Thursday, March 22, 2012

We're All Just Animals Anyway

Something very near and dear to me is proper animal husbandry.  I have a super special little girl, Penelope, who I am lucky enough to be taking care of, and she has taught me about proper doggie care and proper doggie love.  Here are some of Penelope's tips for happy, long-lived pets (I use the word dog throughout simply because that is my reference point, this post obviously applies to most sentient species).

1.  Understand the Value of Life (Don't Be a Speciesist)
The most pervasive attitude towards animals is that they are "just animals."  Without getting too far into why I think this is the case, let's just say that an incorrect assumption about human superiority is the root of the problem.  When you remove the "specialness" of human life, you are forced to appreciate ALL life.  Dogs are not worth less than humans because they are dogs--there is nothing inherently less valuable about a life-form that cannot articulate itself, is there?  A dog is just like a human with arrested development--they're both a little retarded in their communication and their habits and their myopia, but they still have worth as individuals.    You have to help your dog and your mentally disabled uncle go to the bathroom and neither devalues the individual you're helping.  Now let me just say there are dumb dogs the same way there are dumb humans--but the intelligent, complex individuals are still out there in either species, and those individuals impart value to the rest.

2.  Understand the Finality of Life (Don't Be An Idiot)
A crucial part of properly valuing life is understanding that you only get one.  The finality and certainty of death impart even more meaning onto our time and this carries over to our pets.  Pets are burdened with even shorter lives than ours, especially dogs.  Dogs have it really rough.  Did you know that ducks can average 20 years?  Wtf ducks?  When your life is closing in on 5 times the length of your companion, it is your responsibility to make their lives as special as possible.  What possible excuse could you have?  You have five times more time on this earth than they do; there is nothing you don't have time to do for them.  

3.  New Traditions (Play Every Day)
Dogs love traditions, especially traditions they share with you.  Creating new adventures and revisiting old ones is one of the easiest ways to bring your pet joy.  Engage with your pet during these activities: talk with them, play with them--don't just take them for a walk, tell them about the walk, get them excited, make it fun, experience it together.  The shared experience is often more important to them than the activity itself and you will both get more out of it when you engage with your friend.

4.  Proper Food (Healthy Dogs Live Longer)
This is so important, but unless you understand the parts of your pet that you can only take care of emotionally and psychologically, the parts you can take care of physically won't mean much to you either--because it's still just a dog, right?  And if you're one of those people who loves their dog but feeds them shitty dogfood anyway, you fall into this category too, because somewhere deep down, you still feel like they don't matter quite as much.  When you decide to snap out of it, the first thing you should do is eliminate corn and grain products from your pet's normal food.  This means stop feeding him or her Purina, Beneful, and all those other poisons--even that shit they sell at Costco.  "Salmon meal," "chicken meal," "corn meal," "rye flour," "corn syrup"--these are things your dog food should not include.  The first ingredients, or dare I say, all the ingredients? should be whole food ingredients.  Your dog should be on an almost all-protein diet.  Check out Orijen and Evo--they both have full lines of cat and dog food that are acceptable sustenance.  There are also raw food diet suppliers such as Meg's Meats in Truckee.  Don't be that person crying about their dog going blind and lame when you could have prevented it (the corn does this as is shuts the kidneys down).    

5.  Proper Exercise (Don't Over or Under-Do It)
Imagine if your dog didn't have to live inside with you: he or she would be running around all day doing survival stuff.  So obviously you should give your pet some kind of exercise each day.  For us, because Penelope loves frisbee or tennis ball fetch, it's super easy to work her out and give her something she loves. I know a lot of you probably hike with your pets so I specifically wanted to pass along some wisdom we received from our vet recently: shorter, more intense bouts of activity, i.e. 20 minutes of running or fetch, are less wear and tear on the dog's joints than long, low intensity exercise, i.e. hours of hiking or walking.  If your pet is having trouble walking the next day or has significant, or even insignificant chronic soreness, you are overworking him or her and causing permanent joint damage and recovery problems.  I know it seems counterintuitive to not take a dog for a long hike, but dogs are not developed (muscularly) the way they would have been if they were living in the wild, therefore, their systems cannot handle what would have, in that case, been commonplace for them (hours of running/walking/trotting).  If you are an avid hiker or backcountry skier, please consider your pet's longevity and long-term joint health before taking them out for three hours of postholing in crusty snow (JP I'm looking at you!).  On that note, during the winter, running in deep snow and/or snow that is frozen on top is extremely detrimental to your dog's knees and ankles and can hasten the onset of chronic arthritis.  It can also cause flattening and scarring of the patellas--which results in chronic pain and difficulty for your pet, and eventually surgery.  Ward your pet's bodies the same way you would your own, and understand that like a small child, they cannot withstand the torment you can.  Watch out for downhill running, i.e. down to the beach or the bottom of the mountain; uneven surfaces and obstacles, i.e. crusty melted snow or rocky shorelines; and overworking.

6. Avoid Neutering and Spaying (Don't Mess With Stuff You Don't Understand)
Just like humans, dogs' endocrine systems are a delicate balance of biological signals, and removing an entire component is extremely detrimental to their both their health and mental well-being.  A lot of people spay or neuter because it "calms the animal down"--so would chopping of one of their legs, but we don't run around doing that now, do we?  It would be another matter entirely if it were vasectomy instead of castration, or tubal ligation instead of radical hysterectomy, but removal of the sex organ in its entirety results in a cascade of internal effects that are terrible for your pet!  Lethargy, weight-gain, and depression are all commonplace with neutering and spaying and the long term biological effects of not allowing the dog to fully develop are also tragic.

The most important thing is to love each other and have fun!  

It's hard work being Penelope

Twice a year, toys become puppies and get
carried everywhere, even into her chair

Penelope and her possible future boyfriend Fallon (with the collar)

So happy!

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