Pet Parenting Lessons Learned in 2018

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Those of us who are - or who have ever been - pet parents (or owners or “guardians” . . . whatever), have at times taken detours, made sacrifices and turned our lives upside down to accommodate our beloved pets. Despite this, the vast majority of us would probably do it all over again. The shared love between humans and companion animals transcends spoken language and can endure where other forms of love may wither.

As the curtain comes down on 2018, I would like to share some of the personal lessons my wife and I have learned through real-life events or by reflection:

  • As first-time pet parents, we can do our research, ask the “right” questions and consult the best sources. Despite all this, we may be at a loss when confronted with both expected and unexpected challenges. It’s impossible to have every right answer and react perfectly every time. To become a better pet parent, there’s no better practice than doing. Our pets trust us - and we should, too.

  • Any relationship takes hard work. The task can be made even more difficult between beings of different species. Work and perseverance are essential in forging a loving bond and instilling good behavior, but it is “surrender” that ultimately rules the day. By unconditionally accepting us day after day, pets show us that the path forward runs through acceptance of what is.

  • My wife and I wanted our Lilly, the Boston terrier, to get along with all the other fur kids on the block. She’s come a long way through our researched desensitization training. But it is not realistic for us to expect that she can be well-mannered with every dog under every circumstance. Lilly doesn’t have to befriend every dog - just the ones that matter to her.

  • This past year, I was confronted with a personal double-standard: forgiving animals for “bad” behavior was much easier than forgiving humans for theirs. In my mind, companion animals (especially rescues) “can’t help it.” Intelligent humans can. Why not extend the same charity of heart to humans who may be having a bad day and whose full story I’ll never know?

  • Throughout life, there are times for togetherness and times for solitude. And it’s as okay to want alone time from pets as it is from people. While our pets don’t need time for “reflection,” they can learn that being separated from us for short periods of time is not the end of their world. We can take steps to make separation tolerable. They may prove quite adept at amusing themselves.

  • While I will always promote an “adopt don’t shop” culture among prospective pet parents, there’s no point in making pariahs of people who did shop. A “shopped” pet deserves all the love and caring that a rescued pet does (lest they end up in a shelter). By wielding a carrot instead of a stick, we may even be able to persuade yesterday’s shoppers to become tomorrow’s adopters.

  • As pet parents, we do everything in our power to ensure our pet’s safety. But accidents happen; sometimes our fur children are hurt or killed while in our care or the care of others. Unthinkable as it may be, we must forgive ourselves and/or the one in charge of our pet. If we don’t, we risk befouling the memory of our beloved pet. Would they want us to torture ourselves or another in their name?

  • The loss of those dear to us (pets as well as people) can lead us to believe that the best parts of us died with them. But that is not the case. Our departed ones opened the door for us to become more of who we really are. Through them, we have risen to new levels of caring and awareness from which we can never retreat. Our tears are evidence of our love - an enduring “Thank you.”

Our “lessons” will never end - and we will always be here to share them with you.

What have you learned as a pet parent? Please share your thoughts with us.

Happy New Year!