Friday, 2 May 2014

Why we should care for our animal friends

I was set the task of writing about being a good pet ‘owner’ by some friends on Facebook so I have decided to write a little about why I think we have a duty to our animal friends in a civilised society.

Let us be entirely clear about this – if you take custody of an animal as a pet, you have a duty to care for that pet to the best of your ability for the rest of its natural life. 

There are some pets, like cats and dogs, who choose their ‘owners’ by coming up to prospective ‘owners’ and making that person fall in love with them.  In my own case, when I first went to buy a cat from an owner whose cat had recently had a litter I really wanted the female kitten.  She was long-haired and the most gorgeous silvery-grey you have ever seen but she wanted none of it.  It was her brother who came up to me and lovingly rubbed himself against me.  At that moment, he was my companion and my friend.  I called him Merlin and he’s lived with me for 16 years as my constant companion, friend and, although this may sound very strange, my son.

Merlin has annoyed me, scratched me and ignored me at times but when it counts, when I’m sad or feeling alone, he’s always been there for me.  In some ways, he’s been better than any human friend I’ve ever had because he’s never turned his back on me so, in return, I have always ensured that his health and well-being has had priority even over my own.  He has cost me thousands in veterinary bills but you can’t put a price on the unconditional love I get from my beloved cat.

The same applies to any animal who chooses you to live with – there should be no price you are not willing to pay to protect their life and health.  You should play with them, stroke them and love them with all your heart because they’ll return the favour in spades.

Even the animals who don’t choose you as their ‘owner’, such as hamsters, birds, and lizards, deserve nothing less than the best food you can afford, the best home to live in and the best treatment you can afford.  In my own case, my wife and I have been the proud owners of a number of rescued hamsters for whom we have spent a small fortune getting them the best habitats to live in and the best food and treats.  We have also done whatever was necessary to extend their short lives, no matter the cost, as long as they would not suffer as a result of keeping them alive.  We paid £70 for an operation to save one hamster, Fluffy, when she fell ill.  She unfortunately died under the anaesthetic because the illness was more invasive than was first thought but we willingly paid for the operation for the one chance in a million that she might survive and live for a little longer.  We could have had her euthanized for £20 or so and replaced her with a new hamster for about £10 but we felt a duty to try to save her regardless of the low chance of success.  We also spent a whole night trying to save the life of another hamster, Rocky, when we found that part of her bowel had become prolapsed.  We were unable to take her to the vet because they were shut and the emergency vet was too far away for us as we had recently lost our car.  We were told by the emergency vet to keep the piece of protruding bowel moist overnight as it may have been possible to reinsert it the next day.  We kept the piece of bowel lubricated and we bottle fed water to Rocky all night in the hope that we could save her but when we got her to the vet the next day it became apparent that the loss of blood was too great and she died.  In Rocky’s case, we kept up our ministrations all night only because she appeared to be in no distress otherwise I would have taken it upon myself to end her suffering by my own hand rather than watch her suffer needlessly.

Strange as it may be to say this but all of my ‘pets’ are seen not just as members of my family that I ‘own’ but are seen as my sons and daughters and, as such, it is my duty as a parent to care for them to the best of my ability, regardless of the expense.

We should look after the animals in our care because it is the civilised thing to do and because, as humans, we have a duty to look after the creatures that are otherwise defenceless.  Our pets are totally dependent on us to look after them when they are ill or hungry because they can’t cure their own ills and most pets can’t go hunting on their own.

Pet ownership is a sacred duty and a privilege that too many people fail to appreciate.  There are so many horror stories about abuse of pets or the use of torturous devices to ensure an animal’s compliance that I have to question whether we live in the civilised society we supposedly live in.

Surely, how we treat our animal friends says a lot about us as a species and isn’t it right that we give the right impression of our species by taking care of the animals in our charge?  Any less is disingenuous if we claim to be truly civilised.

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