The Purpose-Oriented Owner Part III: Defining and Reconciling Human and Animal Goals
In previous commentaries we explored Nature's purpose-oriented approach and why humans often accept a process-oriented one. In this commentary we're going to examine the role of purpose in our personal interactions with our pets.
Obviously, we should clearly define the purpose before embarking on any process. However, that's not as easy as it sounds. Let's consider the case of Carrie Labatti, whose new pet, Moshi, arrives with pages of instructions from the breeder regarding how to properly feed him. If Carrie is a big fan of those how-to books that compel us to blindly accept another's processes or ads that urge us to "Just do it!", she may immediately start implementing the recommended process. Nonetheless, nothing wastes more time and energy in the long run than the fulfillment of a process that ultimately doesn't take us and our pets anywhere we wanted ourselves and them to go.
Consequently, before embarking on any process, it makes sense to first ask, What is the purpose of this? Although I'd love to say that there's only one purpose that can be attached to any process, that's not the case at all. For example, for the "Just do it!" folks, fulfilling the process, regardless how irrelevant it may be in the overall scheme of things, is the purpose. In their minds, it proves they're doing something; they may even believe that doing so makes them "pro-active." The majority of people who take this approach fall in to one of two groups: those who want to please the process's creator and those who don't want to expend the energy necessary to determine their own and their pets' needs and whether the process will fulfill them.
For example, suppose Carrie is so anxious to please the breeder that she would have fed her Moshi prime rib braised in vintage wine with caviar had the breeder so recommended. I'm sure the pitfalls of Carrie's breeder-pleasing purpose are clear: they have nothing to do with her pet's needs at all. Furthermore, Carrie will only fulfill the process as long as she needs the breeder's approval, which may work to Moshi's disadvantage or advantage. If the breeder's process was developed with the purpose of enhancing the animal's health, Carrie's failure to implement it when she no longer craved the breeder's approval could undermine her pet's health. On the other hand, if those recommendations weren't that sound to begin with, Carrie's loss of interest in the process would actually benefit Moshi.
Now imagine that Carrie looks at all those instructions and then her busy schedule, and decides it's easier to do as told rather than call the breeder and find out exactly why all this is necessary. Because she doesn't ascertain the purpose of the process before she initiates it, she and Moshi might find themselves facing one of two quite opposite and far more time-consuming problems down the line.
- Lacking a viable goalsuch as ensuring her pet's healthto sustain her commitment to the process, Carrie might initially immerse herself in it, but soon lose interest and switch Moshi to the same food she fed her previous pet. If, however, the breeder's recommendations reflect that person's knowledge that his animals can't handle that kind of diet, Carrie's new pet could be in big trouble.
"Had I known the goal of all that was to keep Moshi as healthy as possible, I would have done exactly as the breeder said, no matter how much time it took!" Carrie sadly, but emphatically declares later.
- The breeder also could make those recommendations based more on emotion than any concrete knowledge of animal nutritional needs. Had Carrie asked the breeder what the purpose of the diet was up-front and had he replied, "It makes me feel good," chances are Carrie would have sought more objective input before implementing the process.
The same purpose-related issues also may sabotage processes designed to create a well-behaved pet. Some owners may take their new canines to training classes simply because their veterinarians, shelter workers, or someone else tells them this is right thing to do. Others may choose a particular training class because their friends are in it, or because the fast-paced, upbeat training method appeals to them personally. Compare this approach to first listing the skills we wants ourselves and our pets to gain from any process, and then shopping around for the instructor and/or method which will best enable us to meet that goal.
In the first case, once again gaining the approval of other people serves as the goal of the training rather than the animal's needs. In the second, the goal is owner socialization and the training method's appeal to that person. In the third, teaching the dog relevant skills under the best conditions for human and pet alike is the goal. Which approach is more likely to result in a well-trained dog and enhanced human-animal relationship?
If the need to define and reconcile any goals before initiating any process under normal conditions is crucial, it's even more so when medical or behavioral problems arise. Thanks to all the advancements in medical and behavioral science and technology, if owners and animal-care professionals don't agree on the goal of any treatment first, owners may find themselves involved in costly and time-consuming processes that don't take them where they want themselves and their animals to go.
"But aren't I paying those professionals to tell me the goal as well as the process?" Carrie asks.
No. You're paying them for information regarding your options regarding possible goals and processes to achieve these, and their opinion regarding the best one for your pet. However, the final responsibility for the choice remain yours. Although ideally you and the professional automatically agree on the goal, that's not a given. For example, if Carrie and her veterinarian agree that the goal is to do everything within the power of veterinary science to keep her 16-year-old cat alive, she'll see any process devoted to achieving that goal as acceptable for both her and her pet. However, suppose she doesn't want to put her pet through extensive treatment, and he hates to be away from home under the best of circumstances, let alone when he feels sick and vulnerable. In that case, her acceptance of a goal that differs from what she considers best for herself and her pet may cause both of them needless suffering. That she may have to pay a great deal for a process she didn't want will only add insult to injury.
Trainers and behaviorists also may have very specific goals in mind that may or may not coincide with those owners consider the best for themselves and their pets. Carrie may not care if Moshi sucks on a stuffed toy; she just doesn't want him sucking on himself. However, the behaviorist may be determined to stop the sucking completely. Or the opposite could just as easily hold true: Carrie wants all sucking stopped, but the trainer or behaviorist sees transferring Moshi's sucking to an acceptable object a valid goal.
From these examples, we can see why so many people opt for a process- rather than purpose-oriented approach. Unlike the process-oriented approach which often amounts to little more than joining the march to the beat of someone else's drummer, the purpose-driven approach requires a great deal more knowledge about our own and our pet's needs, a willingness to act as advocates for our pets to ensure their needs are met, and the courage and communication skills to enable us to accomplish this.
Courage? Communications skills? You bet. Some of the most heart-breaking letters I receive come from people whose pets suffered irreversible harm or even death because these folks bought into a recommended process without first determining its purpose and whether that purpose met their pet's needs as well as their own. Although they rant and rave and try to position themselves as innocent victims of circumstances (or evil animal-care professionals) beyond their control, what really destroys them is the knowledge that they agreed to something they intuitively sensed was wrong because they lacked the courage and/or communications skills to say no. So that this won't happen to you, or happen to you again, next month we'll discuss these human qualities as they affect animal health.
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