Friday, July 3, 2009

Have You Hugged Your Pet Today?

By Julia Williams

The importance of hugs should never be underestimated. Without this vital form of touch, our health (both physical and mental) would surely suffer. Many of you may remember hearing the true stories about babies in orphanges overseas who were deprived of touch, and they failed to thrive and grow. Studies have also shown that how we were touched – or not touched – early in life can even impact our immune system later in life.

Touch never loses its force. Hugs never lose that magical ability to transform a crappy day into a great one. Hugging dissolves barriers between people; it melts the metaphorical “ice” around a person’s heart, and helps us cope with pain and sadness.

Can you imagine never hugging your pet? I certainly can’t. Although an animal’s intellectual ability differs from humans, they still have thoughts and emotions, and the basic right not to suffer at the hands of their human caretakers. Unfortunately for pets, the moral rule and the laws on what constitutes neglect are much more lax than with human beings.

A few years ago, I nearly ended a friendship over this very thing. My friend was renting a cottage where the landlord lived on the property. They kept a German Shepherd in a small pen very near the entrance to his cottage. And when I say “small,” I mean small. The poor dog belonged to the landlord’s son who didn’t live on the property. It was rather obvious no one paid this dog a lick of attention other than putting down food and water for it. The dog was never taken out of its pen to go for a walk or get a bath (and it stunk to high heaven!), and who knows when it had received any form of affection.

As an animal lover, it distressed me greatly to see a dog kept in such deplorable conditions. I begged my friend to do something to help the dog. I asked him to talk to the owner about the dog’s care, or ask if we could walk it or give it a long overdue bath, but he didn’t want to get involved. I could’t understand how he could drive up every day, look over at the dog who was crying out for attention, and just go into his house. It broke my heart.

I called the animal shelter to ask them what constituted animal cruelty, and was told that as long as it had food and water, and some shelter (it had a partial makeshift roof over one end of its pen) there was nothing they could do. I was aghast that in this day and age it was still legal to treat an animal like that. However far we’ve come with human rights, it’s apparent we still have a long way to go in regards to our pets.

In the end, I persuaded my friend to speak to the owner, who spoke to his son. He came over now and then to let the dog run in their yard on a very long tether. He also gave it a bath. This wasn’t much, but it was certainly better than what the dog had before. My friend and I could also pet him without needing to take a hot shower afterwards. I wanted so much more for this beautiful dog who definitely drew the “short stick” in life, but it was out of my hands.

If I made the laws, hugging would be a basic right for all animal companions. But since I don’t, all I can do is give my own three cats as many hugs as humanly possible. It’s a win-win for us all. They enjoy the attention and the love, and I get to feel the pure joy that comes from touching (and being touched by) another soul. It doesn’t matter to me that a “fur coat” sets us apart in terms of species classification. A hug is a hug, and it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Have you hugged your pet today?

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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