If you’re anything like me — and experts say that almost two-thirds of you are — then you share your life with at least one companion animal. The vast majority of these critters are dogs and cats, but I know there are countless other animals that inhabit our homes as well, from gerbils to snakes to fish to birds to tarantulas (which is where I draw the line — I refuse to allow a hairy spider that’s the half the size of a small child through my doors).
In this new column, I’m going to talk about living with these pets, especially dogs.
Why dogs, you ask?
Mostly because Americans engage in more human-related activities with our dogs than our cats. We don’t have cat parks or use avalanche cats or teach cats to catch flying discs or use cats on mushing teams. For the most part, cats hang out at home or in the yard or barn, and are pretty content to just curl up in our laps in front of the fire on a cold winter night.
So, at the risk of alienating all the cat fanciers out there as well as my own much-loved feline companion, in the coming weeks and months I’ll be devoting my attention to life with dogs.
The current canine love of my life is a sweet 8-year-old Golden Retriever named Joey, who came to me four years ago through the folks at Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue. (You may be wondering why this column is called “Casey’s Corner,” when my dog is named Joey. I started the column back when Casey was alive, and I’ve retained the name in his honor.)
Joey was recently certified as a therapy dog, so when we’re not out hiking the trails or traipsing through the local stores — especially those that have dog cookies — we visit hospitals and rehabilitation centers, just to bring folks some cheer. Plus, I love seeing the smile on Joey’s face when he touches someone’s heart. Talk about therapy.
Dogs have been part of my life since I was a child. We always had a dog in the family — every one an unidentifiable mixed-breed from the local animal shelter — although the way I care for and interact with my dogs today is a far cry from what my parents did.
Back then, no one took their dogs to the vet except for rabies vaccinations or if they were badly hurt, seriously ill or needed to be put down (often because they were badly hurt or seriously ill). Potty-training consisted of whacks with a rolled-up newspaper and banishment to the garage. The idea of a yearly checkup was preposterous unless you had a show dog, and treatments like surgery or chemotherapy or even arthritis medication were unheard-of.
“It’s just a dog” was the conventional wisdom among most people.
Some still live by that mantra, but I doubt that many of them will be reading this column.
Today, many of us — including me — see our dogs as very much members of our families. They sleep with us, play with us, vacation with us, even go to work with us. We feed them special food, we insure them and school them and pass legislation to protect them and when their lives end we deeply mourn their passing. They are in every sense of the word, companions.
In future columns, I’ll be talking about all the aspects of living with these companion animals, from the silly to the sublime and everything in between. While I’m not a veterinary medicine expert or animal behaviorist, some of what I’ll be bringing you may touch on health or behavior issues — like, why you need to watch your dog’s waistline as much as your own, or what experts say about using positive reinforcement instead of punishment in training your dog. (Or, for that matter, your spouse or your child … but that’s a different column.)
Whether it’s about pet-friendly hotels, how to choose a groomer, adopting versus buying your next dog, the great work done by rescue organizations or what it takes to get your companion certified as a therapy animal, my hope is that the thoughts I share will bring us all closer to an understanding of the mysterious bond that exists between we humans and these exceptional creatures.
Joan Merriam lives in Northern California with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org.