This week a picture of an elderly man pushing his dog in a wheelchair went viral. Well, it at least went viral in my world of Facebook, Twitter and email – all social media roads that led to me were crowded with this image. That may say something about me; it certainly says something about my friends and definitely portends what I do for a living. Whatever the cosmic message this convergence was supposed to send was lost the moment I read the caption, “This guy has this dog, and she can’t walk anymore. So he takes her out for a walk every day in a wheelchair”.
Love takes many forms and those of you like me understand where this gentleman is coming from. We love our pets; they are members of our family and as such we would do anything for them. My dog moved cross country with me, driving 40 hours through snow, rain and Utah. Then, just last Monday he ate an entire bag of unopened tortilla chips while I was at work. Through highs and lows, I love my dog and I would do anything for him.
I’ve often said that pet ownership is an irrational urge. We don’t need cats, dogs, rabbits, horses, birds, or hamsters to survive. They get hair on our stuff and occasionally eat our Tostitos. Yet we have a pervasive drive to bring pets into our homes and ensconce them as members of our clans. Has humankind lost its way? Are we all stark raving mad? Perhaps we are, but not because of our love of pets. I am often reminded by staff and friends of all pets do for us. Certainly, they provide companionship, unconditional love and amusement. Yet this is far from an inclusive list –one could make a case that pet ownership isn’t that altruistic at all, but in fact self-preservation.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, Triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness. Sound good? Wait there’s more–pets can increase opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities and socialization. Now I am not saying you should dump your Lipitor or multivitamin and get a cat, but research indicates that pets enrich our lives and can even extend our lives.
I grew up in a family that loved our pets. Sparky (our childhood beagle) was not just a pet, not just a family member–he was my mother’s favorite child. The cruel truth always seemed to be that our beloved pets were with us all too briefly. Perhaps it just seems that way because they help us stay here longer.