Tuesday, February 20, 2018

National Love Your Pet Day!


Today is National Love Your Pet Day but don't you love your pet EVERY day? Of course you do! Americans are crazy for their companion animals, spending over $60 billion every year on them.  More and more companies are allowing their employees to bring their dogs to work with them because they know this will make for happier workers who don't have to rush home at night to take their dog out and feed him. People are calmer and less anxious when hanging out with a well-behaved, social dog. Dogs are now routinely deployed to communities after a shooting or other tragedy has occurred simply to help those suffering mentally and psychologically. Dogs are usually the species selected as therapy animals but there are certainly lots of other domestic animals who fill that role, officially and unofficially for their guardians.

Yet it's still legal in most U.S. cities to pay a veterinarian to surgically amputate the first digits of your cat's paws. Or to have your veterinarian "debark" your dog by altering his larynx and amputate the tender ends of his ears and tail because of tradition. And it's legal to leave your cat to roam outside in all kinds of weather or your dog chained up outside 24 hours a day and in freezing temperatures as long as there is some sort of shelter.  I propose that we replace the love with the word RESPECT. Respecting animals would mean that we allow them to have some autonomy and agency in their lives, while understanding that they rely on our common sense to know what is safe and healthy for them. We do not force them to meet our every expectation and try to suppress their innate behaviors just because they are inconvenient for us.

I am an advocate of adopting rescued animals but even animals purchased from a breeder can be vastly different than their usual "breed profile." That's why in addition to lots of mixed breed dogs and cats, there are always purebred animals at shelters or in foster homes with purebred rescue groups. Just like the person you once dated and now wonder what attracted you or the "dream job" you left after a few months, these animals turned out to be different than what their guardians wanted or expected. We may end up with a kitty who tends to hide when there is too much activity or company in the house, or a dog who piddles when he gets too anxious. We can use positive reinforcement and lots of affection when our animal chooses to do something we prefer over something we dislike, but ultimately we accept trade-offs within the relationship. We understand that a walk may take three times as long as it should because our dog has to smell everything extensively. We may know that we cannot leave anything remotely edible on the counters because when we turn our backs, it will be eaten by someone who shouldn't have such things. We understand that if we leave clothes, towels, or cotton rugs on the floor our cat may urinate on them because they have an ingrained "surface preference." We may sacrifice a single upholstered chair our kitty started clawing and prefers over any other scratching surface we've offered and just let him have the chair. We stop getting upset about these things because the relationship with our companion animals is worth much more than these small adjustments we make. In turn, our animals are confident and happy, not cowered and constantly having to adjust who they are to make us love them. They are their own little persons and we learn from them when we grow quiet and listen. 

Hannah (pictured above) only came to live with us about four months ago. I knew and loved her before adopting her but since our visits were previously limited I didn't fully appreciate how incredibly sensitive and intuitive Hannah really is. Hannah keeps me on my toes when I am not listening and plodding ahead in typical human fashion. She's a wise and beautiful soul in a cute tuxedo package.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love and Animals

 "Country living" to me means having lots of animals around, both wildlife who lived here before I did and domestic animals who require my care and attention. Much of my property will be left natural to encourage butterflies, bees and wildlife to flourish here. There are quite a few snags now with lots of woodpeckers taking advantage of them. I've heard owls at night and seen deer and one gorgeous coyote. I don't plan to operate a sanctuary for large animals but maybe someday I'll adopt some domestic animal friends larger than house cats. What the Animals Taught Me is a lovely book about the author's experiences with rescued sheep, a pony, donkeys, cats, chickens and even deer who take up residence on her farm. Stephanie Marohn weaves each of their stories along with life lessons she gained from these special animals. Her amazing relationships with the animals are based on respect and allowing the animals autonomy.

Ms. Marohn's first unconditional love lesson is about letting go of control. "Letting go of the need to dominate allows trust and love to blossom. It is a basic lesson in learning to open the heart and love unconditionally. Loving unconditionally means we do not predicate our love on the other doing what we want. Loving unconditionally means we work together for the highest good of both of us. To enter the realm of unconditional love, we let go of our desire to control, and focus instead on our desire to connect and communicate. And soon, a whole field of flowers is blooming before us," writes Ms. Marohn. Readers will get to know Charlotte, Pegasus, Gabriel, Wonder, and other animals as individuals. The animals' relationships with each other are also remarkable to read about from such an empathetic view. All of use who have shared our lives with a beloved kitty or dog understand the deep bonds that cross species and the love that stays with us long after the animal is no longer physically with us. The word "love" is commercialized, publicized, and tossed about a lot on Valentine's Day but love takes on many forms. What the Animals Taught Me is a wonderful book about love, simple and real.