Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why Do You Have A Pet?

Why Do You Have a Pet?

Author, Jan Casey

It really seems like such an easy question to answer. Why do you have a pet? People volunteer lots of reasons why they don’t have a dog or cat – they don’t want to be tied
down, too much hair, too expensive, not enough space. I am always glad these
folks don’t have pets since they have clearly outlined in their heads what it
is about another living creature that would disrupt their daily existence.
Still, the responses I got when I informally surveyed folks about why they do
have a pet proved thought provoking.

I’ve tried to group responses into classifications, though I doubt it is fair. The reason a person gets a pet may start out for one stated purpose, but the relationship often
evolves, changing the ultimate answer to the question of “why.” For example, as
the Disabilities Coordinator at the University of Tampa, I had the
pleasure of working with a young woman who had been challenged with multiple
sclerosis, leaving her wheelchair bound and in need of help for even simple tasks.
She obtained a wonderful golden retriever specifically trained to pick up
dropped items, turn on lights, provide her with physical stability, and get
assistance if needed. Though her initial intent was to have help, she later
confided that it was the dog who made her want to get up in the morning, who
made her feel as if she could go on each day.

I received many responses that highlighted the bond that develops between pet and owner. One person stated “It seems to me dogs and I are able to communicate with each
other more clearly and more easily than I can with most people.” I had multiple
responses that made note of the deep connection felt with dogs, one that is
hard to describe. Indeed, authors such as Patricia McConnell, when speaking of
her beloved border collie Luke, and John Grogan, who wrote about his Labrador
in Marley and Me, have worked hard to convey this special bond, yet some
still do not understand it.

For several people, having children, naturally or through adoption, was not an option and they felt a dog would fill that void in their lives, giving them an opportunity to share with another being the love that they have. I smiled when I read the statement
“Turns out we are the ones who got so much love in return.” For couples who can
have children, some have chosen to have pets first as an opportunity to
practice their joint “nurturing skills” before bringing another human into the
world. Clearly, pets provide an opportunity to experience a love and bond that
might not otherwise exist.

Some responded “You mean there is life without animals?” They have had animals all their lives and they seem unaware that a daily routine can exist without feeding times, grooming schedules, trips to the vets, training, and exercising. They are, however, wonderfully aware of the warmth shared by a furry being cuddled next to them on a cold winter day, the look a pet can give that conveys trust and love, the joy of
having a companion ready to go for a walk on a cool Fall morning.

Many respondents claimed to have gotten pets to help out friends or to save the animal’s life. “To care for just a few who could not care for themselves” or “she needed help finding homes for 12 giant puppies” are two responses typifying acts of kindness which brought some to pet ownership. Another writes “[we] saved a cat that had been
hit by a car. It took 3 surgeries, 2 months of recovery & hour-by-hour care
never knowing if the cat would make it before he woke up one morning &
played with a toy ball I had bought for him.
I put every bit of myself into nursing Lazarus back to health & despite the
odds we made it.” I think most people who have rescued an animal would agree
they received as much love or more in return for that act of kindness.

Animals give people a
chance to look outside themselves, to make improvements in character. To quote
one friend who responded about dogs, “Their cognitive abilities test our
character to make ideal choices, to be loving rather than impatient.” They
allow humans to give of themselves without the question of motive arising. And
for those who have an animal with a handicap or issue, the lesson of patience
is more what we learn from observing the animal as he copes with daily life
rather than something we learn in caring for the pet. They are marvelous teachers,
tolerant of their pupils (us) who are often blind to all the information they
have to offer.

To those who still don’t understand why some of us have pets, why we treat them with love and respect, why we advocate for the well-being of all animals, you may never understand. It is difficult to put into words. We don’t care more for animals and less for
people. For most of us it’s an extension of our love for all living beings.
It’s not an either/or proposition. Two Biblical passages say it all: “A righteous
man cares for the needs of his animals” and “Blessed are the compassionate, for
they shall receive compassion.”

Jan Casey is a reward-based trainer in Florida
at Courteous Canine, Inc.
and owner of Smiles and Wags Pet Services Mrs.
Casey is a member of the Association of Animal
Behavior Professionals.
Mrs. Casey is a columnist for the Cookeville,
Herald-Citizen PetPages and Kid's Korner . This column was originally written for the Herald-Citizen

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