It’s Christmas time, the season of goodwill and reflection, so we’ll take time off from the stodgier issues of diseases and their cures. Instead, we’ll reflect a bit on the human-animal bond. Pets, or companion animals, have been with us since the dawn of civilization. In the case of dogs, well, they have been our friends for over 50,000 years. Cats, on the other hand, seem to have been associated with man only about 5,000 to 7,000 years. Interestingly enough, cat fossils have been found in Europe, Asia and Africa but not in the Americas.
When humans began domesticating wolves thousands of years ago, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Many dog lovers say their pets seem to know what their masters are thinking. A study in the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggests that this line of thought might be at least partially right. Something about the process of domestication seems to have given dogs the ability to ‘read’ certain human social behavioural patterns – something wolves, and even chimpanzees, can’t do.
Some scientists argue that, at least sociologically speaking, dogs (not chimps) are most like humans. Chimpanzees may share many of our genes, but dogs have lived with us for so long that they offer a good model for understanding human social behaviour.
Irrespective of how we associate with animals, whether as pets, or for the show arena or as working dogs (hunters, guards, pullers of sledges or rescuers, etc), expressions of love have to be offered. This love of animals must not be based solely on emotion, rather it must be an educated love. For example, we may condemn our neighbours for starving their dogs, while we commit an equally hurtful act by overfeeding ours, especially at Christmas. Or we may abuse our animals by bathing them too often, or feeding them chocolates and spices that are inimical to their health, and so on. To me, it makes no sense berating a child for throwing a squib near a dog, while you yourself will hit a goat for eating your Hibiscus plant which hangs over the fence.
Companion animals are just that. They are our companions. Since domestication, cats and dogs have lived in close contact with humans and we must co-exist peacefully and lovingly. And we are lucky! Any TLC which we give a companion animal, we get it back many times over.
Experts have proven that the special friendship between animals and humans, in addition to being fun and fulfilling, actually can benefit a person’s health. When an affectionate greeting from your dog at the end of a hard day seems to lift our spirits and ease tensions, it is not just your imagination. Your pet is good for you, both physically and mentally. Researchers have proven that the simple act of petting a cat or dog consistently lowers the blood pressure of heart patients. Many studies have since been embarked upon which show the significance of pets in our lives. Researchers say that such studies are like exploring a new frontier; and they are only touching the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The fact of the matter is (what we pet owners always knew) that the presence of pets simply makes you behave in a more relaxed and open manner. Pet owners are happier, smile more readily (even old grumpies like me), communicate better, all of which lead to improved general health – our own.
The loyalty and friendship (very pronounced in the case of dogs) that pets offer to us humans are many times more valuable than any bit of TLC we give to them. One Senator George Vest wrote, in 1870, a tribute to a dog. I’d like, in this penultimate column of the year, to share it with you:
“The one absolute unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey thru the heavens.”
Please enjoy this festive season with your family, which includes your companion animals. Please continue to dissuade your friends and other family members from using squibs and other explosive devices in any environment shared with a pet.
Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-Heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals. Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.