First, let me state that I am not a pet fancier; I don't
collect animals as pretty objects. And I am not a pet owner;
the animals in my household own me.
Three cats jointly rule my home. Mr. Pilgrim is a true alley
cat. He ate at the backs of some of the best restaurants in
Toronto before joining the family and moving with us to B.C.
to adopt a more laid-back lifestyle. Mr. Galileo is a native
Victorian with more personality than either brains or coordination.
He moved in shortly after we arrived. And Enchante, the Lady
of the House, is an enchanting blue-eyed feline with a long
white fur coat. Her meow directs all activities.
I admit it -- I anthropomorphize my cats. I attribute to
each a greater or lesser degree of intelligence. I view each
as having a distinct personality. I adjust to their moods;
Enchante's need to hide under the bed when she is sad; Galileo's
anger with the vet because of a traumatic first visit; and
Pilgrim's compulsion to go in and out the screen door. I love
my "family." I miss them when I travel. The thought
that I will likely survive to see them age and die can reduce
me to tears.
My love affair with animals goes back a long way. I grew
up with stories of Lassie and National Black Velvet. I spent
my Saturday mornings with Rin Tin Tin. Dr. Doolittle is one
of my favorite movies. And I have often said that my goal
in life is to become an eccentric old lady with a house full
All in all, pets are near and dear to me, deserving of the
very best in food, accommodation and health care I can provide.
They will get their rabies shots, catnip treats and even a
brass bed by the fireplace.
But there's no way I'll descend to providing psychotherapy
for them. That's where I draw the line. I say this because
therapy for pets is now a booming business. (No one should
be surprised by this, particularly in a culture where it is
assumed that "a little bit of therapy" is good for
everyone.) I'm not talking about the obedience trainers who
teach puppies to sit or stay. I'm referring to those who presume
to help pets with their supposed emotional problems.
Many of these so-called therapists operate in ways similar
to those who provide alternative medicine for a variety of
human conditions. Animal psychologist-behaviourist-communicator
Warren Eckstein, in Santa Monica, California, is one of the
most renowned animal therapists. He claims to enjoy a telepathic
contact with animals that allows him to "talk" with
them by reading their "parapsychology and body language."
He gets down on all fours to commune with his patients, ladling
on the hugs and kisses, treating the creatures with the respect,
dignity and the love you're supposed to give to more human
British pet therapist Sonya Fitzpatrick quietly chats with
her clients. In one case, she describes how a dying dog told
her how he wanted to spend his last days and complained that
his owners had never bought him a new collar. Sonya was able
to tell the owners: "He wants you to know he loves you
and he doesn't fear dying."
Carol Gurney, who describes herself as an "Interspecies
Communicator and Bodywork Therapist for Animals," practices
telepathic communication to resolve emotional problems in
animals and, of course, to help rescued animals that have
been victims of abuse or neglect.
But pet therapy is not restricted to these alternative methods.
Veterinarian Nicholas Dodman, the author of two self-help
pet books, The Cat Who Cried for Help and The Dog Who Loved
Too Much, says that cats can suffer from psychiatric disorders
such as obsessive-compulsive disorders or schizophrenic behaviours.
Symptoms such as chewing or sucking woolen products or going
to the bathroom in the wrong place may indicate the need for
the kitty shrink. And if pussy chases an object that doesn't
exist (a sign of hallucinations), plays with old socks (a
sexual obsession) or overeats (another compulsive disorder),
Dodman prescribes a kitty dose of Prozac.
The popularity of these services is, it seems, good business.
Fitzpatrick says she's made a fortune analysing pets after
moving to the U.S. from Britain.
Some of us, however, are trying to resist making this branch
of the psychotherapy industry even more wealthy, particularly
when the notion of humans analysing animal mentality is about
as intelligible as tea-leaf reading and Ouija board communications
with the dead. Given this, though, you have to wonder why
presumably intelligent people are willing to send their animals
to pet shrinks.
A Lassie cartoon a friend of mine has over his desk illustrates
the absurdity of the idea. The first panel shows Timmy sinking
into a pool of quicksand as he yells to his dog: "Lassie,
get help!" The second panel shows Lassie lying on the
couch as the analyst asks: "Tell me how you felt about
People and animals have lived together for millennia. But
only recently have domesticated animals achieved the pampered
status of children in families. (Interestingly, the Oxford
English Dictionary notes that another meaning of the word
pet is that of "spoiled child.") It would seem that
for some people, pets have become their ideal children; they
never grow up and they never cease to be objects of love.
Nevertheless, to project human psychological conditions on
to animals is a mark of a society that continues to descend
in to a sentimental view of the world, including the animal
Certainly, the value of pets to those of us who love them
is beyond question. But why subject them to our crazy ways?
"Get off the couch" is about all that the dogs,
cats, guinea pigs and pet iguanas of the 1990's need to hear
interest see article in THE INDIANAPOLIS NEWS
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