You have probably heard the term “Responsible Pet Ownership”. I have. Often. That figures, in my line of work where I try to educate pet owners. In fact, I have used the phrase many times myself. The problem with it is:
(i) It is in danger of becoming a boring phrase – overused, not at all ‘sexy’
(ii) What does it actually mean?
Trying to define Responsible Pet Ownership (RPO) is more difficult than it sounds. Yes it’s about providing food for Fido and taking Sam/Max/Tiger to the vet when sick but it is more than that.
I think RPO is about making pet owners think. Taking them over and above what an animal needs to survive but providing what it needs to thrive. Here are my suggested 3 basic rules of RPO:
(i) Choose your pet carefully
(ii) Provide everything your pet needs to survive
(iii) Try providing some things your pet might need to thrive
Think of it as Alive, Survive, Thrive!!!
The first seems self explanatory. It rules out impulse buying, buying pets as gifts for friends, buying a Kelpie when you live in a unit and watch TV 18 hours a day. And yet so may people even get this wrong. Instead choosing carefully means considering how much time, energy and money you have and choosing your dog, cat, bird, horse or snake accordingly.
The second is what we need to do by law. We need to provide adequate and appropriate food, water, shelter and vet care and to ensure our pets are kept within the confines of our homes or attached to us when out and about. Of course not all people manage to do even this most basic of survival task.
The third is what I would like more pet owners to try. Pets can survive with very little from us. They do not thrive, however. Bringing out the best in your pet is a joy and a priveledge that all pet owners should strive to do.
Here are some suggestions for helping your pet thrive:
· Look at the breed of your pet. What was it bred to do. Find an outlet that matches this natural instinct. If your dog was bred to hunt, hide food in your garden. If he was bred to run, try an agility class.
· Teach your pet something new every week for a month. Any age and any species of animal can learn. Humans are the limiting factor in animal learning.
· Teach yourself something new every week for a month about your pet. It doesn’t matter how much you think you know already, you can learn more. Read books and websites, go to talks or watch TV shows (remembering that many are one person’s viewpoint).
· Take your pet somewhere new. A dog might enjoy a new outing or a new park to visit. A cat or a smaller mammal may enjoy being taken to a part of your house or yard that they have never been. Set up a picnic for them.
· Give your pet a new toy or belonging. You can buy all sorts of toys and you can also make them (toilet roll holders, cardboard boxes). Watch the pleasure of your animal investigating his new toy.
· For those pet owners inclined to dress their pet or even those who have never considered it, put an item of clothing on your pet. Watch everyone come to talk to you just because your dog is wearing a bandana.
NOTE: When you start to do things that make your pets thrive, be aware that there are people who tell you that it is a waste of time, money, energy. That your time/money/energy could be better spent on other projects- helping starving children, earning an income, playing golf. Smile sweetly and ignore those people. In my experience pet owners who help their pets thrive do all sorts of other good things too. They are caring, sharing people.
You can hear Dr Jo discuss this topic on radio Listen here