Golden Retriever Lucy and I have recently received our certification to work together as an animal assisted therapy team through the SPCA. We did three weeks of classes/ evaluation. I did 3 shadow visits of other teams. We did two visits with a mentor shadowing us. And now we are on our own. It’s so inspiring for me to see and Lucy loves the work.
I got the idea to do this because every time I walk Lucy there are people on the street who just light up when they see her. So many people have randomly told me that seeing her made their day. She loves people so I figured it would be a win-win situation and it is. She is certified to visit schools, hospitals, transitional living centers, psychiatric units, etc. Sometimes they take her to the park to play, sometimes she’s in a community room and sometimes she goes room to room. She snuggles up with people and they make each other feel loved. It’s so warm and wonderful. I feel lucky to get to witness these exchanges.
I just finished watching a couple episodes of Preposterous Pets, an Animal Planet show about people who have exotic animals as pets. It reminds me of another show I used to watch, Fatal Attractions, which had the same premise but was specifically about people who had been killed by those pets. No matter how amazingly cute the elephant or polar bear or tiger is, it is still a wild animal at heart and one that is large and can harm the human that feels compelled to care for it. Right?
I’m trying to gather thoughts around a bigger topic in my head, here, and the thoughts are still kind of murky and incohesive. When I was in Belize, I kept trying to wrap my mind around the idea that what we were seeing there were animals in the wild. On one of our boat rides, the guides fed a ham and cheese sandwich to a spider monkey sitting in a tree on the bank. When we went snorkeling, we were told not to reach out and touch the animals we were swimming next to but with hundreds of people in the water it was inevitable that someone either wouldn’t listen or would inevitably brush against one of the creatures, potentially harming them with sunscreen and bug spray and human oils. I would say that the animals were in their natural habitat but I’m not sure I could really say that they were “in the wild”.
I’ve just started reading a book called Zooburbia that touches on this topic. It looks at the intersection between wild animals and those that have been domesticated, the animals that live somewhat on their own terms but in a world that’s increasingly overtaken by humans. It’s written by someone who lives here in Oakland, California but the descriptions of what she sees remind me more of what it was like growing up in Tucson, Arizona where coyotes and roadrunners and quail regularly crossed the street in front of us, javalina pigs foraged in our trash cans for food and scorpions and tarantula occasionally crawled down the walls inside our home. They’re all wild and certainly weren’t animals we took in as pets but they were living in our space, making do with the world that we had created that overtook their own.
This all makes me think about the book I mentioned previously, Animal Madness, and the idea that animals of all kinds can suffer from mental illness. And it makes me think about zoos and how I’ve never really been able to figure out how I feel about them. I know that as a human visitor I really enjoy zoos and like the magic of seeing the animals. I’ve never really determined what I think about the morality of having zoos. I guess I think that in an ideal world there would be enough space for the animals to live on their natural land and not be in zoos but I also accept that this isn’t the case in our world and think that perhaps the best we can aim for is to have zoos and sanctuaries and homes for these animals that are kind and compassionate and intellectually stimulating and consider the mental health of the creatures.
In those episodes of Preposterous Pets there was a man who swims with his buffalo, a woman who bathes and diapers her five macaque monkeys, a polar bear living in a backyard … and none of this seems right somehow. The bear that gets taken to a bar where it drinks beer and the monkeys that get sugary candies at the supermarket certainly don’t seem right. And yet, the animals are loved and cared for … so is this better or worse than a zoo? Better or worse than leaving the animals in their natural habitat but then slowly encroaching on that habitat with our own homes. I don’t have an answer. I don’t even have a clear decision about what I think about this. I just know that it’s been on my mind a lot lately, in this sort of vague at-the-edges kind of way, and I intend to keep immersing myself in more related reading and show-watching in order to see where this train of thought might take me.
Animals at the farm area outside of the Castello di Amorosa vineyard and castle in Napa Valley.
The goat and the sheep were really large size for those animals. The bird is apparently an emu; I always thought those were huge but I guess they have small breeds as well. The other bird is some kind of rooster that I swear looked like it was wearing a blonde wig.
I always had pets growing up. The first time in my life that I didn’t have pets was when I moved here to San Francisco. It wasn’t until after I was without them for a little while that I realized what hard work it really is to take care of them! In recent years I’ve started petsitting occasionally for people here in the city. It gives me the chance to get my pet fix without actually having pets of my own, which is good since my apartment doesn’t allow pets of any kind.
My mom’s dog
Petsitting can be a huge responsibility. I always try to give the animals at least as much love and attention as they’d normally get in their homes. Plus of course I make sure to get them fed, walked, meds and whatever else they need. I’ve never had to deal with any pet emergencies but I’m always prepared to do that if need be.
My sister’s cat, after a fight!
Petsitting is actually something of a family business these days. My brother used to own a doggie daycare in LA and then he gave that up but in the last year has started petsitting through other agencies down there. My mom retired from the post office a few years back and shortly thereafter picked up a post-retirement job petsitting in Arizona. And I do petsitting throughout San Francisco.
Here are some of the pets that I’ve taken care of recently:
There was an article in the New York Times recently about people who are apparently choosing to debark their dogs by taking them to the vet and having the vet cut out the animal’s vocal cords. These aren’t the kind of people you would think of as being cruel to animals; they’re likely educated folks who theoretically love their pets and who certainly have some excess cash if they can afford this type of thing. And I have to ask … wtf?!?
I love animals but I am by no means an animal rights activist. In fact, by the standards of how San Franciscans spoil their dogs, I was probably not even a good “mom” to dogs. (Not only would I never call myself my dog’s mom but I’d also never dress it in clothes, buy it gourmet food or have it stay in a hotel while I was away.) So I’m pretty average when it comes to my pets. But there was a definite part of me that stood up and screamed in horror when I read this article.
The people who are doing this have their justifications for it. They say it doesn’t hurt the dog. They say that the alternative would be to give up the dog because its barking is out of control and it would probably end up euthanized so it’s better to just debark it. They say, “hey, this surgery has been going on for decades so it’s clearly not that bad”.
I have to disagree. I’ve owned lots of dogs. I’ve seen why they bark. They bark because they’re defending themselves or their home, because their excited or because they want to get your attention. To take out your pet’s vocal cords so that instead of barking it just makes a wheezing sound is just not right. Just not right. Justify it however you want, I’m not buying it.
And frankly, it seems like the owners just shouldn’t be do owners if they feel the need to do this. They clearly aren’t doing it for the dog. They’re doing it because they’re annoyed by the barking or because their neighbors are complaining about the noise or because they want their attack dogs to be silent predators. It’ selfish. Get the dog trained. Move to a dog-friendly area. Get a cat.
I recently went to the California Academy of Sciences which is a really cool place located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I got to see really cool animals in the aquarium as well as in the other sections of the science center. I wasn’t able to get too many good pictures of the animals but I did like this one of some giant lizard whose actual name I’ve now forgotten:
I believe that it’s important to get your dog spayed or neutered. I know all of the good reasons for this. The most important reason is that there is a huge problem with pet overpopulation in America which results in a lot of unwanted and uncared for animals. I support getting your dog spayed.
However, I have to confess that not all of my pets over the years were spayed or neutered. When I was growing up, we had one dog that my parents didn’t bother to get spayed. every year we’d have a litter of puppies to enjoy and to learn from. Watching those babies be born and grow up was educational and exciting.
Even as an adult, I had one dog that I didn’t get neutered. I had a female and a male dog. The female was already spayed. I put off neutering the male and then more and more time passed and I’d never done it. He was almost always kept in the yard but there were definitely some times that he got out. I admit that my failure to neuter him was irresponsible because of that.
So I’m thinking about the pros and cons of spaying your dog. When I weight them against one another, I come out of it believing that almost everyone should get their dog spayed or neutered. It’s the responsible thing to do. However, I can see some reasons that you might not get your dog spayed.
The main reason that you wouldn’t get your dog spayed is because you want to breed the dog. This could be because you’re breeding a dog for money or it could be a more general case like when I was a kid and we liked having puppies around. You have to consider the consequences of your actions if you want your pet to have puppies but for some people it’s going to be the right thing to do.
What do you think? Is it always wrong not to get your pet spayed? Or is it acceptable for some people to choose not to neuter their pets?