Archive for the ‘human-animal bond’ Category

Mushers in Scotland

August 29, 2011

Having just returned from lecturing at this year’s American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association Conference while in the midst of preparing to move from my home of 16 years in less than a week (no worries, this is by my choosing).  I’ve simply not managed to put fingers to keyboard and produce a blog that I would consider meaningful. Rather than skip a week, I’ve opted to provide you with something for your viewing rather than your reading pleasure.

I love this piece titled, “The Boys and the Kids” because it so deftly portrays the human animal connection.  I think I’d love it even if the creator of this piece weren’t my daughter Susannah, a photojournalism student at Ohio University.  Part of her curriculum takes place in Scotland (my, my what lucky students) which is where this video was created.  Enjoy.

Video: Susannah Kay

Mushers in Scotland? Who knew!

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

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The Dog Days of Summer Camp

August 15, 2011

Nothing quite tickles my heart like stories conveying the human animal connection.  Sometimes such stories put a big goofy grin on my face, and sometimes they cause my eyes and nose to become uncontrolled leaky faucets.  Needless to say, I prefer the former to the latter!

The following human-animal bond story was written by my dear friend Kathie Meier and was published in Marin Pets, a blog moderated by the Marin Humane Society.  Between Kathie’s descriptions and her fabulous photos, this story succeeded in putting a big goofy grin on my face!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

 

Even though I am many moons past my own summer camp days I look forward each year to volunteering with my animal companions at the Marin Humane Society’s summer camp for children entering first through sixth grades.

For nine weeks on Friday afternoons the Pavilion is filled with the laughter and chatter of excited campers, and the tail wags and kisses of ten fabulous SHARE dogs.  In no time the kids have their eager buddies doing sits, downs, and puppy push-ups and traversing beginning agility equipment.

The real fun begins when the kids “teach” their companion a trick and then perform it.  To the absolute delight of all we’ve watched Mooki, Duncan and Winston zip through legs, Sophie sit upright and wave her paws, Woody shake, Chudleigh play dead, Charlotte play the toy piano with her nose, Tigger, MJ, and Angus run an agility course, Katie dance, Autumn, Kuri and Frisco jump through hoops, Chloe and Mitzi roll over, and Lance balance a treat on his nose and catch it.
This is my 11th year coming to summer camp with my dogs. While the kids have grown and changed over the years, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the magic of the bond of having animals in our lives.  The camp provides the children a wonderful opportunity to spend the week learning about animals of all shapes and sizes and to work 1-on-1 with some very special dogs.

The Marin Humane Society SHARE Program dogs participate in a wide variety of animal-assisted therapy programs including visits to seniors, reading with children through SHARE a Book, and classroom humane education programs throughout Marin.  I know my pup Charlotte would say that paws down the summer camp dog training is her favorite!  No surprise that each year it’s also the favorite activity of the children.

Kathie Meier- www.brrnese.com

_____________________________________________________

Have you and one of your pets participated in an animal-assisted therapy program?  If so, I would love to hear all about it.

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Who Was Dr. Leo Bustad?

July 9, 2011

I first heard of Dr. Leo K Bustad in association with the Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award.  Since 1986 this award has been bestowed upon veterinarians whose work exemplifies and promotes the human animal bond. When I first learned of the award I remember thinking, how fabulous to honor this important professional achievement rather than the academic/research accomplishments more commonly recognized within the profession.  Some of the veterinarians I most admire have been recipients of this award including my friends Drs. Jane Shaw, Alice Villalobos, and Marty Becker.

Fast-forward to 2011 and here I am pinching myself since learning a few months ago that I am the incredibly fortunate recipient of the 2011 Bustad Companion Animal of the Year Award! I feel honored beyond belief.

So who was the man who served as the inspiration for this award?  Dr. Leo Bustad was a veterinarian who also happened to be an outstanding educator, scientist and humanitarian. While dean of the veterinary school at Washington State University, he co-founded the People-Pet Partnership, the first university based community service program focusing on the human-animal bond. In 1981, the Partnership morphed into the Delta Society, an organization that continues to thrive and co-sponsors the Bustad Award along with the American Veterinary Medical Association and Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

The stated mission of the Delta Society is, “To help lead the world in advancing human health and well-being through positive interactions with animals.”  Dr. Bustad served as the first president of the Delta Society, a position he held until 1990.

As a veterinarian, Dr. Bustad’s interest ventured far beyond the healing of animals.  He devoted his professional life to the healing of humans through their relationships with animals. A great deal has been written in recent years about the human-animal bond. Perhaps the best description comes from Dr. Bustad himself. In 1985 he wrote, “On the basis of experiences by many people and institutions in Australia, Europe, New Zealand and North America, companion animals must be recognized as vital to the physical, psychological and social well-being of people and as agents of therapy in a great number of conditions and situations. Almost everyone could benefit by contact with warm “fuzzies” (unless we are allergic), and our companion animals offer us security, succor, esteem, understanding, forgiveness, fun and laughter and, most importantly, abundant and unconditional love. Furthermore, they make no judgments, and we can be ourselves with them. They also need our help and make us feel important.”

Dr. Leo Bustad passed away on September 19, 1998. He was 78 years old.  On July 16th, 2011 at the American Veterinary Medical Association conference, I will be deeply honored to accept the award memorializing Dr. Bustad’s heartfelt professional endeavors and pioneering accomplishments.

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary

March 4, 2011
Steve and Alayne with Daisy

I first communicated with Steve Smith when he and Alayne Marker enrolled their nonprofit organization in the Speaking for Spot Gives Back Program.  Located in New Hampshire, Steve and Alayne are the proprietors of the Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary. Their mission is to provide a sanctuary focused on caring for animals with disabilities. As stated on their website, “These are the animals who are the least likely to be adopted and among the most likely to be euthanized in traditional shelters.” Visit Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary and you are likely to encounter blind dogs, cats, and horses as well as animals with irreparable neurological and orthopedic issues.  Steve and Alayne report that the animals are incredibly content- none seem to “feel sorry for themselves”.  This is certainly no surprise to me- based on my experience I know that most disabled animals remain happy and energetic.  They are true experts at living in the moment- excellent role models for us, don’t you think?  

What prompted me to write about Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary was a blog post I recently received from Steve describing a wonderfully innovative way he and Alayne are feeding their dogs and cats. Their concern for animals extends well beyond their own facility, so much so that for a period of time they tried feeding a vegetarian diet to their dogs who apparently responded with, “No thanks!”   In the blog, Steve describes that they’ve opted to raise their own beef cattle as a self-sustaining food source for their dogs and kitties.  Looking at the Rolling Dog Ranch website, I get the impression that these cows have a pretty darned perfect bovine life other than on their very last day.  This beef project was started in 2008 and Steve described the process of taking Sebastian, their first steer to slaughter.  As Steve describes it, “I was able to walk through the entire facility with the owner, stood on the kill floor, and examined their entire process for how they do the slaughtering.  It was quiet, clean, and as stress-free as any facility like that could possibly be.” 

 

Steve and Alayne use a website called Balance IT to help them create balanced homemade diets.  They are doing their best to use all local ingredients.  In their blog post (http://blog.rollingdogranch.org), they provide resources for finding and purchasing humanely raised food for you and your pets.  They recommend that people visit farms to see for themselves how the animals are raised. 

I must tell you that I am intrigued by and enamored with the innovative things that are happening at Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary.  Steve and Alayne are two wonderfully forward thinking people who have provided me- and now you- with some fabulous food for thought.

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

The Real Reason there are More and More Women Veterinarians

November 26, 2010

While I’m busy recovering from some back surgery, you have the good fortune of reading posts from some of my favorite doggie bloggers!  Today’s post comes from Dr. Larry McDaniel who blogs regularly at www.scratchingsandsniffings.com and on the PurinaCare™ Blog.   Please make him feel welcome by posting your wonderful comments.  Be back soon! 

Best wishes,

Dr. Nancy Kay

In 1960 the Veterinary profession was 98% male. Today, it’s about 50/50 and in the future it will be mostly female. Since 1984 more women have been admitted to Veterinary School and more have been graduating since 1988. Right now about 80% of the current vet students are women.

Why?

Dr-Larry-and-puppy

There are standard explanations, often supplied by male Deans of Veterinary Colleges or male heads of professional associations. These sage pronunciations are routinely repeated by an incurious popular press. One of the more common explanations is that men are seeking higher paying professions and women in the profession have their husband’s salaries to fall back on. That’s also one of the more patronizing explanations and, according to Dr Anne Lincoln, a sociologist from SMU, it’s simply not true.

DrAnneLincoln-SMU

It is true that Law and Medicine have higher average salaries than Veterinary Medicine, but in her  recently published paper; The Shifting Supply of Men and Women to Occupations: Feminization of Veterinary Medicine, that is not the primary driver of change. It turns out that decisions about cost of tuition and eventual compensation affect women and men equally. In fact, Veterinary Medicine is simply ahead of the feminization curve and the Medical and Legal professions are heading in the same direction.

Instead, Dr Lincoln cites these three primary reasons for the gender shift in Veterinary Medicine. 

First, there was landmark anti-discrimination legislation passed in 1972. Elements of Title 9 made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender for application to graduate programs. The percentage of female applicants and graduates in the 28 Veterinary Colleges around the country has been on the rise ever since.

Secondly, there are simply more women with the qualifications to be admitted to Veterinary School than men. More women are graduating from college than men. More women are applying to college, too, by the way. My wife sees this as proof of her long held tenet that women are simply smarter than men.

The final reason is the most interesting. Simply stated, men seem to prefer the company of men. That seems contrary to logic and personal experience to me. What man wouldn’t prefer to spend his time surrounded by women? Apparently most of us, according to Dr Lincoln. She states that, “The feminization of Veterinary Medicine is really the demasculinization of Veterinary Medicine, driven by men’s lower rate of college graduation and their aversion to the presence of women.

Dr-Larrys-new-ride

Why the aversion to the presence of women? I have my own theory on that. We men secretly realize that we have a hard time measuring up. Let’s face it. Women work harder, are better team members and possess higher emotional intelligence than men. At some level most of us men realize that we should just get out of the way if anything positive is going to happen. No wonder an aspiring male veterinary student freaks out when he visits an actual Veterinary School. Does he really want to be confronted with his basic inadequacy on a daily basis for four years?  No way.

Don’t get me wrong. I have lots of male friends. I love hanging out with them and I spend a good deal of time riding bikes with my pals. Unfortunately, these cycling interactions only seem to reinforce my conclusions. Our rides aren’t really social events where we discuss our feelings or seek emotional support or enlightenment. These “rides” most often degenerate into Darwinian bouts of survival where the goal is to punish the weak and assert one’s physical dominance. I really get into it, by the way.

These skills are very useful, of course, especially for a hunter gatherer on the Serengeti 250,000 years ago. Not so useful in the boardroom or the classroom, sad to say. In the good old days we could survive and get our props by simply being the best at chasing it and killing it. That was pretty much it though, because after that we gave it to the women and they did everything else. I guess you could say nothing really ever changes.

Dr. Larry McDaniel

http://www.scratchingsandsniffings.com/2010/11/the-real-reason-there-are-more-and-more-women-veterinarians-.html#more

Dr. Larry McDaniel has had a life long love affair with animals.  Dr. McDaniel graduated from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and entered private practice in Northern Idaho. There weren’t any jobs available with wildlife agencies so Larry worked in a mixed animal practice working on both ranch animals and dogs and cats. Turns out this type of work suited Larry just fine and he opened his own practice in Western Montana. It was here that Dr. McDaniel developed and interest in animal nutrition.

Larry was elected the President of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition in 1994 and continues to consult with major pet food manufacturers on therapeutic small animal nutrition. He is excited about participating in the blog and hopes to be able to offer some useful information on all issues related to the care of our family pets.

_____________________________________________________

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller. 

Free Christmas or Chanukah gift wrap with books purchased between now and December 25th (www.speakingforspot.com/purchase.html).

Ricochet

September 24, 2010

I just had myself a good cry, and who wouldn’t after watching this video featuring an amazing dog named Ricochet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iIv5t2qKL4).  C’mon now, no one likes to cry alone- please watch it for yourself and report back on whether it was a one or two tissue viewing!

I love Ricochet’s story.  She’s a gorgeous Golden Retriever who was slated to be a service dog for people with disabilities.  She proved to be a bit of a handful, so much so that her human companion Judy Fridono disappointingly gave up on the career aspirations she had for Ricochet.  As Judy stated, “I struggled for 18 months trying to make her something she wasn’t.”  Little did she know that, not only would Ricochet become a service dog enhancing the lives of many people with disabilities, she would do so while riding a surfboard!  This wonderdog has been the “main event” at several fundraisers and, in doing so, has raised more than $50,000 to support people with disabilities (during tough economic times, I might add).  She recently received the highly coveted AKC award for canine excellence. Please check out Ricochet’s story at www.surfdogricochet.com.  You’ll also find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/surfdogricochet.

I hope you will “catch the wave” of Ricochet’s pure golden goodness and contribute to one of her many fundraisers.  After watching the video mentioned above (and after wiping my eyes and nose) I emailed Judy to say, “I simply cannot imagine our lives without dogs- they brighten our lives with so much joy, wonder, and grace.” Judy’s response….. “Can’t imagine life without dogs.  They’re our best teachers too.”

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health. 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

You can support your favorite rescue group.  The Speaking for Spot Gives Back Program shares a portion of the sales proceeds with approved non-profit organizations when you purchase a book via the Speaking for Spot website and designate the organization at the time of purchase.

Online Connections Thanks to Speaking for Spot

October 28, 2009

 It has been a year since my book Speaking for Spot was released, and what an amazing year it has been.  I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible about the book business.  I’ve traveled with Spot, met many Spot fans, and was interviewed by one of my all time idols on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  As word of Speaking for Spot has spread, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people online and have thoroughly enjoyed hearing about their lives and their doggies.  Here are a couple of examples. 

Carolyn is a wildlife biologist living in Belize.  I’m jealous! My family had the good fortune of visiting Belize a few years back- my husband and I fantasized about not returning home!  Carolyn has provided me with some photos of her menagerie of dogs.  I sense that Maggie is the apple of her eye.  It’s no wonder- take a look at the photos of this insanely adorable little dog. 

Maddie and Carolyn

Maggie and Carolyn

Judy shares her life with Ricochet, an incredible Golden Retriever who loves to play in the waves, but not in the conventional canine fashion.  Ricochet rides a surfboard!  As Judy describes it, “Ricochet was slated to be a service dog for people with disabilities.  But she had too strong a chase drive, and I couldn’t trust that she wouldn’t try to chase birds while attached to a wheelchair.  I struggled for 18 months trying to make her something she wasn’t.  When I finally let go, she just flourished!” 

Ricochet and Patrick

Ricochet and Patrick

The sweetest part of Ricochet’s story is her special connection with fellow surfer, Patrick Ivison.  Patrick is a teenager who sustained a spinal cord injury and has now mastered the art of adaptive surfing. Patrick and Ricochet have surfed together as part of a successful fundraising campaign to raise money for Patrick’s physical rehabilitation program (donations are still being accepted at http://www.ripcurlricki.com/Donate.htm). To read more about Ricochet and Patrick, pay a visit to http://www.ripcurlricki.com/SurfinforPawsabilities.htm

Patrick and Ricochet

Patrick and Ricochet

If you’re like me, you just can’t help but smile looking at these photos.  Thanks to Carolyn and Judy for telling me about Maggie and Ricochet.  If you have a wonderful dog in your life (I’ll bet you do), I invite you to share your story!

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Colorblind Adoptions

October 14, 2009

Whenever I meet with a patient (dog or cat) and client (their human) for the first time I always ask some version of, “How long have you two known each other?”  I love watching my client’s face light up as they recall that first moment of kitten or puppy love.  I delight in hearing the wonderful and amazing tales of how their lives managed to cross paths.   If my patient happens to be a black cat, I always provide kudos to my client for having performed an extraordinarily good deed.  You see, black kitties are notoriously more difficult to find homes for than are cats of other colors.  Perhaps this is related to black cat Halloweenish superstitions.  What I hadn’t realized, until now, is that black dogs are also more difficult to place than their colorful canine counterparts.

Dr. Kay with her dog Lexie who was solid black until 12 years of age

According to an October 9th NBC News article by Emily Friedman, just as is the case for black cats, large black dogs tend to be the last ones to be adopted from shelters.  There are a few theories as to why. Many shelters offer no natural lighting, making it hard for the face of a black dog to stand out- it is more difficult to distinguish their facial features than it would be in lighter colored dogs or those with contrasting markings.  Kim Saunders, the head of shelter outreach for the Web site Petfinder.com believes that black dogs are overlooked because they don’t photograph as well as lighter colored animals.  When people are shopping for the next love of their lives, they are looking for a face that stands out with special appeal.  Some theorize that it is human nature to be drawn to things with more vibrant color or riveting hair coat patterns.  Placing solid colored black cats and large black dogs can be so difficult that some shelters run promotions and try to create more color and appeal- necks adorned with colorful scarves, discounted adoption fees, and even superhero names. When you are ready to begin searching for the next canine or feline love of your life, I encourage you to pay special attention to those that are solid black in color. They’re in need of a special advantage when it comes to landing in the type of loving, caring home that every dog and cat deserves.

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross –

Differing Perspectives on the Same Observations

September 13, 2009

I’ve received many wonderful emails in response to my interviews on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The stories I’ve heard about peoples’ pets run the gamut from delightful to heart wrenching. Many listeners described crying while driving- I certainly hope Terry and I were not responsible for creating any collisions!

I’ve also received emails from a handful of folks who were put off by the Fresh Air interviews. The content of Anne’s comments (printed below with her permission) is representative of what these disgruntled listeners had to say:

“I’m annoyed at how dogs have become soooo important over the past 10 years or so. They’re just pets! Just animals. Clearly all this elevation of dogs is a by-product of a society in trouble. Never would I have imagined that dogs would be referred to as ‘family members’ or ‘surrogate children.’ NEVER!! Back in the day, the dog was just the ‘family dog’, not ‘the dog family member.’ It was like, ‘Yeah, there’s the dog, so what?’ No thought was given to brushing its teeth, worrying about dog cancer, or feeling guilty if we went on vacation and left the dog at home with a neighbor to look after it. I recently read a book about an African village, and the hard life they have, and the poverty. I found it so shameful that they live like that, while America’s dogs are often dressed in designer clothes, waited on hand and foot, given the best medical care, the best food, cooed over, etc. What the hell has happened to Americans? We’ve gone nutty! Dogs are just dogs, driven by selfish instinct to look after its own interests.”

As easy as it would be to ignore such “fan mail,” I truly believe that Anne’s comments are worthy of consideration. Given what I do for a living, I have certainly grappled with what I believe Anne is questioning. Is it reasonable to invest so much, emotionally and financially, in our pets when there is so much human suffering in the world? After all, the amount of money spent on one of our four-legged family members during the course of a year would represent a fortune to someone who is impoverished. Wouldn’t “shut in” senior citizens relish the affection and attention we lavish upon our pets?

While I agree with Anne’s observations- yes, many people consider their pets to be “family members” and yes, there is a great deal of human suffering in the world- I disagree with her notion that doting on our pets detracts from our willingness and ability to give of ourselves to others. I contend that the opposite is true. Many studies have documented that the human-animal bond positively impacts peoples’ psychological well-being. People whose “emotional bellies” are full rather than empty are more inspired and capable of giving their time, energy, and financial resources to others in need. One need not be a scientist to know that pets bestow a unique brand of sweetness and joy upon our lives; they keep us grounded even when insanity abounds. As I state in the introduction of Speaking for Spot, “Today the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. Perhaps, the more tumultuous the world around us, the tighter we cling to our beloved pets. They soothe us with their predictability and unconditional love, and they consistently give in excess of what they receive.”

Loving our pets does not make them more important than humans, nor does it “replace” our ability to tend to the needy. Rather, opening our homes and our hearts to animals makes our own humanity more accessible. Temple Grandin got it just right when she titled her newest book, “Animals Make Us Human.” Our love of animals doesn’t fill up our hearts- it makes our hearts grow bigger.

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay

Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross –