Sometimes we have no choice. But the decision to bring a dog into one’s life means wanting to share your life with a dog. If there is no real sharing, then there is no life for the dog, unless he or she is lucky to also live with other dogs rather than one dumb master or mistress and having to endure a life of forced obedience or emotional over-indulgence: And worse—being tied up in some back yard alone for hours, a practice that humanitarians have sought to make illegal as a widespread animal cruelty, only to face the well-funded opposition of the American Kennel Club (AKC).
We have a choice not to buy one of the purebred ‘puppy mill’ pups— to which the AKC gives out registration papers regardless of the epidemic of genetic diseases and multiple health problems that afflict far too many of these commercially manufactured creatures. They and their parents are treated as mere commodities and only too often are kept under the most deplorable conditions by large-scale commercial breeders and others.
While the health and behavioral problems are costly and distressing to their uninformed owners, they are extremely lucrative to the McVeterinary hospital; to the multinational pet food industry with its prescription diets for various veterinary medical health problems; to the expanding pet health insurance business; and of course most royally to the transnational pharmaceutical industry. Consumer beware—don’t buy a pup in a poke, especially a purebred one or ‘designer’ cross-breed specifically bred for money and not primarily for love, as the good breeders of all sound and beautiful dogs most certainly do.
Even psychotropic drugs are being prescribed for the thousands of alone-at-home dogs who suffer from separation anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders, and extreme boredom. Uncounted thousands spend all day imprisoned in a small crate so they don’t soil or wreck the home. Maybe being chained outdoors all day– provided there’s water and a kennel for cover–isn’t as bad as this in the more affluent, single-living working community where it is common practice to crate the dog all day. Could you in good faith live with yourself if you had to keep your dog in a crate all day, or keep him/her on Prozac for life? There are ways to avoid these non-solutions to living with a dog that I want to share with all.
Deciding to get a dog to live with, and not become ensnared by any of the scenarios and issues above, is a major life decision: Your life— and the dog’s. The dog could someday even save your life or that of a family member or complete stranger for that matter. Some dogs are, just like people, more empathetic and aware than others, humans included! So consider saving your dog’s life first, as by adopting one from your local shelter, or go on-line and find the purebred or special dog of your liking that is in foster care waiting for a good home, and with his or her health, temperament and behavior profile well documented.
Before you get a dog you should consider that the animal could become a social liability, untrustworthy around people, especially children and other animals, or emotionally and financially challenging, for health and behavioral reasons, as well as demanding much time and attention. When will you have the next vacation—can you take the dog? Who will care for the dog when you must travel on business, or be away all day at work? So make an informed rather than impulsive choice before you get a dog, and be educated beforehand as to how best to raise and care for your dog in order to nip such problems in the bud; and bring out the best in both your dog and you.
Many people get a dog, like having a child, just for themselves in order to feel loved and to have something in their lives that they can indulge or control, regardless of the adverse consequences, as when dogs become obese from over-feeding; unpredictable and hyperactive, even aggressive when tied up or crated all day; and uncontrollable perpetual puppies or addled adolescents as a consequence of having been over-indulged and permissively or inconsistently raised.
Normal dogs soon learn to respect boundaries, and what behaviors are acceptable or not. But many dogs can cross other boundaries in the realm of the emotions*, because they can be so empathic as to help us cope better with grief, depression, panic attacks, high blood pressure and all of life’s stresses. People with chronic medical conditions like diabetes and epilepsy, as well as the physically handicapped, enjoy greater quality of life with a canine companion who has become attuned to their condition.
Such great canine gifts and potentials in every dog call for our unconditional respect and gratitude; and understanding that deciding to bring a dog into your life means realizing how sensitive, aware and emotionally intelligent most dogs are. If you can guarantee these conditions of respect, deep understanding and appreciation for the dog or puppy you bring in to your life, and have the time and patience to provide the animal with the quality of life necessary for his or her well-being, then you are fit to have a dog.
Be prepared for when your dog dies to be emotionally devastated, grieving far more than you ever anticipated. Grief counseling through your local Humane Society or veterinary referral to a specialist is highly advisable if you do not have supportive and understanding friends and family to help you through the morning process. Believing in an after-life, a God, or reincarnation may help little in coping with the initial shock and pain of losing a beloved canine companion. But later such beliefs, and the empathy and support of others, can help bring our spirits back to life. and to accepting the loss as well as loving memories of good times shared; and moments of communion.
If you die before your dog, then you will have at least one genuine mourner at your wake if you lived for your dog. Your dog lived for you, so make adequate provisions in your will before you die, and also if you must go into some care-facility where no dogs are allowed. This is a tragedy for many elderly people whose animals kept them healthier than those who have no such beneficial companionship, and by bring dogs into their lives helped reduce the burgeoning health care costs to society. This means that society must not only acknowledge the central importance of dogs in many peoples’ lives, but also the many benefits that dogs bring to society, and for which they should be recognized and appreciated; and their rights and interests respected.
Many illnesses and behavioral problems in dogs, cats and other companion animals can be prevented, and others cured by their caretakers/guardians adhering to five basic principles. These principles combine to make a simple formula to help insure animals’ health and overall well being: Right Understanding and Relationship + Right Breeding/Genetics + Right Nutrition + Right Environment + Right Holistic Veterinary Care. = Animal Health and Well-being.
It is every person’s responsibility as an animal lover and care-provider to recognize the importance of these principles as basic animal rights for several reasons. These include the prevention and alleviation of much animal suffering; and reduced veterinary and other related costs associated with many animal health and behavioral problems, if not most, and even having to euthanize the animal or put her/him up for adoption.
These principles bring out the best qualities in people as caregivers by enhancing the human-non-human animal bond, and in those animals under their care in terms of quality of life and relational/emotional experience. They also provide an ethical compass of responsibility and compassion to advance the moral/character development of children, who, in learning by example how to respect and care for other animals, enhance their self-esteem and self-worth through loving service, and in the process refine their ability to empathize with other sentient beings.
As animals have served and benefited us for millennia and continue to do so in myriad ways, so we benefit the more we serve and help them as our wards, companions, healers, teachers, patients and friends—all of whom are related to us, but are more ancient, if not wiser than we. The bond that people have with the animals in their lives must become a boundless circle of compassion, expanding to encompass all living beings, domestic and wild, captive and free, if we are to justify keeping any animal as a domesticated companion beyond our selfish needs.
Our duty to care for our animals, with or without love, calls for basic knowledge and understanding of animals’; needs, and for us to have the resources, ability and commitment to provide for same. Love alone, without real understanding and basic knowledge of animal care, will not suffice in fulfilling this duty, and may cause more harm than good.
“Every creature is a word of God.”
* For documentation, and further reading on how to keep your dog healthy and happy, see my book Dog Body, Dog Mind: Exploring Your Dog’s Consciousness and Total Well-Being. Guilford, CT The Lyons Press, 2007.