If you’re like me, you can’t imagine living without pets. I have always had them. Over the course of my life, from early childhood on, I’ve had every kind of pet you can think of. As an adult, owning a farm in upstate New York, a ranch in Texas, and then a ranch in Florida, I’ve had pets ranging from buffalo to Scottish long-haired cattle, to elk, foxes, coatimundi, anteaters, ring-tailed lemurs, horses, goats, chickens, peacocks, cows, cats, dogs, and exotic fish. I’ve learned a great deal in these many years about how to help these animals live long and healthy lives. That knowledge is what I now want to share with you.
And I know that there are many people who are eager to put such knowledge to use. Right now, there are more pets in America than people, which means that many people have more than one pet. And many count their pets among the most beloved members of their family. These people are willing to go the extra mile for their cherished animal companions. In fact, people will frequently do things for their pets that they would not do for themselves, as I’ve discovered after a long career of trying to educate the public about how to prevent or reverse sickness using natural means, and discovering that despite a vast supply of resources, many folks will frequently not take beneficial measures for themselves, either because they think it’s too much trouble, or even, deep down, because they think they don’t deserve it. But for their pets, these same people will do the right thing. While it doesn’t make any sense, on the pet side of the equation it’s no mystery why people are wildly devoted to their animals.
Pets are the ones, after all, that provide us with unconditional love, joy, comfort, and an emotional vulnerability and warmth that are not easily obtained from other humans, at least not adult humans. Indeed, pets are like children in these respects, but they’re like children who never grow up and go out into the world, so that they always need us to feed them, give them shelter, and give them warmth. And unlike humans, who are not always grateful for the energy that we put out, pets are filled with unlimited amounts of love for us. If you’re having a rough day, if you’ve been around someone who may have been insensitive, unkind, or thoughtless, you can always bet that when you open the door, your pet will be glad to see you. There will be a wagging tail, the chatter of little bird voices, the rapid movement in the water of fish, a purring sound, a brush against your leg to make a connection. Suddenly you’re needed, appreciated, loved for who you are, not for what you’ve achieved or for your income level.
There’s a bond that’s created with pets that is deep, meaningful, even spiritual. One of the first things that pet owners ask others with dogs or cats is, “Where do your animals sleep?” And with a lot of people it’s in bed, of course. There has to be a real feeling of closeness when we allow something or someone to be with us during our most vulnerable time, our sleep. To me this illustrates the trust and love that we share with these creatures.
Most pets, with the exception of some birds and horses, have a short lifespan. The irony is that the one we care so much about we know, in all probability, will die before we do. So there’s a great sense of the preciousness of the moments we spend with our animals. Staying bonded with them and having them at your side becomes doubly important. Those people who work from home know that animals are generally going to be right there with you during the day. Indeed, that friendly shadowing by an animal is one of the plusses of working at home.
A group that particularly benefits from the presence of pets is home-centered senior citizens. When you put a pet around a senior citizen you frequently see a joy and a vitality re-emerge in that person’s life. Pets have unique personalities, but they all seem to say, “Pay attention to me,” and they respond to your attention. What’s nice about most senior citizens is that they have a great deal of patience, and they have the time to really pay attention. They can take their time to do things with a sense of quality and care, which makes them a perfect match for pets. Even—and especially—elderly people in nursing homes can have mutually beneficial relationships with pets.
Actually, human beings have always had a symbiotic relationship with animals, even as our perceptions of them have changed over the ages. Animals were once treated as gods. The ancient Egyptians’ reverence for cats is the best-known example of this; in that society, killing a cat was punishable by death. Cats certainly lost their privileged status in medieval Europe, when they became associated with witchcraft and were often killed. Not only was this a cruel practice, it harmed European civilization, which could have used cats to get rid of plague-carrying rats.
For much of history, working animals, such as horses, were essential to human survival. People didn’t have horses for the joy of riding. They had horses because they needed them to take them from one place to another. What’s more, a horse would plow your field. You couldn’t do that job by yourself, and thus, you respected your horse. You understood that if you didn’t take care of him, that horse was going to die, and so would your farm, and maybe your family. Likewise, sheep and goats performed essential services, providing wool for warmth and milk for nourishment. Dogs were workers too: Some were bred for hunting; the smaller ones were bred for going into holes after rabbits and foxes, the larger ones for hunting larger animals—bears or boars—or for protection. If you look at ancient paintings and drawings and read the literature of antiquity, you’ll see that people’s animals were a very important part of what they considered their possessions to be. And people knew that if they abused their animals, or were indifferent to them and they died, that could directly affect their own welfare.
It’s amazing to realize that it’s only in the past hundred years that we’ve come to look at animals less as beasts of burden or work-mates and more as pets. Except for those farmers who happen to have livestock for slaughter, almost everyone else who has animals has them for the joy of their company.
Part of our changing mentality vis-à-vis animals is that today, we’ve come to see that we’re really neither their owners nor their masters. In the legal sense, yes, we may own the cat or dog or horse. But in reality, we know that they are our companions rather than our possessions or servants. Consider, particularly, cats. You can say that you own a cat or are its master. But watch how a cat’s own, totally unique attitude will determine whether you can get near it and when and how it interacts with you. You’re really not its master; you have to get the signals from the cat. And it’s the same with a horse. You can feed that horse, and you can pet it when it’s in a stall. But let it go into the field, and then call it. See if it comes to you. If you want to ride the horse, see if it’s willing to allow that or whether it becomes a major effort. I’ve seen people that have to chase their horse around a field for half a day! They try to get it by bribing it with carrots or apples, but it doesn’t want to be ridden. It doesn’t even want to be around people; it wants to be with another horse or by itself. Then again, if you’ve raised that horse with a lot of love, rather than with fear, anger, or indifference, it may come right over to you because it wants to be there. Animals remember how we’ve treated them in the past; thus, we teach them how to respond.
In turn, animals teach us many things. Humility is one: We become humble as we go about the daily rituals of pet care and cleanup. It’s something like the sense of grounding you get from caring for a baby. You have to come down off your high horse and abandon your pretenses if you’re going to take care of a baby or a pet, and I think this makes both pet owners and new parents relatively easy groups of people to communicate with. Having a pet can help you develop the warm side of your personality, as you surrender your own fears and ego and open up to the needs of the animal. That then allows you to be more open for human contact.
In addition, animals can help us learn patience, and balance, because an animal will always try to balance itself in its environment. We can learn focus as well, and we can learn to be more playful. Animals can teach us to be gentler in how we treat each other. And they can show us the virtues of simplicity. They do this, of course, by example, but also because it is only by simplifying our lives that many of us baby-boomer types can have room for our pets.
Now I feel it’s time for us to make room for new ideas about pet care. Over the past several years I’ve seen that, even with the best of intentions, we in America are feeding our animals the wrong foods and engaging in other practices, such as over-vaccination, that are contributing to disease. I’ve found that in Europe, particularly in Italy and Germany, people frequently have pets—whether it’s horses or dogs or cats or birds—that live substantially longer than those in the U.S., sometimes double the lifespan. In an effort to close that gap I’ve consulted the finest minds in veterinary medicine, practitioners who use a holistic, nontoxic, natural approach to optimizing animal health, preventing disease, and reversing disease—even life-challenging illness. I bring you the results of their experience here, as well as of my own. Some of what’s in this book may shake up your long-held assumptions. But then that’s always been one of my goals, along with a happier, healthier life for both people and their animal friends.