Nothing Less Than Our Best

Everybody has a “list.”

At no time is this more evident than when we search for a mate.

There are just some qualities and/or common interests we believe we MUST share. No of-the-rack fit for us!

After years of disappointment and frustration (in others for not meeting our expectations and, eventually, in ourselves for holding fast to such rigorous criteria), we distill our list down to three core values. We are not “settling,” we’re being realistic – and generous; we are allowing potential suitors to be human.

Free from the din of internal dialogue – which almost always consists of voices adding to our list – the “right” one comes along. And we realize that there’s a lot more that we could – and perhaps should – actually live without.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if people could approach selecting and living with a companion animal with the same serenity and openness?

Sadly, this is often not the case. The result is that our nation’s animal shelters are bulging with perfectly lovable and adoptable pets that did not get a fair shake.

According to the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society, about 30 percent of the six to eight million companion animals entering shelters each year are surrendered by their owners. Almost half will be euthanized for want of a forever home.

Many are there for behavioral issues such as peeing on the carpet one-too-many times or devouring a favorite pair of shoes or because humans in the family totally misread bared teeth in the absence of a growl for aggression when it was really a gesture of appeasement.

What’s truly appalling is the lack of commitment we bring in attempts to integrate pets with “problem” behaviors into our families. Between 88% and 91% of respondents in a survey by Salman, et al (2000), said that they did not take their dog to group or individual behavioral classes respectively as part of their pet’s development. Fewer still ever bother to learn the silent “language” of a dog or cat’s ears and eyes and tail.

Apparently, there are plenty of people more married to their behavioral wish-lists (every element of which is supposed to magically appear), than the idea of investing time and effort toward being merry with, and toward, their pet.

We cannot “divorce” a companion animal just because challenges arise. We cannot “unfriend” him on Facebook or dis her on Twitter. We cannot change our locks or shred her clothes or toss his golf clubs in the driveway to be rid of him.

When we bring a companion animal home, we take a vow to do everything we can to make a family. We can’t just give up on our pets because we become annoyed or inconvenienced when unwanted behaviors emerge and we choose not to address them.

One of the biggest hurdles a fledgling relationship faces is the first time we are disappointed in the other person. This often has much more to do with our reaction to the act than the act itself.

And so it also goes with our animal companions. Too often, it’s one strike and yer out. For some humans, beings of different species are somehow “expendable.”

If this were an adopted child, we would do all we could to make the adjustment work. We would never think to “send it back.”

Challenges can make ANY relationship stronger and more intimate. Interspecies relationships are no exception. If the companion is a canine, going through basic training together is one of the best ways to forge those bonds.

There’s nothing wrong with selecting a breed or mix that could be a close match to your lifestyle. Learning about a pet’s temperament, energy level and intelligence can greatly enhance our family’s chances for success.

Will our family always be together? There is no guarantee.

But every pet deserves nothing less than our best.