In Memory of Bogie ‘Woof’ Nelson ~ 2003-2012, Etiquette, Ethics and Empathy for Our Animal Friends
This past weekend, my family and I lost a beloved pet. We had to make the difficult decision to euthanize our adorable, funny and affectionate male cat, Bogie – AKA Woof — whose progressive disease finally left him crippled, in chronic pain and unable to walk without great difficulty, despite his medications, home therapy and tons of TLC. But, in the midst of our grief we had the most extraordinary experience.
On his final visit to the veterinarian, Dr. Cynthia Eldredge – who for nearly a decade has been treating both our cats (our other feline is the robust and healthy Maude) – Bogie was treated with a tenderness, respect and dignity usually afforded humans. Over the years we’ve had the pleasure of the company of many pets who have been treated by many vets – some excellent and some not so much. However, we have not witnessed such a remarkable end-of-life approach by a vet to her patient as Dr. Eldredge’s to our Bogie, an approach that gave my husband, Ted, and me a peace that we never thought possible under such gut-wrenching circumstances.
As a long-time pet owner and lover of wildlife (I volunteered for a decade at The Wildlife Conservation Society), the respectful treatment shown to our cat got me to thinking about the various levels of respect – etiquette, ethics and empathy, if you will – with which we bestow on the animals in our lives. And, let’s face it – there are animals in everyone’s life, whether it’s your pets, farm animals or the wildlife that exists all around us (which also includes pigeons, fish, rodents, insects and arachnids!).
Consequently, here are 10 steps I’m offering to ensure that we treat non-human species ethically and with respect and empathy:
- Acquire a pet only if you’re sure that you can care for it properly. Use good sense in determining practically the kind of pet you can handle based on the amount of space you have to keep it comfortably; the time you have to devote to play, exercise (do you have a yard or live near a park or trails that allow dogs?), feeding and other necessary activities; and money you have to buy food, bowls, collars & leashes, registration, toys and litter and pay for veterinarian bills and occasional pet-sitting or boarding services and various unforeseen expenses. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has good advice on choosing and caring for a pet.
- Avoid purchasing a pet from a pet shop or mill. Instead, adopt from a reputable shelter or purchase from a reputable breeder. Check with the American Kennel Club for the closest club for the breed you want; the club in turn will direct you to reputable breeders, or to a listing of purebred rescue dog locations. For cats, a reputable shelter is a good place, or if you are interested in a particular breed – after you do your homework – try a rescue group. Or, open your front door; one might be waiting outside for you. For other species, check the HSUS site.
- Take proper care of your pet. Whichever species or breed you choose, learn how to take care of your pet properly. Respect it and give it plenty of love, attention, appropriate food, exercise, suitable training, required shots and heath care. Never tease or hit, as your pet will never trust you. Try not to raise your voice.
- Learn how to train your pet, if necessary. Not all pet training is intuitive. Be clear and consistent in your training and commands. Reward with praise and treats, don’t punish. If you need help or guidance in training your dog, cat or budgerigar (AKA parakeet), do your research or consult with a professional trainer.
- Be careful of strays. If you find a dog or a cat finds you, take care that you do not get bitten or scratched. If possible, before allowing a strange animal into your home, take it to a veterinarian for a complete check up and shots. Of course, try to find the animal’s owner, but if you are not successful you might just have found your pet!
- Don’t leave your pet in the car unattended-ever. Check here to find out why.
- Don’t buy or wear real fur. There are few things less respectful than killing an animal for fashion. Many animals have been driven to extinction or to endangered status through hunting for fashion. Follow Oprah’s example, and opt out of fur for fashion. As a rule, I don’t wear fur, but I found a couple in my closet that I donated to HSUS.
- Strive for a clean, green environment by following these tips from the World Wildlife Fund and reduce your carbon footprint on the planet.
- Insist upon humane treatment of food animals, or reduce your intake of animal products.
- Spread the message of respectful treatment of animals through word of mouth, emails, Twitter, Facebook and other social media. The more people who understand how important it is to respect the animals who are our companions as well as fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth the better place we’ll all have to live.
Those of us who have pets or who have worked with wildlife know that animals have feelings. Treating the animals that make our lives better with respect and dignity will make us better human beings.
Until next time,