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what makes a great pet? our connection to furry friends



A client recently asked me, “What makes a great pet?” It caught me off-guard. Truth is, I’d never really given it much thought.

All pets are great, right? Some pets are truly incredible, amazing once-in-a-lifetime friends we’re lucky to share our lives with. Others, maybe not so much. Good – just not quite great. So what makes the difference? How could I answer that question?

When I finished seeing patients later that day, I decided to list the attributes of great pets I’ve known over the past 40-plus years. This list is incomplete, totally biased, and probably down-right wrong. But it’s my list, so here goes:

1) Looks and/or acts like me.

Ok, I know this sounds superficial and shallow, but I see it all the time in my clients and patients. People tend to pick pets that resemble them in some manner. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.)

Socialites clutch a Chihuahua or Maltese, the only two breeds that could keep up with the Kardashians.

Big dudes prize Bulldogs and active people like Labs.

Cats, in general, tolerate us humans as long as we serve them faithfully and don’t request much – well, anything from them.

Perhaps we seek out the best parts of ourselves in the pets we choose. Our pets definitely bring out the best parts in us. Either way, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it (as the proud owner of a hyperactive, hyper-vocal, whippet-thin beagle-Lab beach mutt).

2) Doesn’t mess in or mess up the house.

Despite the popularity of movies like Marley and Me, pets that destroy the home don’t tend to go down in the annals of greatness. Constantly chewing, making messes or damaging furniture earns most pets permanent residence in the doghouse.

I often hear clients complaining about their current companion as they fondly recall a previous pet that “trained themselves” or “never, ever behaved like this.” They share stories of how these great pets of the past were faultless. I’m guessing the passage of time has softened the harsher realities of puppyhood. I know today’s problem pet is tomorrow’s perfection. 

The good news is we can effectively train our pets to share our lifestyles with just a little effort. Unless, of course, your pet is Marley.

3) Speaks to me.

At the risk of sounding New Age-y, I communicate with my pets. Really. Not in a “Dog Psychic” or “My Cat from Hell” television-shenanigans way, but in a quieter, more personal manner.

A look, wag, or head bump speak volumes to me.

My pets cheer me up when I’m down, inspire me when I need motivation, and celebrate my successes. Regardless of the economy, traffic or how grumpy I want to be, it’s nearly impossible to remain glum when I’m covered in dog kisses and my cats wind their way round my legs. They tell me to knock off the gloom and enjoy the moment at hand.

And, somehow, amazingly, it works. Every. Single. Time. I can’t explain it and I don’t know if I want to. I just know it is. And that’s what makes pets great.

So what makes a great pet to you? Do you talk with your pets? Do they talk back? I’d love to hear your thoughts about our fantastic four-legged friends in the comments. 

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Comments
Posted by Diane Gonzales
on January 28 2014 12:11

I have to agree with you, Dr. Ernie. You hit the major points of a great pet. For me, I get a tremendous amount of joy (sounds corny, I know) when my two cats greet me at the door when I come home from work, or wherever I've been. To me, this is more of a dog trait, but I had one cat who would come from wherever he was (my mother told me about this) at 5:00 pm every day and sit in the window and watch for me. I also talk to my cats like you do. No baby gibberish for them. They understand a great many things, like "who's ready for bed?" They will walk with me to my bedroom and make themselves comfortable on our bed. And, yes, they talk to me too. I have one who is a Birman mix (rescue), who I believe is more Birman than mix due to the fact that he has their traits and coloring. Birmans tend to talk in chirps and mews and I get such a kick out of it. My other cat, who is also a rescue, has a little bit bigger voice, but rarely uses it. So when she does talk, I know it is important. I have had some wonderful dogs, also, but living in a mobilehome and having to keep them indoors while I am at work seems somehow cruel to me. Cats are good indoor pets. Perhaps when I retire, I will find me a great rescue dog that will keep me fit by walking me (this is also a great pet trait). All in all, I don't think that there is such a thing as a "bad" pet if one takes the time to give their pet what it needs - training, exercise, food, water and lots and lots of love. You can NEVER give too much love.

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