When I was a kid, children could be seen periodically hopping as they walked down the sidewalk. We all knew that stepping on a crack would break our mother's back. In the movie, "Simon Birch," (an outstanding film that I've seen countless times) every spring the boys touched an overhead branch for another year of good luck. Rarely do I get in the truck to go somewhere that I don't whisper, "St. Francis, please protect all the little creatures, especially from me." Whatever compels us to begin these repetitive habits, once begun, they're hard to break.
Animals, at least my animals, have their own ritual actions. When we are going out to the deck via the kitchen door, Bessie Anne hurries after me, but takes a second to check her bowl; not to take a bite, just to look. She does this every time. Pearl is usually outside at dusk. As I walk out to tuck the critters in, I can count on Pearl running to me from wherever she might be. She wants just one swipe of my hand down her back and then she goes on her way. She never stays to be petted, it's just that one ritual touch she requires. Frank has his own obsession. When he wants out, he will never walk between me and the open door. He will go out of his way to pass by the "outer" leg. I've learned I can't force the issue by widening the gap; he'll find a way to squeeze past on the outside. These are not actions that were taught by reward. There is no apparent reason. These compulsions seem to spring from some internal source, be it human or animal. We're all funny creatures.