Friday, December 12, 2008

The Emotional Connection

Since the beginning of civilization, we humans have considered ourselves the caretakers of all animals. But we are not simply farmers who take care of our livestock for our own food production or herders who tend to our horses for our own utilitarian purposes. Our role as caretaker goes much deeper. As we dare to accept that animals are more than automatons of Descartes, that they are able to think, that they have emotions, we realize that we have another level of commitment and responsibility to them: to respect and care for them as living beings with internal lives, not just as creatures with physical bodies. It is absolutely imperative that we all share this luscious planet Earth with each of its inhabitants--two-legged, four-legged, finned, winged, scaled--in a respectful and thoughtful way. -- Allen Schoen, DVM, MS, Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans & Animals Can Change the Way We Live

This week, CNN published a story on research that shows that dogs have, and can demonstrate, emotions recently thought only to exist among humans and chimpanzees. Dogs in their study undeniably responded to situations with complex emotions. Their behaviors were not simply instinct, but clear demonstrations of affection, pride and jealousy, among others.

We receive untold numbers of emails and phone calls every week of people wanting to give up their pets for a whole host of reasons. Some of the most aggravating for me are the ones that start with "I just can't give him/her enough attention, and I want him/her to be happy." I honestly don't understand that statement in most scenarios. Unless something in life has drastically changed, this is not a true statement. What these people need to say, if they want to be honest, is "I am not giving my pet any attention, and I don't really want to. And as a result, he/she is probably lonely, hurt and depressed, and has started to act out behaviors to get my attention. I don't really care if my pet is happy. I just want someone else to take over this responsibility."

It's clear from these emails and phone calls we get that what Dr. Schoen says above is absolutely true. While providing fresh water, good quality food and a safe space is absolutely critical to the welfare of a pet, it's simply not enough. Pay attention to your dog or cat today. Give 5 minutes of extra attention (petting, brushing, a brisk walk around the neighborhood) and see what response you get. I am going to bet everything that you'll see those honest and real emotional responses from your pet. N0w, remember those responses when you fight with someone else in your home, when you ignore your pet because your favorite TV show is on, or when your day was so bad that you don't care if your pet's day is bad too. As happy as your pet is today with your extra, undivided attention is the just how sad, hurt and confused your pet will be when you create a negative environment.

We have a responsibility to create a world where every pet matters, and that includes a world beyond simple maintenance. Do something to make your pets happy today. I guarantee it's their turn.

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