THE PURSUIT OF PET HAPPINESSIf your dog wags his tail in your house and no one is there to see it, is he still happy?
“I JUST WANT TO KNOW IF DAKOTA IS HAPPY.” I HEAR THIS FROM owners nearly every day.
Are Simba, Diesel, Oscar, Darby, Ladybug, Numbers, Pippin, Isabelle, or Ariadne happy? How can we know?
When we brought animals out of their natural habitats and into our homes, we formed a partnership with them. The original impetus may have been for protection, but I believe that even in the very first human interactions with a cave-pet, there was an element of joy. We hope their domestication has brought them more advantages than disadvantages. Because we are grateful for what our pets offer us, we want to reliably provide what they need. We are advocates for these silent family members.
Nonetheless, they communicate with their language of wagging tails, purring, and head-butting. We’d like to believe that our pets are at least as cheerful as they might be in the wild. In general we do not concern ourselves with the comfort level of wildlife. However, when I worked in wildlife rehabilitation, I was deeply concerned about this, particularly because the animals were under human care. I was certain that once returned to the wild, they would make their own way. While quantifying the contentedness of a wild animal is difficult, I assess the happiness of pets every day.
Owners wonder if any animal can be satisfied living in an apartment, a small ranch house, a mansion, a farmhouse, or a high-rise. They might wonder if the pet that travels the world with my client Oprah Winfrey is happier than the pet living in a city apartment with my client Sondra, who works as a night nurse. Both pets seem content to me.
Pets keep us grounded in the moment. Despite our busy schedules, the pace of a pet remains the same, and we must become part of that pace, if only for a brief part of our day. A fifteen-minute walk with your dog or a quiet moment with your cat is invaluable for both you and your animal.
Pet owners understandably worry about myriad things: whether they provide too few or too many activities for their pets, whether they are feeding them the best food, if current vaccine schedules are safe, and if alternative treatments really work. Finding the right resources and correct answers is fraught with false claims and vested interests.
In response to all of this, I urge pet owners to not overanalyze. A pet should be a joy, not a job.
It is simple. Your pet lives in a safe, secure existence with a loving person. At the same time, understanding the primal imperatives will satisfy the inner wildcat and make the outer housecat purr; it will nourish the inner wolf and allow the outer puppy to grow.
I have noticed clients in my practice becoming more confident about their pet care decisions. They know that the Royal Treatment is not a plan that lavishes pets with unneeded pampering, but a sensible way to treat them. Giving your pet the Royal Treatment can ensure that he or she is not only happy but also wildly healthy. Once I’ve shown you how to do that, the next steps are a walk in the park.