Comprehensive  Ways To Delightful Healthy Pets
THE PERFECT FIT
WHY ARE WE SO FASCINATED BY ANIMALS? BECAUSE THEY bring the wild into our living rooms. We want to reconnect with our roots and deepen our sense of where we come from. We reap many rewards from animals crossing our paths. We gain insight into the inexplicable from their truncated lives—insights about joy, love, control, surprise, play, acceptance, giving, letting go, and grief.
Whether they are permanent pets in our homes or brief encounters in nature, animals transport us with their beauty. Many people have fascinating stories about how they found their pets—or more often, how their pets found them. It may feel as if we provide for them, but it may be the other way around. They are more than just a wet nose and some fur. The sheer force of their animal nature can bring out our humanity and, at the same time, preserve a little bit of wildness in us too.
If you touch a wild baby animal, the mother will reject it. Not true. You can return a baby bird to its nest, and the mother will take it back. Don’t worry about leaving your scent on the fledgling. Most birds don’t have a good sense of smell. Feel free to put baby bunnies back, too.
When I worked long hours in a veterinary emergency clinic, our dog, Tundra, got up from wherever she was and ambled over to the door to wait for me—always about twenty minutes before I arrived home. This would be understandable if the time I came home was the same every night. But there were no regular shifts.
It seemed like somehow Tundra always knew when I was on my way. My husband, Matt, and I decided to try an experiment. It took twenty minutes for me to drive home. As I got in the car to start the drive home, I checked my watch. If he happened to notice Tundra going to the front door, he’d check his. These times were always within about two minutes of each other. She knew when the homeward-bound decision had been made. How? I have no idea.
The more I’ve learned about animals, the more I believe we underestimate their ability to interpret and interact with unseen forces in our world. Could Tundra hear my car start from six miles away? Is there some frequency it gave off or that I gave off when I travel? Or could it be a phenomenon that is not yet fully understood by humans?
I don’t know how Tundra knew when I was close to home, but I do know that electro-sensors have been discovered around sharks’ mouths. These electro-sensors detect body electricity from several yards away. They can detect even a five-billionth of a volt. Bats can correctly locate and intercept a moving insect from over ten feet away in the dark. Snakes have sensors tuned for heat that allow them to distinguish changes in temperature as little as 0.01 degree Fahrenheit from a foot away. This allows them to follow the heat trail of passing prey in the dark and find warm places to help regulate their own body temperature. Trees have been documented to communicate with each other over vast distances in response to threats from insects. In fact, all living things—animals, plants, and humans—give and receive cues to help us fit together on this planet.
Pets in our homes can contribute to a better, more balanced life. From fish to felines, from cockatoos to canines, animals give us sight lines back to our evolutionary heritage.
The original reason that people had pets was that they provided us with something we needed and vice versa. The idea was that they seamlessly fit into the lives of humans. Cats lived in a barn because they took care of a rodent problem. Dogs provided a second set of eyes and acute hearing as an early-warning system, and a sharp set of teeth for protection. They lived on a combination of our leftover meat and whatever they could catch on their own. Up until recently, most leftovers were not grain-based.
It’s possible to imagine that, over time, dogs and even cats could evolve to eat as we do, digesting more corn or wheat, or even becoming vegetarians. But that radical a change would require long-term adaptation. An example that illustrates this point is the divergent diet preferences of two animals, both in the bear family, Ursus: the largest terrestrial carnivore, the polar bear, and the diminutive spectacled bear that is the only species of bear found in South America. The former, also known as Ursus maritimus or even Ursus arctos horribilis, is the most carnivorous of the bear family, which is a requirement of its harsh environment, while the latter, also known as Tremarctos ornatus, is primarily an herbivore and only about 5 percent of its diet is meat.
These two bears’ body structure and organ systems have changed significantly, over tens of thousands of years, to accommodate and survive in their distinct and different environments. Polar bears have long, sharp teeth and their claws are short and stocky to dig ice and drag heavy prey. Spectacled bears have long claws that allow them to climb trees, and their molars are large and flat to enable them to chew tough plants. Polar bears require a large amount of calories provided almost exclusively by the high fat content of marine mammals.
Spectacled bears, however, rely primarily on bromeliads, palms, orchids, leaves, shoots, and fruits, supplemented with nuts, eggs, seeds, and occasional small animals or carrion. The polar bear is so adapted to its environment that it cannot survive on terrestrial food sources alone—the few berries and roots they eat are not a significant part of their diet. The opposite is true of the arboreal spectacled bear, which cannot thrive without huge amounts of vegetable matter—the animal protein they ingest is incidental.
It wouldn’t work to suddenly change a polar bear’s diet to all vegetables, just as it wouldn’t be wise to feed a spectacled bear a meat-based diet. Each of them might survive for a while, but they would not be healthy.
For as long as I can remember, animals have been a source of wonder and delight in my life. Growing up as the only nonallergic child in a family of six siblings, I spent years surreptitiously healing injured animals, “hospitalized” under my bed. Thanks to the joy of caring for animals and having my own pets, I am inspired every day to become a more patient and compassionate person.
As humans we can choose to be a part of nature or collide against it. Our pets help us fit in to nature and in turn, we must help them by creating a lifestyle that considers their ancestry.