- Pets are meant to be enjoyed by their people.
Over the years as a practicing veterinarian, this has been one of the most rewarding aspects of interacting with people and animals. It never takes long for a pet owner to discover and share stories about what makes their pet so special and lovable. One of my most memorable examples is Roxy, a 17 pound mutt who was rescued one cold and rainy day by Angus McSheen. Roxy’s misfortune of being dropped along the roadside turned out to be the best thing he could have dreamed of (if indeed dogs have dreams). As fate would have it, Mr. “Soft heart” McSheen noticed the soaked, shivering and rejected black puppy lying in a ditch who was surely about to become road kill. From that day on, Roxy became the recipient of everything a dog could hope for or need. Soon it became clear that Roxy provided a great deal of love and respect that was sorely lacking in the home of Mr. and Mrs. McSheen. I can imagine some of the scuttlebutt shared when Roxy he and Mr. Angus had time alone!
2. Pets are a responsibility.
You would think this one is too obvious to mention. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson people often have to learn the hard way. Far too often people acquire a new pet with the best of intentions, only to realize after an accident occurs or an illness develops, they are not financially able to provide the care needed. Others realize too late their commitment is not as strong as they thought. A little research and soul-searching ahead of time can prevent such heart-wrenching situations.
3. Pets are good at making us laugh.
I can never forget the first (and perhaps the only) dog I ever saw who wagged his tail vertically instead of laterally or in circles. “Bouncer” had a medium length, shaggy tail which never became motionless as long as someone was taking notice. The more we and his owner laughed, the faster it wagged up and down. Wish we could all be good sports like that!
4. Pets are happiest when well-trained.
Animals are creatures of habit and really don’t enjoy change. They need to know what is expected of them and where the boundaries lie. We all recognize the “people pleaser” tendencies in dogs. And, even though it seems that cats enjoy “pushing the envelope” on those boundaries, they too function far better when well-trained. Research shows that behavior problems are the major reason pets end up in the animal shelter.
Late one winter afternoon as the sun was setting on a day of quail hunting, my friend realized his liver and white English Pointer was missing. Finally, it became clear that all of our calling and whistling was not going to bring her in. So, he confidently removed his hunting coat and laid it on the ground where the dogs were released hours before. When we returned a couple of hours later and the headlights swung around to illuminate the coat, there lay “Sally” sleepily waiting for his return.
5. Pets are expert communicators.
Numerous times each day veterinarians are afforded the unique experience of opening exam room doors. In many ways this is akin to entering the home of a client and their pet, especially since animals are territorial and their territory is whatever space their master inhabits. For me, at least, some people are harder to “read” than others. But, it only takes a few seconds of interaction with an animal to assess their disposition at the time. Nine out of ten times the atmosphere will be positive as in wagging tails or contented purring.
However, I will never forget finishing a conversation with the owner of a large Doberman about our treatment plan and what time she should return for her pet in the afternoon. As I reentered the exam room I was vaguely aware of a little tension in the air. When the scene was complete, the pet nurse was on the exam table and the Doberman was circling the perimeter of the room. This animal had clearly communicated to a human not only his troublesome disposition, but his serious intentions. All without making a sound.
6. Different pets fit different people.
Though certainly not true in every case, it amazes me how often people have facial features with an eerie resemblance to their pet. Still, it’s not a good way to choose which pet is right for you and your family. For some people a pet snake is a happy match. Others, like my Mom, would surely not survive a full night knowing one was in the house. Many years ago a client became the proud and happy owner of a Bengal Tiger. Still others fall in love with iguanas, birds, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters and even turtles. Some questions demand answers BEFORE acquiring a pet. For example, will I be able to provide the right environment, the right nutrition, substantial medical care, proper training, make knowledgable decisions, offer love and attention and accept 24/7 responsibility?
7. Pets get sick and injured, too.
All of us easily recognize symptoms like persistent vomiting or diarrhea, labored breathing, lacerations and smelly swollen ears as indications for seeking veterinary care. But, there is one serious condition which can often escape the attention of even the most loving and concerned pet owner. I’m referring to dental disease. Yes, it seems the bad breath would be a dead giveaway. Nonetheless, I cannot remember how many times a little Ms. I.F. Ida Known was aghast to realize her baby now has gingivitis and a few loose teeth. When dogs are young, it’s hard to understand the importance of dental care, but the sooner a plan is put into place, the better the chance of avoiding playing catchup to achieve a healthy mouth.
8. Pets, especially dogs, will swallow almost anything.
I was young and still relatively inexperienced, but it didn’t take long to realize the firm mass palpable in the abdomen of “Hoover” the Blue Tick Hound meant surgery would be unavoidable. Shortly, I was proudly displaying the corn cob I had removed from his intestines and wondering how in the world he managed to swallow that rough and unbending six inch object. Not to mention why, because I knew he belonged to a man who fed him very well. You name it, and they will swallow it! For instance, numerous rubber toys, homemade Christmas ornaments complete with straight pins, brillo pads, discarded ear plugs consumed over time as the owner left them out each night after using them at work, pacifiers, fish hooks, coins, rocks and sticks along with a few unmentionables to name a few.
9. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Do you realize that people would to this day live in fear of contracting the horrible disease called rabies were it not for widespread vaccination of companion animals against the disease? While in vet school we were shown a short film of a hospitalized human patient suffering from rabies. After all these years I can still visualize what I saw and that visual has served as a permanent reminder of the importance of the simple procedure of administering an injection designed to provide immunity.
The Summer of 1978 brought a new disease to my attention. Although it’s been pronounced in numerous and humorous ways, the disease is cruel and deadly. Before anything else was available, veterinarians used a vaccine produced to prevent feline distemper as a preventive measure. Thankfully, an effective vaccine for dogs was soon on the market and has effectively saved countless lives and avoided much suffering.
To be sure, vaccines are only the most obvious form of disease prevention. Others, just as important, include: proper nutrition, dental care, yearly examinations, internal and external parasite control and behavioral training.
10, Pets can teach us a lot about life.
Obviously, volumes could be written for this one, but I do have a favorite that stands out from them all for me. This characteristic, demonstrated so well by a family pet, seems to be diminishing among their human counterparts. Spouses need it from each other. Kids need it from parents. Friends need it to experience friendship. Communities need it to thrive. Sports teams cannot succeed without it. Businesses depend on it to thrive. Family pets possess it and demonstrate it all the time. So why is it difficult for we humans to understand the value of the characteristic called loyalty?
I’d love to hear things you’ve learned about and from Furry Friends!