That Special Bond: In New York City, holding on to an animal for dear life

We know it immediately when we look into the eyes of another species: There can be a special bond. Many people feel it when they experience a moment with their dog or cat. For a few lucky people, we have experienced a bond with a creature as magnificent as an elephant, a rhinoceros, a whale, a dolphin, or an ape.

Below are some recent thoughts from IFAW CEO Azzedine Downes on that special bond. Look for more articles on this theme in the future…-- ED

As if in a storm and clinging to a life line, this man held a dog so thoroughly, so completely that I had to look closely to distinguish the dog from him.

Recently I boarded a train and made my way to New York City for a meeting with Rebecca Adamson, President and Founder of First Peoples Worldwide.

I had asked to meet Rebecca so that I could learn more about how indigenous people around the world view their relationship with animals.  The train ride was slow, but takes you through landscapes filled with natural beauty.

Arriving in New York City shakes you out of any reverie for nature fairly quickly.

Related: My Dog is My Home: The Homeless and their Animal Companions

I made my way through the maze of Penn Station and began my walk uptown. It was still early morning, unusually cold for this time of year, grey, overcast and there was room to look around the sidewalk.

As I approached scaffolding, I jumped out of the way of a menacing broom pushing last night’s trash right onto my legs. It was then that I noticed a homeless man sitting on a thin sheet of cardboard in the midst of the construction site. He had no jacket and did not seem to have anything to his name except the one thing he cradled in his arms. As if in a storm and clinging to a life line, this man held a dog so thoroughly, so completely that I had to look closely to distinguish the dog from him. He looked as if he was literally holding on for dear life.

I wanted to stop but then thought better of it. I did not want to intrude. The bond between people and their dogs is something I have been thinking a lot about these days. That bond between animals and people is so fundamental to the work that we do around the world, including temporarily providing shelter to the pets of homeless people. I was struck by how tightly he held the dog. I could only imagine how much he loved his companion and knew that the dog was not only providing warmth but, more importantly, love.

In my daily work, I consider as many of the ways that we as a team can help animals as possible. Increasingly, I am continually struck by the debt we owe the animals for providing us with so much love and companionship.

There is so much more we don’t know about how animals, companion and wild, enrich our lives and we theirs.

We are obligated to do all we can to repay the debt.


Won't you tell us about your special bond with a particular animal in the comments below?

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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters