Commentaries

Human Relationships, Pets, and the Human-Companion Animal Bond

When my son Jeremy married in July, our family gained not only a wonderful daughter-in-law, Melissa, but also her delightful cat, Lena. When Jeremy’s brother Dan married Ellen, we gained a dog named Spike. For as often as such human-animal mergers occur, the roles our animals play in those relationships normally don’t gain a lot of attention unless problems arise. When problems do arise, the animal or his or her behavior often becomes the target of any blame. However more often than not, when problems arise, they arise because of a lack of understanding of the human-animal bond as

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Advanced Directives (“Living Wills”) for Pets

Several years ago I formulated my advanced directives describing my wishes for my care should I become incapable of making those choices on my own. I did this because I saw the confusion and heartache that arise when loved ones become incapacitated and did not want to impose that on my family and friends. Around that same time I was working on Preparing for the Loss of Your Pet  (now available in an updated version, The Veterinarian’s Guide to Pet Loss )and realized that writing advanced directives for our pets made good sense, too. However, while I devoted a whole

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The Human-Animal Bond and Addiction

Is the human-animal bond addictive? The first time that question popped into my mind years ago, I immediately wanted to dismiss it with a definitive, “No!” Like so many animal lovers, I wanted to believe that nothing but good could come from our positive feelings about animals and theirs about us. However as the years filled with interactions with both pets and their owners mount up, I’ve had to accept the possibility that the bond does have its dark side and that such an addiction could be one of them. Even more disconcerting, I’ve had to accept that while

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Patterns in Animal Behavior and the Human-Animal Bond

Of all the seasons, I don’t think any reminds me more than spring of the role patterns play in nature. The second week of May, the hummingbirds return and if I don’t have their feeder ready for them, they will hover outside my window and chitter angrily at me. If I continue to miss the point, they will dive-bomb me as I leave the house. Patterns also characterize our interactions with companion animals. As with our interactions with wild animals, sometimes these enhance and other times these undermine those animals’ well-being. And this, in turn, may enhance or undermine

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The Human-Animal Bond, Birds, and Spring

Spring arrived the third week in March in my narrow New Hampshire river valley, signaling the end of a winter that began mid-October and seemed like it would never end. In retrospect I can recall all the signs of impending spring, but that rush of springness that suddenly occurs when nature reaches the seasonal tipping point invariably takes me by surprise. How, I wonder, do those who pay no attention to the natural world around them survive? Don’t they feel a tremendous sense of loss or at least some sense of emptiness in their lives? Possible answers to those

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Fighting, Football, and Animal Behavior

Given the current political penchant for touting war in this country, it’s difficult not to think about what animal behavior can teach us about fighting as a viable response to a real or imagined threat. Even those with only limited knowledge of animal behavior know that evolution rewards those species and individuals who get the job done using the least amount of energy: How does fighting to gain or hold on to resources rank as a valid survival strategy in terms of conservation of energy? A major up-front energy-saver takes the form of the majority of fighting being done

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From Whence Cometh the Human-Animal Bond?

The phrase “human-animal bond” or its variations now occur in the literature so often that the idea of asking where the bond comes from seems almost laughable. However when you try to pin someone down regarding the source, a certain amount of waffling often occurs. In general, probable sources fall into one of two categories: We may either inherent the potential or, barring that, we may learn it from others given the desire to do so and someone with the necessary knowledge to teach us. While some view this as an either/or question and champion their personal view while

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Words of Wisdom for Animal-Lovers

January invariably spawns numerous commentaries about resolutions we should make to resolve every problem known to plague everyone, including animals. For pet-owners this, in turn, may generate a multitude of promises to correct those animal-related problems which we soon break when the demands of daily living take hold again. Rather than contribute to that guilt-producing sequence, this year I offer three quotations from those much wiser than I which I believe are of particular value to all who enjoy interacting with the nonhuman animals who comprise the overwhelming majority of the animal life on this planet. The first, from

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Pet Gifts for the Holiday Season

Today began fairly typically for a pre-holiday day in off-the-beaten-track New Hampshire. I took the dogs out in the predawn hours, then listened to the news for as long as I could stomach it. Some days, though, I don’t get the news turned off soon enough, and the reports and rumors of wars, terrorist attacks, outbreaks of disease, economic ruin, and other real or fabricated human-created horrors that always seem to worsen this time of year make it difficult to focus my thoughts. “Is this any way to practice thanks-giving or the peace and good will of the holiday

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Lao-tzu and the Human-Animal Bond

Recently I had the opportunity to speak at the annual conference of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and, in one of those fits of inspiration that occur far too seldom when I seek to end a presentation just so, I remembered Lao-tzu’s words about teachers: Good teachers are best when students barely know they exist Not so good when students always obey and acclaim them Worse when students despise them. Of good teachers, when their work is done and their aims fulfilled, The student will say, “I did this myself.” In the past I’ve paraphrased this profound sentiment

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