Hardened criminal. Swimsuit model. New media revolutionary. NPR host. Animator. What do they all have in common?
Their lives have been made better by having a pet. And we’re not talking oh, I have a cute cat and I sometimes feed it and it makes me chuckle, I’m talking about people whose lives have been profoundly affected by the animals in their lives.
I assume if you’re here reading this blog, you feel it too. Something about the bond between ourselves and our pets goes way beyond the mildly symbiotic relationship developed millennia ago when cavemen tossed scraps to the wolves on the outskirts of the clan; it is an uncomplicated, pure type of love, and those of us who are fortunate enough to have experienced it spend most of our lives trying to come up with ways to pay our animals back for what they give to us.
This Tuesday, I attended the Purina Better With Pets Summit in New York City. As it was the inaugural event, I didn’t know what to expect. No one did, really. 16 speakers in a Ted Talk-ish sort of format, 20 minutes each to share their stories of how pets have enriched their lives. It was, to put it mildly, fantastic.
Some speakers were enlightening, like Dr. Brian Hare from Dognition who is learning some amazing things about dog breeds and different measures of ‘intelligence’:
Some were funny, like Alex Ohanian from reddit- who talked about how putting a cat on your head and taking a picture creates an experience that allows people to connect with all of humanity:
Some moved us in entirely unexpected ways, like Black Label Dance Company’s exploration of a man’s relationship with his aging dogs:
And some just reduced me to a slobbering mess of OMG-can’t-deal, like Judy Finnegan of Puppies for Parole. Missouri’s program has rescued over 2,000 dogs from euthanasia at high kill shelters, placed them with prisoners for 8-12 weeks, and ended up transforming the lives not only of the saved dogs, but the deeply hardened men who found, through these dogs, how to learn compassion.
These are just a couple of samples, but the other previews are available here, including the inimitable Dr. Marty Becker ending us on a lovely note. When the full videos are up I’ll share again because there were some powerful messages in there that bear repeating, like Dr. Robin Downing’s assertion that reducing pain saves pets’ lives, and Dr. Arleigh Reynold’s touching discussion of moving to Alaska to live and breathe life with his dogs. Doesn’t that sound cool?
I left the event much more affected than I thought I would. As someone who has made my life’s work about animals, I forget that just because someone else hasn’t, doesn’t mean their pets aren’t just as important to them as mine are to me. I forget why I do what I do- not because I love pets, but because so many other people do as well, and I can provide something that helps make that even better. In our human world of strict social order, etiquette, and rules of conduct, pets are one of the rare things that can transcend that artifice and bring us all to the same level.
Group hug, everyone. Life really is better with pets.
*disclaimer: Purina invited me to the Better with Pets Summit and generously covered my travel expenses. They did not pay me or require any posts about the Summit- all opinions and musings are entirely my own.
Linda Case says
Beautiful piece, Dr. V. As always, you capture that universal joy that we all share and celebrate in the love of our animals. Our animal companions bring us together in ways that we often could never have anticipated, your lovely blog being one of those! Thanks for posting this – I hope that Purina will post the entire talks for all to hear!
Dr. V says
They are going to in early December- there was one story in particular that really stuck with me. One of the rescued dogs, a lab named Soldier, went on to work in a veteran’s nursing home. He has a special gift for knowing when a soldier is about to pass on. He takes the elevator, stopping at each floor until he finds the right one. Leash in hand, he walks down the hallway, stopping at each door until he finds the one he wants, then he walks in and gently lays his head next to the veteran to give him comfort as he leaves this world.
Everyone needs to hear that one.
Lisa W says
Oh my gosh, warn us when you’re posting that so I’ll know not to watch it in the office! Makes me tear up just reading that paragraph….
Kim L. says
“As someone who has made my life’s work about animals, I forget that just because someone else hasn’t, doesn’t mean their pets aren’t just as important to them as mine are to me. I forget why I do what I do- not because I love pets, but because so many other people do as well, and I can provide something that helps make that even better.”
Life IS better with pets. And this is why I love reading your blog. You say you forget — and maybe you do — but you’ve created a wonderful community of people who are connected by that very mantra. Your understanding of the “life is better with pets” spirit (and the fact that it comes in all shapes and sizes) bursts through all your posts. For example, you embrace responsible breeders AND rescue/shelter advocates. As a rescue/shelter advocate and volunteer, some of your posts have made me think. And that’s a good thing. So thanks!
Dr. V says
That is really sweet. I appreciate that!! And thank you too!
Megan Taliaferro says
Oh my gosh, I’m already tearing up and I haven’t even watched the videos yet! Life really is better with pets!
Cathey Avery says
Can’t wait to watch the videos – thanks so much for sharing!
I HAVE CAT says
Great use of video! Wish I had done that!