Tag Archives: human-animal bond

The Undiscovered Country

I’ve had to usher a few of my oldest patients into the afterlife in the last two weeks. Some of these pets have been under my care for over 8 years, and in that time, something that I have been having trouble articulating has grown. It’s a feeling that blurs the lines of vet, owner, friend, family…

With an uncanny prescience, or perhaps a bit of cosmic luck, a friend of mine recently penned a letter that beautifully encompasses exactly what I was having trouble saying. He’s graciously allowed me to share that here with you. Thank you, “coldnose.”

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Oh, Kuma, I don’t want to be here with you, not like this. I want to be at my desk at work, comfortably focused on my immediate tasks; not here in this train, travelling with my unceasing unbidden thoughts of you. If I can’t work then I want to be reading, or walking; or doing anything at all except for losing myself in this confusion of memories of you. If I think of you at all, I want it to be with unconcerned and lazy fondness: right now you should be sleeping, or watching the dawn and awaiting the start of your day. I want to think of you as vital, gentle, and secure in the knowledge that, one way or another, life goes on. But life has not gone on, and now I travel in the company of your calm and charismatic shade.

You’re gone, I know you’re gone, yet I seem to feel your presence still. Are you out there, somehow? Does some integral trace of you persist and wander, embedded and immersed in a deeper reality as once you immersed yourself in your environment of redwood and strand? Or, this ‘you’ I feel, this ‘you’ that I even now feel compelled to speak to — are you only your evanescent reflection in my memories, a mental model to which my intuitive theory of mind cannot help but ascribe an ongoing independent awareness? Somehow I feel you’re still here, yet I miss you, yet I’m speaking to you now in defiance of time and distance and death itself. Such strange contradictions that our minds are wont to hold.

Strange also, how much you came to mean to me when we actually spent so little of our lives in each others’ company. But you were so remarkable, Kuma. Beautiful you were, yes; as beautiful as any creature I ever met; but also vital, and self-aware and self-assured, possessed of an easy serenity and an apparent intuitive understanding of your right to your place in this world. You were your own creature, invested with more richness and subtlety than I could ever have fathomed, and, to me, you were also something of a lodestone and a symbol for aspects of what I want to be, what I aspire to, what I uphold as the Platonic ideal of a life worth living. I loved you; not like your owner loved you, not like I love my own dog; but enough that something of what you were left its imprint in what I am and what I carry forward in my own existence. I never met anyone quite like you, and I hope I never will again. I don’t want you to be anything but unique: a singular point, never to be repeated in all the unfathomable phase-space of all possible creatures across the tapestry of all possible time. So long as you’re irreplaceable, you are in a tiny sense eternal.

Kuma, you are gone from us. I heard the news in one of those casually brutal ways, from the kind of off-hand comment that goes clean through one’s breast like an intangible bolt, leaving only a numbness that gradually, over hours, transmutes into a puzzled, pleading, stubbornly irrational disbelief. I had unquestioningly thought to see you later this year, to spend time with you, and part of me insists that’s still possible. Another more rational part, gentle and compassionate, reminds me over and over again that I can never see you again, not in this life. Sooner or later that part will win out and I’ll really understand that we’ve lost you, and then I’ll be able to weep. From now and forever more I shall know you only in my memories, and I shall never forget you.

I can feel the tears starting to rise and I think it’s time to mourn you now. And if my fellow travellers wonder why I’m crying in public, they should know that it’s for the best reason that could ever be.

Kuma, 2001-2014 †

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Thursday News — Horse Yoga

I’m not even going to introduce this one. Just go look…

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The Minds of Dogs

For a very long time, mankind has tried to understand the mental capabilities of the animals around us. Perhaps more than any other, we’ve sought to understand the dog. Dogs have been with us for at least 10,000 years (possibly as long as 30,000). That remarkable length of time has made dogs a part of the very meaning of what it is to be human. Owners will tell you that dogs communicate with humans, that they understand humans, that they think and feel as well as humans do.

Data has been lacking to support what pet owners intuitively seem to understand. Studies have shown that dogs can understand 100-200 words. We understand a lot about their behavior, too, including their body language. What we haven’t been able to grasp so well is whether they feel emotions that would be recognizable to us.

A lot of the behaviors that owners would say are dogs thinking and feeling are more likely to be a pet reacting to conditioning or our body language or tone of voice. We aren’t sure if there’s any human-level thinking and feeling going on there. It’s tempting to anthropomorphize: assigning human attributes to a non-human thing. Please don’t misunderstand. I, too, would love to say that there’s obvious proof of dogs thinking. I certainly see enough different dogs and hear the owner’s anecdotes to make a believer out of me. However, it’s important for us to be strict about gaining scientific proof.

Enter this article: What fMRI Can Tell Us About the Thoughts and Minds of Dogs.

A scientist is using an fMRI to examine the active parts of a dog’s brain under certain stimuli and situations. His preliminary results indicate that there are some striking similarities between human and dog brains. Areas that in humans are related to the sensation of pleasure in response to getting a favorite/good food also activated when dogs anticipated a food reward.

The researcher has proposed that these preliminary results will be the beginning of a radical re-thinking of how we view animals in our society. Are they just property, just ‘dumb’ animals, or do we have a much, much greater responsibility for treating them as far more? Pet owners will have no trouble extending this stewardship. They already do so!

Check out the article if you have a few minutes. It’s an interesting read for both the scientist and romantic.

Close up of a Whippet s head

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Do Pets Grieve?

I’m frequently asked if pets experience grief at the loss of an owner or another pet in the household. The short answer is “Yes, they do.” Linked below is an article from the Green Bay Press Gazette, written by written by William Hageman, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Studies suggest some animals grieve loss of owners, housemates

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Part of the Family

This week’s post is a tough one. I’m experiencing what many people experience when their pet’s life is drawing to a close. My own cat, Phoebe, has been in kidney failure for 3 years. She’s done quite well, all things considered, and I’ve had her 3 years longer than I expected to. More recently, she began to exhibit signs of a specific form of stomach cancer that occurs in cats that have had inflammatory bowel disease for a long time. Suffice to say that last Monday, I was facing down some extremely difficult decisions about how much testing and treatment it was fair to put her through. She’s 16 years old.

I opted to try some medical management to see how she did. We’ve had a much better week and her whole attitude and physical status are much, much better. I’m confident that I’ve bought her some time, though I know that ultimately, I’m going to lose the fight against the renal disease and/or the cancer.

What I decided was an utterly personal choice based on the knowledge of my own cat’s tolerances and preferences. The forms of medication, which medications, whether I’m breaking the ‘rules’ of how to give the drugs or not, etc. … It’s all a balance between what I can do as her vet and what I should do as her owner. Phoebe will be with me for as long as she feels good. When she doesn’t, my obligations are clear to me. I owe her no less and far more.

Let me just say plainly that I have always been empathetic to owners’ difficult decisions for end-of-life care. Now, my sympathies are even more deeply rooted, having had to face this on a personal level. I will never know what it’s like for -you-, because your life and your bond with your pet are things I can’t know personally. We -all- know the pain of decisions and loss.

Today, though, I’d like to celebrate shared lives. A part of who we are is shaped by our companions. They are family. We grow together, we grow old together, we help one another even in the most difficult of times.

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The photo above was found on this Tumblr blog.
Please note that Tumblr is kind of the Wild Wild West of the internet these days. I can’t vouch for the content on the rest of that blog or any other.

Have a pet photo you’d like to share? Email Me!

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A Special Bond – Cats & People

Cats pose more mysteries to us than answers most of the time. Cat owners undoubtedly have a bond just as strong with their pets as dog owners do, and they learn to interpret the signals that cats provide. Relationships with cats are subtle and complex, but scientific study has revealed a few interesting facts about how cats interact with their owners.

Both of these articles are at the Discovery News page.

Cats Don’t Actually Ignore Us by Jennifer Viegas

Cats may try to hide their true feelings, but a recent study found that cats do actually pay attention to their owners, distinguishing them from all other people.

The study, which will be published in the July issue of Animal Cognition, is one of the few to examine the cat/human social dynamic from the feline’s perspective. Cats may not do what we tell them to, but they usually adore their human caretakers.

Cats Adore, Manipulate Women

The bond between cats and their owners turns out to be far more intense than imagined, especially for cat aficionado women and their affection reciprocating felines, suggests a new study.

Cats attach to humans, and particularly women, as social partners, and it’s not just for the sake of obtaining food, according to the new research, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Behavioural Processes.

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