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16 October 2014 by Grace on Living with dogs

An Opportunity for Education

I have a confession: I daydream about dognapping my neighbor’s dog. I know it’s bad and it definitely sounds a lot worse saying it out loud, but hear me out. I want to dognap this dog because I think he deserves better. For 20 minutes today, I watched him sit nicely on the doorstep, waiting for his person to emerge. When my neighbor finally opened the door, he yelled, “Move!” and walked right by his faithful companion.

Every day this dog greets his people when they get home. If he is recognized, he might get a pat on the head but most days, the child is complaining that the dog is licking her.

Cold… heat… rain… wind… this dog is outside; he is never allowed in the house, so his ratty, little blanket is on the porch. When I approached my neighbor, his first response was defensive and insisted that the dog had food, water, and shelter. But when I pushed about the dog being outside, he had the “he’s just a dog” attitude.

My knee jerk response to a situation like this is fury. How can someone treat a family member with such disregard and abuse?! But here’s the thing: it’s not abuse. My neighbor provides his pet with the essentials, barren as they are: food, water, and
shelter. In my profession, I encounter this every day and I must check my opinions and judgments at the door. My neighbor is not a bad person; he sees his dog as his parents probably saw their dog—an animal, just a dog, not a family member.

My neighbor’s dog watches my dogs and I from his yard. At a risk of anthropomorphizing, I watch him watching my dogs not only going in and out of the house, but also getting up on the couch/bed—being petted and loved on, and receiving treats and praise. It’s sad. My dogs are family members and instead of judging my neighbor, I need to educate.

A quote by Bradley Miller says, “Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child, as it is to the caterpillar.” Education is a powerful tool. Starting young is even better. Earlier I mentioned that my neighbor’s child is constantly complaining about the dog. Without education, how will she treat her dogs when she’s an adult? I met a 10-year-old boy at one of my events last week. He was insistent on helping me and explained that he was an “avid animal lover” and wants to help. He then went onto ponder, “Why would anyone treat his or her dogs badly?” He told me that his cat is part of the family and even had her own stocking at Christmas. Now talk about the power of education and a complete difference from my neighbor’s child (same age, mind you).

While dogs don’t need their own stocking (mine got one, of course), they do need a positive relationship with their people. Through education, people can change the idea that their dog is a possession and begin treating their dog as a living and breathing creature that needs so much more than food, water, and shelter.

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