April 30 is not a well known day. It passes by like so many, people unaware of the significance. Even I was unaware until this year. One of the fun parts of the Sunday Edition is learning things from the weekly “Are you Aware” column, and as it is, sort of, Pet Month, let me share a little love for our pets.
Animal shelters require dedicated volunteers and staff. Aid and adoption is a part of that system. Animals come in daily but shelters don’t always see adoptions daily. Caring for those animals is a temporary arrangement, but it is all in service to finding a “forever home.”
Hosting this special day is an attempt to raise awareness, but it also encourages you to visit a shelter and find your new “fur baby.” Owning a pet is a major deal. Maybe your mom or dad explained this when you were younger and you got the whole, “You’re going to have to clean up after it, feed it, bathe it, etc.” Maybe you didn’t get that. That could have been just me.
Let’s examine this phrase, “Fur-babies.” It’s a fun little title that adds a little light-heartedness to owning a pet. But for some, it’s so much more telling about their answer to a highly personal issue.
Speaking with a certain family, the very touchy subject arises and a truth is shared that they cannot have kids. This is a very serious issue that more people than you think deal with. Some may go through medical treatments, adjustments, adoption, foster homes. There is a myriad of choices and alternatives, though some may not get results from many of those options. This particular family decided not to even try them. Instead, they focus their attention on a substitute, a dog. A “fur-baby.”
It’s great to see a family share their life with an animal. It’s not the exact same thing as a child, but they make it work. Their dog is not only there to be playful and be a companion. But it fills a gap in their life, addresses a need to nurture something. They share their love and connect deeply with this animal in such a meaningful relationship that they have. Lines start to blur and the parent-child relationship with an animal growing deeper across years, on to a decade seems not only feasible but healthy in this environment.
My personal family, we have a dog and two cats. I love my dog, she is high energy and requires a lot of attention and maintenance. Just like that family, I get and give so much in this connection. Teaching her tricks and commands gives me a sense of accomplishment and goals in her training. Each time she learns and grows, it rebounds back that I have grown a bit. Teaching something to anyone or anything is a marvelous feeling.
Like hunters who rely on their dogs in the hunt, travelers in the snow using sled-dogs for transportation, or emergency services utilize search and rescue dogs, there is a connection between a person and the pet they put time and effort into training. Don’t believe me? Then ask police who work alongside k-9 units, ask military who use sniffer dogs and similar activities.
Am I at their level? No. But, I use the example because I have felt something in my relationship with my dog that I can’t quite describe. Is it simply pride? Something different? I can only point to popular examples and say, “It’s sort of similar.”
Also, my dog provides a service to me. It’s not just about taking care of something small, teaching it, raising it, helping it to grow. It’s also about what I get in return.
I have had bad days just as you have. Those absolutely horrible, anger-fueled days that reach beyond irritated and go full-blown explosive rage. We all know them.
Let’s play to the stereotypes a moment and think about a six-foot-tall 280-pound, muscle-bound action hero in the movies. From the more recent movie “My Spy” all the way back to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Kindergarten Cop,” the hard-nosed guy meets a young girl who teaches him that there is a soft spot in all of us. Makes for great action-comedy movies, or at least popular ones.
That is exactly what I get on these days from 15 pounds of chaos. Amid these awful days, my dog provides a service. She is a creature that doesn’t care what happened, doesn’t care how angry I am. She doesn’t care that I am cursing about one thing or another.
The only thing she seems to care about is when I finally sit down so she can get in my lap. Yeah, I’m a pushover. What of it?
Only 15 pounds, that’s the entire difference between an awful day and a good night.
For some, it’s the only difference between managing and failing, depression and coping, or even life and death. Support animals are an amazing partnership from guide-dogs to emotional support animals, it seems like I’m constantly reading articles online about an animal who helps there person through a panic attack, or a trained support animal sensing seizures and warning their owner about an oncoming attack. The medical applications of an animal partnership are astounding. Even those with medical needs benefit physically from animal companions.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), they can increase opportunities to exercise, get outside, and socialize. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. All of that on top of managing loneliness and depression by giving us companionship.
Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners. Some of the health benefits of having a pet include decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels, decreased triglyceride levels, decreased feelings of loneliness, increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, increased opportunities for socialization.
It’s not all dogs either. As I said, my family has two cats. Far more independent than the dog, these pets need just as much responsibility and care, but for someone who has to work a lot, or has work hours that change frequently, these animals are the perfect blend of attention while you’re there, and independence and self-care when you’re not.
On some of the lazy days, just sitting with family, watching tv, or relaxing on the couch, a little repetitive petting immediately sets me into a calming mode.
Ultimately, a pet is more than just an animal. Getting a pet is more than just a commitment. Building that relationship is more than just a friend you visit with. The daily bonding, exchange, and growth is an experience all its own. Celebrating a small day like this is no big event, but taking a moment to think about animals who don’t have that home they seek, or even just offering to help those who help them seek it, could be enough to make it worth the day of awareness. It’s all in how you, specifically, respond.
(All photos were provided by the Humane Society of Blue Ridge.)