By William Hageman, Tribune Newspapers
January 18, 2012
People seem to have a basic need to connect with animals.
"We now believe that we as a species evolved with dogs," said Steve Dale, an author, TV/radio host and animal behavior consultant. "And there is a hard-wired connection between people and dogs that we don't even completely understand. There is no relationship on the planet like there is between people and dogs."
That relationship, and the similar bond between cats and their people, plays out every day across the U.S., where 85 million homes have cats and/or dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Sadly, not everyone who wants a pet can live with one, whether it's because of health issues, a balky landlord, a demanding work schedule or another reason.
What then? How do they satisfy that need to connect with a pet?
"Volunteering is obviously a good way to get around animals and have contact," said Gregory Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah.
Or, suggests Dale, "maybe you move into an apartment that allows pets. Or you convince the landlord it's beneficial."
Here are more ideas for folks who can't have pets but need that pet connection:
Be a shelter person: A shelter offers the easiest opportunity to connect with animals. And these are animals in need. There are cages to clean, dogs to walk, cats to play with. All very hands-on. There is, of course, a downside.
"To some people it's upsetting," Castle said. "Row after row of cages, dogs eager to make contact, cats hiding in the back of their cages. That can upset some people."
Worse is the sad fact that shelters, especially public facilities, regularly euthanize healthy animals.
"They need the space to take more in, not just because they're very sick," Castle said. "That these are healthy animals is upsetting to some people. You can volunteer in some capacities where you don't connect with that, but it is going on there and you can't get around it."
Dale also points out that helping out at a shelter "doesn't necessarily mean walking dogs or cleaning litter trays. It can be helping with marketing. You can write press releases. If you're an accountant you can help with the books."
Also, a person could volunteer at other venues, such as no-kill facilities, rescues and private organizations.
Foster Fluffy: If your situation allows it, many shelters and rescues need foster homes (there's an especially critical need for cat foster parents, Dale said). Some shelters will let you set a limit on how long the animal stays.
That can be a good thing. If a person gets too attached, he might adopt the animal. Though that does get the pet in a home, it might also preclude the person from fostering another animal.
Help somebody: Watch a neighbor's animal when they go on vacation — and let her know you're more than willing, not just being polite. If you know someone who doesn't have the time or ability to take their dog on a good, long walk, offer to do so. The exercise will do you both good. Groom somebody's pet; nothing fancy, just a good brushing helps the animal and the owner and gives you that one-on-one contact.
Visit a dog park: There are several levels here. You can drop by your local dog park (locate them at dogpark.com), find a bench and just watch the critters play. Or you can get more actively involved. Many dog parks are operated and managed by volunteers, said Elliott Silver, who owns DogPark.com, and dog ownership is not usually a requirement to volunteer. Before raising your hand, however, remember that "volunteering" is often synonymous with "scooping poop."
"Visiting a dog park is a great way for people to be around dogs without the responsibility of owning one," Silver said. "I've seen a number of parents visit dog parks with young children to see how they will interact with dogs. It's a good way to get a child acclimated with dogs if they are thinking about buying or adopting one."
Dog walking: Consider becoming a dog walker, as a part-time hobby or a full-time job. You spend time with dogs, you can pick your customers, set your own schedule and earn some cash. Go to dogwalker.com to learn more or sign up.
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