Dogs and cats aren’t people. I think about this when I hear people say that animals have rights just like people or when people say they feel almost the same way about their pet as they do their human family members. I understand these feelings, but animals aren’t people. Based on the behavior of a lot of people in the news lately, I am not so sure pets aren’t better than some people. Recently, I have been reminded of several things dogs and cats can do better than people.
I read a book called “Soldier Dogs” that reminded me about the value of all working dogs. The book pointed out many things dogs do that can’t be done by even the best trained human soldier. The sense of smell and hearing in dogs makes them irreplaceable on the battlefield. I think everyone knows about how dogs are used in the military and on police forces for their sense of smell. Soldier’s lives depend on the ability of these dogs to alert them to explosives on the battlefield. I was surprised to read about how their sense of hearing was utilized. These dogs can be trained to hear the high pitch sound of the wind blowing over wires used to trip explosive devices! It is hard to estimate how many human soldiers these canine soldiers have saved from injury and death.
The book also talked a lot about other ways the soldiers become close to their dogs. The companionship the field dogs provide to their handlers is invaluable. On the battlefield the dogs are with their handlers constantly. They sleep together in foxholes. They eat together with soldiers often sharing their own food with their dogs. Several soldiers talked about how on the battlefield when they were hunkered down in a foxhole trying to get some sleep, they would wake up to see their dog standing watch at the opening of the foxhole. I have no idea how anyone could get sound sleep on the battlefield, but I think having a watch dog on duty would help at least a little.
Another area an animal can often be more effective than people is the affect they can make in various pet therapy programs. My first exposure to this was when I was in veterinary school and a group of students would take dogs to the area nursing home once a month. I remember one older gentleman whose eyes would light up as soon as he saw us arrive with the dogs. He couldn’t speak real clearly, but over the months I learned he had had a dog many years ago and his affection for the dog was obvious. I later learned from the staff that they had not been able to get this gentleman to open up and talk to them at all until we started bringing in the dogs. These dogs had broken down walls that he had built up over the years and allowed the staff at the nursing home to begin interacting with him.
A more recent example of this type of therapy involves a client of mine who is a therapist. She helps patients who have gone through incredibly difficult psychological and health crises in their lives. Twenty years ago she had been involved in beginning a pet therapy program at Memorial Hospital here in Lima. However, her pet therapy program in her private practice was one that got started without her even intending to have one. Her office manager liked cats and happened to find a couple of adult littermates looking for a home. She adopted the cats and they stayed right there at the office.
Over time, they seemed to find their way into the therapy sessions. Often they would even knock on the door if it was closed. The therapist would always ask the patient if it was alright with them for the cats to be in the room. It seemed the cats already knew the patients that really needed them though. Patients who previously wouldn’t talk openly seemed to open up. Big, tough guys who couldn’t or didn’t want to open up and discuss their problems with the therapist now were talking. There was just something about those cats that allowed people to open up.
Recently, one of these cats, Fuzzy, died very suddenly. He appeared to have died in his sleep with no prior warning of any problem. While Fuzzy will certainly be missed, don’t be concerned for the therapy patients. Blue is picking up the slack and working harder than ever to help the patients.
Chad Higgins, DVM has owned Amanda Animal Hospital for almost 16 years. He sees dogs, cats, and little furry critters.