Pets, our health and happiness: 3 things animals teach people

I first wrote about this subject last March.  I’ve been doing an enormous amount of thinking about it lately, especially since I’m constantly drawing correlations between the health needs of humans and non-humans alike. Health experts are constantly telling us about the health benefits of pet ownership and there have been numerous studies and scientific evidence.  They can teach us at least 3 things–but maybe more.

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I read a thought-provoking article recently on the Purely Puppy blog from PetMD. A client brought her new puppy in to the vet for a first visit. The vet kept trying to conduct a health history, but the conversation just kept circling back to the owner’s past pet who, apparently, was perfect. This isn’t unusual, the vet says, because when pet owners suffer a devastating loss of a past pet, they often try to project those memories on the new animal, often leading to disappointment, unfairness and discomfort.

Baxter--my

This article really made me think hard. My dog, Baxter, a Westie, was the perfect dog; he was healthy, happy, smart, funny and loving. He was also ultra calm; even the vet commented that nothing ever seemed to upset him.

When Baxter passed away, it was a long time before I could ever think of getting another pet. I finally began to look at other Westies, but this article made me wonder if I was just trying to reproduce another Baxter. Would be a better idea for me to go with a completely different canine breed–or maybe even a different species, like a cat?

It also made me remember how I once tried to project those “perfect-pet” memories on Baxter. It was grossly unfair to Baxter, overwhelmingly sad for me and, I’m sure, very uncomfortable for those around us.

You see, Baxter’s predecessor, Dudley, a Cairn Terrier, was another “perfect pet.”  I was devastated when he died. Dudley and I had many wonderful, sweet memories, but the most poignant one was this: Every Saturday morning, Dudley and I went to puppy kindergarten class and later, weather permitting, we’d go into a nearby park for a walk, play and fun.

I brought Baxter home only two weeks after Dudley’s passing. Westies and Cairns are very similar in breed; in fact, the American Kennel Club once considered them the same breed. I immediately enrolled Baxter in the very same puppy kindergarten class, and planned to play with him in that same park afterward. I mistakenly thought I could produce those same exact memories, but all it did was flood me with crushing sadness. I was unfocused, distracted, and even burst into tears during the class. It was at that moment that I learned that Baxter and I needed to create our own memories, not just ride on already-existing ones.

There are many ways to honor a memory.  Actually, this blog is one of them, because it’s dedicated to both Baxter and Dudley.  Other ways to honor might be to volunteer at, or donate to, a shelter. You can even volunteer at a rescue; maybe a local veterinarian needs some volunteer help.  You can also be an “aunt” or “uncle” to a canine or feline neighbor. I used to take care of a neighbor’s dog; Kris worked long hours outside of the home. I have a home office so I’m often around.  Kris’ dog had his own toys, bowls and treats at my house, so he probably just thought of it as his second home.

Meanwhile, the veterinarian and author of the article, urges us to think of all our animals and what they contributed to our lives; my cairn, Dudley, taught me patience, because he would constantly test me and try to outsmart me.  Baxter taught me about happiness, because he had one mood only: sheer joy–and that tells me you really can find something positive in almost any situation. Duchess, my childhood dog, was always my “protector.’  A cousin’s cat, Meow-Meow, started life in the most horrifying way, but is now healthy, happy and very well-adjusted; that makes me think we should always be hopeful, even in the most dire situation. Another cousin’s dog, Logan, taught me about courage and loyalty–especially when he protected his family be chasing a bear away from the house and into the woods (He’s totally okay–came back completely unscathed.)

This is Logan, who put himself in grave danger last summer when he chased a black bear off property to protect his little (human) brothers.

This is Logan, who put himself in grave danger last summer when he chased a black bear off property to protect his little (human) brothers.

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About Irene: Irene Ross is an integrated nutrition and wellness coach.  She works with both humans and non-humans to help them alter unhealthy habits so they look and feel great and finally get off that diet roller coaster!

Author of the e-book, Sugar’s Sour Story, and of the forthcoming book, 25 Ways to Fire Up Your Day: Increase Energy, Get More Done in Less Time, Balance Your Life, her website is:  http://www.irenefross.com

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