Archives for July 2011

Pet Interventions: Right or Wrong?

Are pet interventions right or wrong?

This is a question that came up from discussions over my post, How are your animal observation skills?

The bottom line? It is your choice and very subjective based on your background.

Some people said they would speak up and others said they would mind their own business.

What would you do?

Before you answer in the comments, let’s look at the term, intervention:

An intervention is a deliberate process by which change is introduced into peoples’ thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

This is the definition I like. My work has been dedicated to implementing change and it hasn’t been an easy path. However, I work in particular settings and with clients that hire me–and so don’t work with just anyone I meet.

If you want to look at intervention in the more traditional sense:

An intervention is a combination of program elements or strategies designed to produce behavior changes… *snip* Interventions that include multiple strategies are typically the most effective in producing desired and lasting change.

Evidence has shown that interventions create change by:

  • influencing individuals’ knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and skills;
  • increasing social support;
  • and creating supportive environments, policies and resources.

Bold emphasis is mine. A simple passing public interaction may or may not accomplish change–at best let’s hope it might plant a seed.

Now I like the first definition but the problem with this topic and term is that it is related to humans not animals.

Intervention on the behalf of an animal is a little different because animals are considered things (livestock) and the property of their humans.

Gary L Francione called the animals as property issue, “moral schizophrenia.” Beyond legal jargon, the individual and his or her definition of  what is appropriate for an animal varies widely as would the vague cruel or unusual label.

So basically, what you think and feel about an animal or its situation probably isn’t relevant under the law and it might not even be something of concern to another pet owner.

It certainly will vary greatly if someone is from another country, different culture, educational background, economic situation, or social circle.

As I pondered this issue, I thought back to a recent interview where I think I pissed off the writer because she wanted to believe that it was wrong to allow cats outside.

Personally, I think that is an individual’s choice that is influenced by different factors.

Yes, indoor cats have longer lives, etc., I’ve written about this before.

So, sure, in a perfect world I prefer having animals live in safe conditions but also believe they need environmental stimulation, education (socialization and training) and what I call the Animal Minimum Daily Requirements:

Animal Minimum Daily Requirements

  • mental stimulation & occupation
  • physical activity
  • companionship
  • adequate and regular veterinary care
  • appropriate nourishment or nutrition
  • daily assessment and quality management
  • a suitable, safe, secure, clean and comfortable environment

Notice these guidelines don’t stipulate any nuances about inside or outside conditions, methodology of training, or what an the exact environment of choice is–those are subjective opinions and decisions a pet owner has to make.

Of course, I have my opinions but my goal is to make the best workable living conditions for the human and animal in each individual situation.

For example, if you live in a rural area, chances are your cats live outside, in a barn–or some combination between the two. I’d hope you’d get feral cat advocates involved in a colony situation but many just shrug off such efforts.

Although I grew up in a suburb, I now live in a semi-rural area where pets roam the neighborhood and visit the neighbors. A few outdoor cats do survive but usually not for long.

However, the dogs do well and all the neighbors know them and interact with them.

Since there is little traffic, the main threat to the health and safety of these pets tends to be predators.

But when people hear about pets roaming around, it mortifies urban dwellers. The interviewer was an urban dweller and she was incensed. I tried to challenge her thinking.

Obviously, if you live in a city or urban area, your pet practices and viewpoints are probably pretty different from my community’s and your pet has a whole different lifestyle than the previous ones I mentioned.

But who is right and who is wrong?

Except for some rules dictated by local ordinances, any answer would be totally subjective.

Now, as an animal person, I have intervened in different situations over time.  These interventions mostly have to do with safety or the life and death of the animal concerned.

However, if it is an owner issue, and he or she is not my client or not participating in one of the educational efforts I am involved in, I usually opt-out.

My goal is to implement change where I can and this no longer includes people I meet in passing.

So here is another question for you to ponder, what is your opinion on this in social settings– is intervention appropriate?

Remember that party situation in are you making things worse?

I ultimately had the opportunity to discuss things with the pet owner but wonder if you have faced social situations and how you have handled pet issues in the homes of friends or family.

Perhaps I’ve been in the animal behavior training and management field too long. But I’ve learned this over time, people have their opinions, you can give them information but they don’t have to accept it or even be open to it.

My advice?

  • Chose interventions wisely
  • Change what you can
  • Be the example you want others to copy

Okay, what do you think? Leave your comments below, or if they are closed, take a moment to leave a note over in my Facebook community.

Photo Credit: Joshua Ommen

How are your animal observation skills?

Lately I’ve been out in public more than I have been in some time.

If you are a subscriber, you know that I am getting ready to start seeing clients again after being unavailable for the past few years.

I have to say that being incognito has been interesting, to say the least.

Earlier this week I happened to be at my mobile office location–a popular gathering place for conversation, coffee and people watching.

Now, as you might expect, I spend more time dog watching.

Over the years in my profession I’ve noticed that most behavior problems stem from the miscommunication between the pet owner and their pet(s) and the failure of people to really see their animal and its behavior clearly.

So I have to ask, how are your animal observation skills?

Because my work is all about communication and creating an animal connection, I am constantly stunned at what people miss or fail to think about.

This particular thought process was triggered by the arrival of a man with his dog and the resulting activities in the public environment.

First off, he arrived with a dog who was outfitted in a pinch collar and on a chain. This was a red flag to me even though I caught his arrival through my peripheral vision.

My spider sense was activated and so I observed as he approached.

Through my work over time, I tend to insert people into specific categories when it comes to animal sense and patterns of behavior.

This guy fit into the one where the attraction of getting an animal was more for the status (or allure) of what owning the particular breed might project.

Although you cannot conclusively identify a wolf-dog mix visually (see my series on wolf dog hybrids), he did boast that this animal was a wolf (although a true wolf would require specific licensing as it is illegal to have them otherwise) and chatted to others about this.

As for the critter, he was fearful, still young and still unaltered. This man was oblivious to his animal’s discomfort as he left the dog unattended and chained outside as he entered the coffee house to order.

I’m not saying that he didn’t care about the beast but as an observer, I had to wonder why he would put his animal into a situation where the stress level created such a high level of discomfort.

In the midst of the environment, there luckily was a friendly adolescent dog nearby. This canine clan member served as a reassuring presence despite the fact that the insecure male dog was also fearful of it.

In the hour or so that I observed this animal, people ignored his signs of distress as they imposed themselves upon him or attempted to invade his space.

The animal consistently moved away from everyone who approached, panted heavily, tucked his tail between his legs, and cowered consistently as people remained oblivious to what he was telegraphing.

It wasn’t until he finally was able to nestle in near his owner that he settled down.

As for the owner, he never paid much attention to the animal but occasionally rubbed his neck if the animal inserted himself between the table and chair in an effort to escape yet another human breaching his personal space.  His pet finally climbed up to get next to him and only then began to relax.

One of the people in the public area was a wolf dog owner with whom I consulted with sometime back. As we were departing, she expressed her surprise that I didn’t insert myself into an interaction with the man or the animal.

This got me to thinking about it. Why would she assume I would get involved?

She did know that I frown on any wild animal pets or those bred with a domestic animal–perhaps that triggered the comment.

As a professional, I tend to reserve my expertise for my clients and select public education efforts.

Some people get involved in matters such as these.

So, I wonder what you think about the choices this pet owner made in bringing his animal to the public area where the creature was clearly stressed.

How would you have acted if you were sitting nearby? Would you have noticed the animal’s distress? Would you have engaged the owner or have tried to interact with the dog?

Leave your comments below or, if they are closed, take a moment over to my Facebook community.