Melinda Lee Schmitt

How can I be unconditionally loving and still get my needs met? This is a question I pondered for years. It felt like every time I allowed myself to love another human without condition that I was giving away my power. At the same time, I wanted other humans to love me unconditionally but the moment I didn’t fulfill their needs or made them feel uncomfortable by asking for my own, I felt unseen and unloved. The only relationships that allowed me to feel unconditional love were with my pets. 

The first pet to show me this unconditional love was Gigi, a black standard poodle. She was brought in to our family when I was about 6 years old. She came to me when I called, comforted me when I was sad, and no matter how ugly I was behaving, she was always there to love me back to pieces. Throughout the years, whenever life got too hard, it was always the fur babies that I turned to. Yet, it wasn’t until a few years after I started intentionally communicating with animals that I realized I could learn so much more about unconditional love by asking them.

The greatest example I was given was when I was pet sitting for a blind, deaf, special needs Boston Terrier, Bella. I was her pet nanny because her needs were so great, she couldn’t be left alone for longer than about 20 minutes. She had a seizure disorder and trouble properly digesting foods. She lived with 3 other fur siblings, a black cat, calico cat and a sweet, gentle, blonde pit bull named Nala. Nala was relatively short but incredibly stocky and strong. She had no interest in being an alpha and happily left that role to Bella. Nala simply wanted to be cuddled with and adored. Bella on the other hand, knew what a diva she was and placed demands on whoever was around to fulfill her needs. 

A typical day involved Bella pacing in a circle around her living room and kitchen. She had a well-worn path that everyone in the family was quite familiar with. The only times she wasn’t pacing were when she was being fed, taking a short nap next to Nala, or pacing her secondary path outside during potty breaks. 

On this particular day, I was working at the kitchen table and Nala decided the closer she was to me the more likely I would give her attention, so she sat right next to my chair – which happened to be directly in Bella’s well-worn path. As Bella began pacing around the kitchen island, I stopped working to witness what would happen when she encountered Nala in her way. I was expecting one of two things, either Bella would notice her there and figure a way around her or, more likely, Nala would move out of her way. To my surprise, it was neither of these.

Bella realized Nala was in her way only when she stepped on her. Nala cocked her head in a gesture Bella couldn’t see that conveyed, “what are you going to do?” Bella, in true diva fashion simply continued to walk forward straight over Nala. I continued to watch this spectacle unfold without intervention. Surprisingly, Nala growled and nipped at Bella’s leg while continuing to remain rooted in place. Bella begrudgingly side stepped off of Nala and worked her way around the body blocking her path. 

When the encounter was over, I was stunned. Neither dog gave up their power yet both still got their needs met in this loving exchange that nearly moved me to tears. I identified more with Nala in that situation yet both taught me invaluable lessons in unconditional love. Nala liked where she was sitting and was determined to remain there. When Bella came around, she didn’t see Bella’s limitations, only her capabilities. In maintaining her ground and establishing a boundary that she is not to be stepped on, she treated Bella as an equal and gave Bella the opportunity to find another way. Bella didn’t victimize herself and cry until she got her way, she simply dusted herself off and kept going. They both loved themselves so much that they trusted the other would still love them when they stayed true to themselves. And, even if they didn’t, that was ok, because they still had themselves. That is what true unconditional love looks like. That is how unconditional love always looks in nature, “I love me so much that I can love you equally.”

I discovered that it’s not that I didn’t know how to be loved and still get my needs met. It was that I didn’t love myself enough to trust that my needs would always be met. I had to learn that I didn’t need anyone else to love me unconditionally as long as I gave myself that love. The irony is once I learned to give it to myself, I would no longer need it from anyone else, pet or human alike and that’s when I would receive it the most.