We are well into the Christmas season, the time of goodwill to all, not lastly our companion animals. At this time, I usually take time-off from writing about the more stodgy issues of diseases and their cures, and reiterate musings on the human-animal bond.
Pets – we prefer to call them companion animals – have been with us since the dawn of civilisation. In the case of dogs, well, they have been our friends for over 50,000 years. Cats, on the other hand, seem to have been associated with man for only about 5-7,000 years. Interestingly enough, cat fossils have been found in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but not in the Americas.
When humans began domesticating wolves thousands of years ago, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Many dog lovers say their pets seem to know what their masters are thinking. A study in the journal “Science”, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggests that this line of thought might be at least partially right. Something about the process of domestication seems to have given dogs the ability to ‘read’ certain human behavioural patterns – something wolves and even chimpanzees cannot do.
Some scientists argue that, at least sociologically speaking, dogs (not chimps) are most like humans. Chimpanzees may share many of our genes, but dogs have lived with us for so long that they offer a good model for understanding human social behaviour.
Irrespective of how we associate with animals, whether as pets or for the show arena, or as working dogs (hunters, guards, pullers of sledges or rescuers, etc.), expressions of love have to be offered. This love of animals must not be based solely on emotions; rather, it must be an ‘educated’ love.
For example, we may condemn our neighbours for “starving” their dogs, while we commit an equally hurtful act by overfeeding ours, especially at Christmas. Or we may abuse our animals by bathing them too often, or by feeding them chocolates and spices that are inimical to their health. It makes no sense to berate a child for throwing a squib near a dog, while you yourself would hit a goat for eating your Hibiscus plant which hangs over the fence.
Companion animals are just that; they are our companions. Since domestication, cats and dogs have lived in close contact with humans; we must therefore co-exist peacefully and lovingly. And we are lucky! All the TLC which we give to our pets is returned many times over by our faithful wards.
Experts have proven that the special friendship between animals and humans, in addition to being fun and fulfilling, actually can benefit a person’s health. When an affectionate greeting from your dog at the end of an exhausting day seems to lift your spirits and ease tensions, it is not just your imagination. Your pet is good for you, both physically and mentally. Researchers have proven that the simple act of petting a cat or dog consistently lowers the blood pressure of heart patients. Many studies have since been embarked upon, which show the significance of pets in our lives. Researchers say such studies are exploring a new frontier, and they are only touching the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The fact of the matter is (what we pet owners always knew) that the presence of pets simply makes you behave in a more relaxed and open manner. Pet owners are happier, smile more readily (even old grumpies like me), and communicate better – all of which lead to improved general health – your own.
The loyalty and friendship (very pronounced in the case of dogs) that pets offer to us humans are many times more valuable than any TLC we give to them. I would like, in this penultimate column of the year, to share with you an extract from the “Eulogy of the Dog”, one of the most enduring passages in American courtroom history, presented by Senator George Vest in 1870, in which he represented a client whose dog was killed by a sheep farmer in Missouri, United States.
“The one absolute unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey thru the heavens.”
Senator Vest won the case!
Do enjoy this festive season with your pets.
Please continue to support the genuine and well-established humane societies whose objective is to minimise suffering of animals.