It's December, and a new year is right at hand. (Again! Wasn't it New Year's just, like, two months ago?). As usual this time of year, I've been thinking about things that might make me and the world around me a little better ... besides the annual diet.
My work with the Lawrence Humane Society over the past few years has made me acutely aware of the basic rules of pet ownership that some pet owners don't think much about. I've come up with a set of Pet Owners' New Year's Resolutions that we all might use or share to make the lives of our furry and feathered friends a little happier this coming year.
I resolve to make the vet appointment for my pets' vaccinations and booster shots as soon as the reminder shows up in my mailbox. It goes without saying why the rabies shot is so critical: we can't, as responsible community members, risk the spread of a killer disease like that, both for the sake of the animals and for the safety of the people. And the other annual boosters help keep our pets healthy. We all know that dogs can find the most amazing things to eat when left to their own devices; it's unthinkable to me to put them through illnesses that a simple booster shot can prevent. The same for cats, of course - especially those who roam free. A one-time contact with another animals can be enough to spread feline leukemia, for example, and for those of us who have lost cats to that, it's a heartbreaker.
I resolve to check the water and food bowls each day. Some pet owners don't even think about this. Be sure the water is fresh, and the bowls are clean, without the build-up of that pinkish slime around the sides. A once-through in the dishwasher is all it takes. And make certain for outdoor animals that the water doesn't freeze in the winter (water bowl heaters are fairly inexpensive and readily available) or evaporate in the summer. Food should be fresh, healthy, appetizing and sufficient. Don't let dry food go stale, or wet food sit out for days on end. Make sure your birds have enough seed, and your horses and cattle enough hay, especially in the winter when they need the extra energy to stay warm.
I resolve to make sure all my pets have a dry, sheltered place to sleep. Find a soft, safe location your pet can call his or her own. It may be a basket in the corner, a warm blanket or straw in the garage, or a cozy hutch in the backyard. But wherever and whatever, don't ask your pet to weather the elements that you wouldn't want to face yourself.
I resolve to spend time with my pets. Statistics say most people spend no more than about 20 minutes a day with their companions. Dogs in particular are social animals. They exist for their pack and especially for the alpha member of the group. Pet your animals, play with them, and talk to them, too. They may not understand the words, but they understand the comfort of a familiar voice speaking in friendly tones.
I resolve to spay or neuter any new dogs or cats I bring home this year. Remember the number 80,399,780? That's the total number of felines that one unspayed female cat and one unneutered male and all of their offspring can produce in 10 years' time. Dogs like making puppies, too, and rabbits? Let's not even go there.
I resolve to keep an eye out for animals that are being mistreated, abused or used for recreational fighting, and to report these situations to the proper authorities. It's sad, but some people just don't care about the animals they take on. They don't understand the wonderful companionship they're missing, and far more important, the animals they're abusing don't deserve that kind of treatment. If the people don't understand that, then we have special laws that apply to them. Animal abuse is a felony in this state, and we're happy to let them feel the full weight of justice.
I resolve to keep litter boxes clean, and to clean up after my dogs when I take them out in public. For the cats, remember they can't flush the boxes themselves, and full boxes are just plain unpleasant. Dogs? One Web site I visited stated that the more than 68 million dogs in the U.S. deposit more than 13,000 tons of feces each day. Not a pleasant fact, but we need to remember that whatever our own animals contribute to that amount is our responsibility, not our neighbors'.
I resolve to keep an eye on my pets' health, and if they're sick I'll get them to the vet as quickly as I can. I'll watch for signs that they're not feeling well, and as I pet them and play with them I'll check for lumps and bumps and sore spots that may not have been there before. Their health is part of my responsibility. I don't want them to hurt.
I resolve to end my pets' lives compassionately, if that is what I must face with them this year. I will be with them in the end, so they don't have to face that transition alone and afraid.
I resolve to honor my commitment to care for my pets as members of my family, and to recognize that they are not just possessions that can be left behind or traded away. They are living beings who have been committed to my love and care.
And one last suggestion: I resolve to keep the Humane Society's phone number (843- 6835) where I can find it when I need it, and I will support the work they do in whatever way I can.
Happy New Year's, everyone, from the staff and board members at the Lawrence Humane Society.