Editorial June 1998 Issue

What’s Best for Dogs?

You’ll find it in the pages of The Whole Dog Journal.

There doesn’t seem to be any limit to what people will do for their canine companions. I’ve heard stories about people paying hundreds of dollars for oil portraits of their dogs, thousands of dollars to put braces on their dogs’ teeth, and millions of dollars for a building dedicated in their deceased dog’s memory. Why have we become so dog crazy?

The results of a survey of North American pet owners were published recently by the American Animal Hospital Association. Their numbers confirmed the fact that dogs are climbing the family tree. To wit:

• 76 percent of respondents feel guilty when leaving their pet at home.

• 41 percent of pet owners take their dog on vacation with them; 61 percent include them in holiday celebrations.

• 18 percent have provisions for their animals in their wills.

Why do we care so much?

It’s got to be because they do.

As a species, dogs give and give and give. Faced with such constant love and generosity, most people – whole people – can’t help but come around to their example.

I subscribe to a service that sends me stories about dogs in the news. Every day I read articles about dogs that have made a difference in the lives of the people around them.

Some of them are ordinary friendly dogs like Twiggy, a young Beagle mix and the delight of six mentally disabled women who live together in a group home in Lauderhill, Florida. The residents happily share the responsibility of caring for Twiggy, taking turns walking and feeding her. Twiggy joins them on the couch, treats them to plenty of doggy smooches and attends “family” meetings. It’s easy for disabled people to get accustomed to being taken care of, say their counselors, whereas caring for another living being has motivated the women to start taking better care of themselves and their home, at least partly so they can spend more time with Twiggy.

Some dogs, like Chocolate Chip, a 10-month-old Dalmatian, bring special abilities to the relationship. Chip was trained to warn her people about a family member’s impending epileptic seizures. In her first week on the job at the home of Shanna Wilson, a five-year-old girl living in Statesville, Tennessee, Chip alerted Shanna’s mother to an impending seizure, so she was ready to assist Shanna.

Witness Luke, a three-year-old Golden Retriever in Minneapolis, Minnesota who searches for people who wander away from home. Luke was especially trained to search in big-city settings after a relative of his owner was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “He gets so excited when he finds somebody,” says his owner, Twin Cities veterinarian Mary McCormick. “I don’t think there’s anything that makes him happier.”

I read about these dogs, and I think about Rupe, my own devoted canine companion, who faithfully follows me from room to room all day long, spending long, boring stretches under my computer table. Try as I might, I can’t explain why the relationship between dogs and humans is so strong, any more than I can articulate why Rupe and I are so bonded.

All I know is, with a nudge of his nose under my elbow, at least 20 times a day, Rupe reminds me he’s there if I need him.

And I find that I do!

Here’s the bottom line: Dogs don’t need running water in their dog houses or diamond-studded collars. They just need us to be there. And what better way to “be there” for our companion animals than to equip ourselves with the knowledge and understanding necessary to take optimal care of them? The simple ideas and techniques described in each monthly issue of The Whole Dog Journal will help you prevent disease from occurring, or stamp it out if our best efforts at health maintenance fails. Knowledge, understanding, awareness, sensitivity: They really are the best things you can give your dog.

-By Nancy Kerns

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