of [...]

  2. [...] Michael’s posts on flickr and knowing that eventually this post would come. Then I read Karen Schneider’s perfect post about pets, and unconditional love and social networks, and I just have to [...]

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