Pets deserves more than shelter and a water bowl

Dear Dr. Spiegel,

Would you please print a column emphasizing to the readers the absolute importance of pet owners providing the essentials: Food, water, shelter & bedding, exercise, health preventive maintenance, and love & attention to their pets. More importantly, could you please express the relevance of these factors and how it relates to 24-hour outdoor pets that can be easily ignored and neglected due to a lack of knowledge and concern.

I am writing primarily because my neighbor has a beautiful dog that is provided the basics: doghouse, food, and water. However, the dog doesn’t know how to use the doghouse and is exposed to the elements and insects. It appears stiff after lying on the ground all day. The “pet” is chained to a tree 24 hours a day and is infrequently checked upon during the day and forgotten about after dinner. It is alone and lonely, pacing the yard, and barks and cries in the middle of the night. What is the purpose of having a pet if one cannot provide the tangible and emotional support needed to afford the animal some quality in its life.

I do not know if the SPCA can help in a situation like this, since the animal is not being physically abused.

Your advice and recommendations may help this pet owner, and others, realize their insensitivities, and hopefully provide the necessary motivation for better caretaking or perhaps finding a better home for the family pet.

Thank you.
D.M.B., Newark

Dear D.M.B.,
We humans are social creatures. The pets we keep are social creatures. We make conscious decisions to bring these creatures into our lives, and in the process we develop our own individual relationships with these creatures. They aren’t toaster ovens. They aren’t armchairs. They have brains; they have feelings; and, yes, they have needs (as you’ve mentioned above).In buying them… in adopting them, we humans are assuming the responsibility for these nonhuman animals for the rest of their lives.
But this is not so much a question of responsibility. This is a question of culture; specifically… how changes in cultural attitudes affect a given individual’s actions & beliefs. There has been a dramatic shift in cultural views regarding “relationships” in the last 40 years. In addition, there is a relatively recent [last 5-10 years] rising awareness of the value and significance of the human-animal bond to and for the lives of people. It must now become fully recognized that this relationship/bond has significant impact on the life of the nonhuman animal as well.
You have clearly recognized this. And naturally you feel a need to do something to remedy the situation. After all, it is in plain sight. It tugs at your heart strings and it is not producing a harmonious chord. You are a caring and compassionate being, and you know that when animals are not cared for adequately it negatively impacts their physical and psychological health. But what can you do?
You can’t force change on people. Energy can often times be better spent continuing to propagate positive cultural influence. Children (and others who are young at heart and open-minded) naturally align themselves with the truth when they encounter it, and in time the negative or deleterious individual attitudes are naturally diluted as they are surrounded and immersed in the ever-evolving culture.
Your situation is a delicate one and you must handle it as such. It takes advanced social graces to make someone aware that their animal’s needs aren’t being adequately addressed. And the last thing you want is for this to turn into a battle with your neighbor. If you cannot meet with likely success in communicating your concerns to your neighbor, you may want to meet your own need to help by bringing your energy to helping other animals in need (i.e., The Delaware Humane Association and SPCA are always receptive to volunteer support).
Evolution (of culture, of behavior, of life) is a selfish process. It always has been, and it always will be. The realization that meeting the needs of others and caring for others is ultimately the most advantageous means to truly meet our own ultimate needs (aka… altruism) is becoming more and more apparent. It applies to all the life of this planet. So as we move away from the holiday season, let’s not forget to take that spirit and “good will to all” (both human and animal) along with us into our daily relationships and interactions.

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