Pets and People
By “Awake!” correspondent in Australia
“I CAN still recall it as if it were yesterday, although it is many years ago now. There would be a shriek of delight and then my little girl would appear and proudly proclaim, ‘There’s another baby pussycat, Mommy.’ Then she would be gone again to await the next arrival.
“Animal life fascinated her. One day she brought along an inch-long creature nestled in her cupped hand. ‘Look, Mommy, I’ve got a really tiny pussycat.’
“‘No, dear, that’s a caterpillar,’ I explained.
“‘No,’ was the emphatic reply, ‘it’s all furry. It’s a tiny pussycat!’
“At one stage we had both a cat and a cocker spaniel dog. It still makes me smile as I remember their playing together. The cat would sometimes put its paws around the dog’s neck and lick its face. The dog would just close its eyes and lie there in ecstasy.”
This mother’s experience bears out the fact that pets certainly are popular. Two out of three households in Australia have at least one. Dogs are the most common, followed by cats, birds and fish. Also, horses and ponies, wallabies (small kangaroos), rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, turtles, lizards and snails are kept, not to mention more exotic pets, such as peacocks, snakes and bats.
You may own a pet. Or maybe you are thinking of obtaining one for yourself, your children or someone else. Even if one just lives near or knows people who have pets, considering the relationship between people and pets can be of benefit.
Why Do People Own Pets?
The Encyclopædia Britannica makes the comment: “Keeping pets satisfies a deep universal human need, and pets are found at every cultural level.”
In a recent Australian survey, people were asked why they owned a pet. The outstanding reason given was for companionship. With dogs, for protection and, in some cases, useful work were also mentioned. Some kept pets for breeding purposes. Others viewed their pets as an aid to relaxation.
Many parents feel that having a pet can be an advantage to children. It can provide pleasure and companionship and give firsthand knowledge of animal life. Viewing mating, pregnancy and the bearing of and caring for offspring can help youngsters to understand the miracle of procreation. On the other hand, facing the sicknesses and even the death of a pet can help prepare a child for harsh realities of the present life.
Pets afford opportunity to impress upon children the fact that another life is dependent on them. All too often, parents buy pets for eager youngsters, only to find that after the novelty has worn off, they have to look after the pet themselves. But the mother whose experience was related at the beginning of this article recalls about her daughter: “When she had silkworms, she regularly had to go down the street for mulberry leaves. Washing, grooming and feeding the dog was also her responsibility, although we used to help her out at times. We taught her never to be cruel to animals and to commend and reward the dog when it was good. When she did, it would look up with its soulful eyes, and its stumpy tail would virtually wag the dog!”
Mentally and physically handicapped children are among those who have benefited from contact with pets. It can help the children to relax and adjust better to their environment.
It is common to find pet owners among couples of all ages who do not have children at home. The challenge involved, along with the playfulness and affection of a pet, sometimes acts as a substitute for having children around. Many of the lonely and the elderly have gotten great pleasure and benefit from the companionship, affection, loyalty and sometimes the protection of their pets.
A sad fact in the breakdown in human relationships is that sometimes older people living alone can become obsessively attached to pets. One social worker reported: “An old gentleman needed medical attention for his infected toe. He put off seeking attention for months because it might mean being without his dog. . . . The man lost his leg because gangrene had set in, but he was happy as long as he could see his dog.” Some older folk have been known to die soon after losing a beloved pet.
But apart from excesses where pets are lavishly coddled and treated as if they were humans, pets in their place can form a happy and useful part in the lives of many families and individuals.
Caring for a Pet
Often pets are acquired suddenly, perhaps through a pet owner’s efforts to pass on unwanted offspring. But as the fluffy little ball of life grows, so do the responsibilities. The Bible, at Proverbs 12:10, comments: “The righteous one is caring for the soul of his domestic animal.” Sometimes that is no small matter.
Expenditures for pets include the cost of food and veterinary treatments. The latter may involve deworming and vaccinations, as well as special services for sickness and accidents.
Time is involved, too. Grooming, washing, feeding, training, exercising and giving care, affection and discipline all take time. Of course, the amount of time varies with the pet and with individuals.
Then there is the responsibility one has to the pet and to other people. For example, dogs desire human companionship and need time spent with them. They also need an enclosure suitable to their size. One authority bemoaned “the number of people in small terrace houses who have Afghans and Great Danes.” If fences are not maintained, dogs can escape, causing destruction of property, dirtying the street and becoming a danger to traffic. At times, noise from pets can annoy neighbors. Exotic pets may be exciting for a while, but often are not suitable to be kept in a house. Both the animal and the owner may suffer.
In modern city life, finding suitable accommodations can be a major problem for pet owners. Also, when a person travels, providing care for his pet can be difficult or expensive.
Stray dogs and cats, often from families where the pet is not cared for, are major problems in many cities. In Australia (population 14 million) about 50,000 stray or unwanted dogs, and far more cats, are put to death each year. Hence, many cat and dog owners have their pets desexed if they do not intend to breed them. This also discourages the animals, particularly the males, from wandering away.
Diseases from Pets to People*
Diseases can occasionally be transmitted from pets to people, sometimes with serious consequences. If reasonable precautions are taken, there is no need to fear. However, it is wise to know something about the more common diseases.
Rabies is a serious problem in some parts of the world. In areas where rabies is prevalent, it is customary to vaccinate pets against it.*
Toxascaris, a parasitic roundworm disease found commonly in dogs and cats, has been receiving increased attention in Australia since a child was recently blinded by it. Pets in city areas are more often infected, with puppies being the worst offenders.
Large numbers of worm eggs are passed in the pets’ feces (droppings). Being sticky, they adhere to the animals’ fur as well as to carpets, lawns or toys. From there they can be transferred to the mouth by way of unwashed hands. If accidentally eaten, immature worms from the eggs migrate to the liver, nervous system and brain.
Even if one does not own a pet, it is important to know of these dangers. The eggs can survive in the ground for years. In a recent British survey, they were found in the soil of many parks and playgrounds.
Tapeworms (hydatid disease) can be passed on similarly. Skin diseases can be transmitted directly (such as ringworms) or by way of mites.
Caged birds, including parrots, pigeons and poultry, may harbor psittacosis (ornithosis). Even when they appear to be healthy, this can cause influenza and pneumonia. It is promoted by overcrowding and artificial conditions and can be transmitted by inhaling dust containing dried bird droppings or by contact with a sick or a dead bird.
By following common-sense hygiene, pets will be kept in their rightful place. They will still be a great source of enjoyment, but not a threat to your family’s health.
Having a Balanced Viewpoint
For many people, caring for a pet is a precious part of their lives. The pet’s affection and loyalty, individual traits and ability to react to its owner bring much pleasure.
Others find that their circumstances, desires or way of life restrict the time or facilities that they could provide, and so they decide against obtaining or keeping a pet.
Yes, pets can certainly bring much joy to man. But it is good to keep a balanced viewpoint of them, because pets can never replace or equal good relationships with other people.
See Awake!, November 8, 1971, pages 21 to 23, for additional details.
For a more extensive discussion of rabies, see Awake! of May 22, 1978, pages 25, 26.