“But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee; or speak to the earth and it shall teach thee; and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not that in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)
Do the above Bible verses give us that idea that animals are mere unintelligent brutes, in the overall scheme of God’s Creation? I think not! Animals all have souls, and we can, and should learn a great deal from them. As the years go by, those who study animals find that so many have astounding abilities we did not know they have, and many genius-like abilities we do NOT have! For example, many birds learn migration routes of many thousands of miles on the first try! And then there are the crows who bury tree seeds by the thousands over wide areas, and actually remember where they were put months later! I couldn’t do that, could you? Some great thinkers maintain that animals make us human, and without the animals humans would not do well at all. Domesticated animals, especially horses, dogs, and cats, are the species who most often become our personal friends.
There are so many ways we need to be operating as faithful, loyal friends to animals – ongoing. ALL animals, those on or under the ground, those in the sky, and those in the waters, need healthy, safe habitats in which to bear their young and live out their lives. They dearly want well-being, just as we do. We need to continue to examine our life styles to detect any and all ways we can avoid damage to them, and to the earth, and to do all we can to enhance the natural world we all desperately need. Our lives need to reflect moderation in consumption of the earth’s resources, humility, and respect.
On a personal friends level, our pets really do need us to be faithful, loyal friends. They need what we all need – a safe, healthy place to live, good, wholesome food, and fulfilling companionship. Doing a really good job of being faithful companions to animals is not so easy! We need to do a lot of in-depth learning about whichever species we take into our lives.
For instance, if I decide to obtain a dog, I need to carefully consider what breed, size, sex, and age dog would fit into my life and my living circumstances. Quiet lap dog for apartment dwelling? Big retriever or border collie for ranch life? Am I interested in agility training and showing? Or maybe I’m looking for a warm, cuddly sweetheart of dog to keep my aged mama company while I’m at work. A lot of thought needs to go into a dog-seeking effort. Professional advise should be sought. Libraries can supply all sorts of good information on breed characteristics and training programs. Friends who have dogs can be very helpful, and fun to talk to.
Appropriate equipment for dog keeping needs to be obtained. Collars, leashes, feed bowls, and doggie toys are needed, for a start. To be a faithful friend of our new dog, we want him or her to be very comfortable, so a soft, fluffy doggie bed is in order. Mine sleep on my bed with me. Many dogs get used to sleeping in a crate. The important thing is that the dog has a certain place in your house that he identifies with, and uses, as his own spot. Remember, dogs descended from wolves, who all had their dens. A fenced yard for outdoor atmosphere, fresh air, and exercise is wonderful to have. Vet services and dog grooming services (if needed) should be arranged for, as well as licenses and shots. Dog training classes are a great way to get to know your dog better. I took my carmel colored lab Sierra to two dog training classes of about 6 weeks each. The classes were just for Sierra and me to do something together, away from the other animals at my place. In summer evenings we would practice her doggie lessons out on the grass and driveway. She would request doing her lessons by going to the area where the leashes were kept, and I would recognize her request. I called Sierra our Angel Dog because she was always so sweet and good. We lost her to cancer last September, so I am extremely glad she and I had our own special time together. Sure miss her, too!
I’m discussing dogs as pets here, but the same type needs hold true for any species of animal one takes home to be a lifelong companion. They need good accommodations to be relaxed and comfortable in their home with you.
Now I would like to talk about that all-important aspect of your life together, your ongoing relationship with your dog (or whatever species you have). Here again, studying all the information you can get ahold of is a tremendous help. An excellent, fascinating book on animal behavior is Dr. Temple Grandin’s Animals In Translation: Using The Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. She discusses invaluable insights into animal motivations and behaviors very difficult to discover by one’s self. For example, she writes that animals see the differences between things more than they see the similarities. They do not generalize very well, not nearly as well as humans do. This means that they have to be trained for all sorts of different, but similar things. If you train your dog to come when you call his name, that does NOT mean he will come when your husband, or son, or daughter call his name. You have to train him to “come” to each person. If you want your dog to not overwhelm visiting toddlers, you have to train him to leave many different toddlers alone, not just one. Service dogs have to be trained to cross all sorts of different-looking cross walks, learning to negotiate each one at a time. In discussing horses, Grandin points out the fact that horses do not recognize a building to be the same building when viewing the building from another direction. On a walk down a country road, if a horse sees a barn, and then sees the same barn on the way home, he will not think it is the same barn. Learning about Grandin’s insights, and the insights of so many other animal scientists can bring whole new understandings into your efforts to get to know your own animal friend.
In order to be a true, faithful friend to an animal, one has to understand his or her needs, desires, discomforts, and communications so one can respond sensitively. My gorgeous, black, greyhound/lab mix dog does not have an undercoat. She has a beautiful, coat but it does not keep her warm in cold weather. I have to be very careful to be watchful to let her back into the warm house before she gets miserably cold. No dog, or any other animal, wants to be hungry and/or thirsty because the busy, preoccupied owner forgot to fill the bowls. No dog wants to be left alone in a house, scared, for long periods of time. No dog wants to have to sleep on a thin rug on a cold concrete floor in a cold, lonely garage sometimes even for years. No dog wants to be dragged by the collar coldly and briskly.
Much time is necessary, living together, to notice animals’ communication and their efforts to cooperate. I have a mare, Belle. When I tell her “over,” she gently moves her haunches reliably to the right to allow me the room to get by her and dump her hay in her trough. Gelding Sunny works with me, too. As I am raking up the stall, and turning his trough over to make it clean for his next flakes of hay, he sensitively moves out of my way. They obviously know the routine at hand, and willingly and reliably engage in their roles to make the procedures go smoothly. When the training and relationships are right, horses can sure be counted on. Marvelous! Precious, loyal friends! Actually, I am amazed at how much more I understand the meanings of my horses body positions, tail switches, ear positions, head lowerings, and so many other movements after spending years around them. We can work as teams because my movements are so familiar to them, too. I love it!
One last really important area of friendship to be talked about is giving the animal one-on-one attention. Talking to, hugging, kissing, gentle stroking, and playing all work to show them how valuable and loved they are. (Please do not pat. Animals do not like to be patted.) I like to give big, firm, but gentle “bear hugs.” Of course, what type of attention one offers depends upon the species. Bear hugs would not be suitable for little birds, for example. But all attention should be warm, sensitively given, and FREQUENT. Our precious animal friends want to be WITH US. If I have been gone only for a short period, when I come up to the back door the doggie noise starts. When I open the door, Shauna and Lucy are “all over me,” making me think that my being gone has been somehow stressful. When I get ready to go somewhere, they get all excited, thinking they can go too (which they often can), but if I say “I’ll be back,” they immediately and quietly walk to their beds and lay down.
Dr. Grandin is not at all for punishing animals, and I am not either. Boundaries and limits can be taught without causing the animals pain and fear, which will result in other unwanted problems. If an animal is doing something we definitely do not want and can’t allow, we need to seek to understand more about why the animal is doing the behavior. Has training been inadequate? Could the animal be hurting? Could a health problem be involved? If we can’t figure things out, perhaps we need professional advice.
Given the time and the inclination, we can make our very dear pets’ lives very rich and satisfying, and they can add immeasurable joy and meaning to our lives. The more we know and understand, the better things will go. One other fringe benefit is that our lives with our animal friends, when well lived, will definitely make us better human beings - more mature, more observant, more compassionate, kinder, more reliable, and so on. They are the best faithful friends we could ever have!!
Grandin, Dr. Temple. Animals in Translation: Using The Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. A Harvest Book, Harcourt, Inc. (New York, 2005).
COPYRIGHT – 2016 - Dr. Joyce The Caring Heart